York was traditionally founded in AD 71 by the invading Romans, but there may well have been a settlement on the banks of the river Ouse before then. Its name has changed gradually over the millenia, initially called Eboracum by the Romans, Eoforwic by the Anglo-Saxons, Jorvik (almost exactly the same pronunciation as Eoforwic) by the Vikings, and now simply York.
Much of the centre of the town is still filled with narrow mediaeval streets, with overhanging mediaeval buildings. Some of the streets still follow the layout of roads in the Roman fort.
In all that time, it’s not surprising that some damned fine pubs have come into existence. There are more than one pub which claim to be the oldest in York, but the most famous must be Ye Olde Starre Inn, off Stonegate, which has a gallows sign spanning the street. There are two small rooms, one on each side of the main entrance, and a larger room housing the bar. I’ve visited this pub on a number of occasions, there is usually a reasonable selection of ales on the bar, but it’s a very busy pub, right in the heart of the tourist district. The crowd is mixed, but predominantly young.
On Colliergate lies my personal favourite York pub. The Last Drop Inn, owned by York Brewery, is located on a small town square which once saw the execution of criminals by hanging, hence the double meaning of the pub’s name. This is a small L-shaped pub , with flag and wooden floored areas. The bar normally has four or five handpumps on offer, two or three from York Brewery’s range, plus one or two guests. During my visits to the pub, the guests have included beers from Bateman’s, Titanic, Castle Rock, Leeds, Nethergate, Ossett, Vale and Slaters. One beer that is always on is York Centurion’s Ghost. This has to be one of my current favourite beers. Smooth and slightly smoky, it has a roasted malt flavour and a hint of bitterness. Fruit flavours can sometimes be discerned, though this does seem to depend on the brew. This beer won a gold award in the Champion Beer of Britain Awards in 2006. The Last Drop is an enthusiastic supporter of CAMRA’s LocAle initiative, and also gives a 10% discount to CAMRA members. Although there appears to be a moderate turnover of staff here, the staff that are there are unfailingly cheerful and enthusiastic. It’s just a great little pub to be in. It’s a travesty that it’s not in the Good Beer Guide. [See note]
Brigantes Bar, on Micklegate, near Micklegate Bar, is York CAMRA’s pub of the year for 2011, as it was in 2008. This is a spacious, roomy bar serving beers mostly from Yorkshire. The lack of any soft furnishings gives the place a utilitarian, though not uncomfortable feel. It also means that it’s very noisy, with nothing to muffle the voices of the early-evening, post-work crowd. This is especially noticeable if, like me, you end up sitting next to a crowd of long-bodied, short-legged men with huge voices and double chins. It seemed that they thought the whole pub would be fascinated by their ‘marketing strategy solutions’. The beer was well-kept and there was a good choice on during my visit. I started with a Hawkshead Cumbrian 5 Hop, a 5% golden ale. This is massively hoppy and massively bitter. I couldn’t help noticing the hint of shudder that came with it. Moving swiftly on, I had a Dark Star Old Chestnut, a delicious 4% mild. It’s very smooth, malty and husky. The pump clip says ‘mellow’ – yeah, I’d agree with that. Next was Leeds Samba, a 3.7% golden ale – light, citrussy, hoppy and with a dryness that grows towards the end. My final draught at Brigantes was Bowland Sawley Tempted, a 3.7% bitter. It’s quite smooth, light and hoppy. Lady A detected floral hints that I didn’t. This is an easily drinkable ale, but not huge on actual flavour.
Back towards the centre of touristy York, we find the Golden Lion on Church Street. This is another pub that has a claim to an ancient pedigree. It’s a large, open one-room affair, with a large bar serving usually five or six real ales. The ales are usually well-kept, but if you get a duff ‘un (it can happen to anyone), there’s no problem taking it back for a replacement. Pub food is quite good here, well cooked and speedily delivered. This pub tends to attract a younger crowd, and is serviced by a bouncer at the door to prevent the entry of undesirables. Strangely, he let me in.
The Maltings lies just within the walls at Tanner’s Moat, by Lendal Bridge. It’s another old building, having been a pub (under various names) since 1842. Black Sheep is a regular, along with six guests. Unfortunately, I had only time for a short stay, and managed two beers. Firstly, Junction Trainspotter, a 3.8% brown bitter. It is bitter, too, a bit brash. Not bad, but some unpleasant undertastes to its slightly harsh malt flavour. Secondly, I had a Bartram’s Stingo. I’m not quite sure what this beer was supposed to be. It was orange in colour, and weighed in at 4.5%. A bitter, maybe. And yet it wasn’t bitter. In fact it was sweet, very sweet and smooth, but no actual flavour that I could discern. I wanted to stay longer in the Maltings, but it wasn’t possible, so it’s up there on my list for my next visit to York, early in 2012.
There are many, many more fine pubs in York, and I’ll be following this article up with more on York later on. In the meantime, I can only encourage you to go to York to experience this delightful city and its great pub heritage for yourself.
Note. I’m very pleased to see that the Last Drop is included in the 2012 GBG.
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