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Brewpub: The Strands Inn & Brewery, Nether Wasdale

Fri 2011-04-29 17:17

TL;DR: The Strands Inn is a brewpub in Nether Wasdale, a hamlet in England's Lake District. The beer is good, the food is good. Not quite at the pinnacle of craft brewing and gastronomy, but above average gastro-pub fare and flavoursome ales in fine condition. The sort of place most real ale lovers would be overjoyed to call their local. The brewer, Dick, likes hops – which is always a good sign. He could be encouraged to throw a few more hops into some of his brews for us modern hopheads, but then again he's got to cater for local tastes and the general drinking public. I certainly recommend a visit to The Strands Inn – as an added bonus they operate a B&B so you can stay right there at the pub (a civilised way to wrap up a Lake District camping trip). The following is an account of my chance-discovery of the Strands Inn & Brewery.

Brewpubs aren't uncommon in the Lake District, perhaps delivery costs and winter inaccessibility is a motivating factor. On my first trip to the Lake District I discovered The Woolpack, then home to HardKnott Brewery. I rather enjoyed the beer I had there, passing by the pub three times during a complex 100km, 7-day ramble. I've followed Dave Bailey's blog ever since, though back then I'd never have guessed he'd become such a high profile member of the craft brewing scene[1]. Then again I didn't know what a "craft brewing scene" was back then. I appreciated good real ale but didn't get geeky about it, I enjoyed foreign beer (mainly Belgian) but hadn't discovered the delights available from the US.

Anyway, zoom forward to nearer the present: Over the first weekend of March we visited the Lake District for the second time, we had unfinished business with Scafell Pike[2]. Our base for the weekend was to be the National Trust Campsite at Wasdale Head. In ale-hunter circles Wasdale is known for the Wasdale Head Inn – a well-known brewpub amongst Lakes District lovers, though with a mixed reputation. However the inn is under new management and the Great Gable brewery has moved elsewhere, so the place is a different beast now. We had expected to do any drinking we managed to fit in during the trip in its "Ritson's Bar". However, we found a better option.

Our first day of "warm up" walking (this was our first hillwalking trip since last September) took us in a circuit of Wastwater – down the east side of the lake ("The Screes") then back up the west side (the, um, "road"). At the south end of the lake we decided to wander into Nether Wasdale, as it was a short walk and we thought we might find some lunch there.

Nether Wasdale doesn't look too promising walking in along the road from the east. A few cottages to the left, and a farm to the right – front-yard full of that nice, steaming, stenchy rotting manure mix that is sprayed over the fields in the early spring. Then, as you come around the bend in the road, two pubs come into view. On the left The Strands Inn, and opposite this The Screes Inn[3]. Our attention was caught at once by The Strands as the inn-sign had as a sub-heading "& Brewery". Oh ho! What have we found here then? (A name with a familiar ring to it, though I didn't realise I'd enjoyed their barleywine at the National Winter Ale Festival until after our trip.)

The Strands is a well kept pub in the sort of olde-worlde style you expect in a countryside tourist destination, lots of local photos and items of interest spread around the walls. The bar sports 5 handpumps, all supplying the brewpub's own beer – for the 3 days I was around at least. (I do prefer to see one or two guests on in a brewpub/brewery-tap, it shows good interaction with the whole brewing and real-ale scene as well as a confidence in the quality of the brewery's own beer.) Our first beers were the T'Errmmm-inator for Kat (hmph, why does she get the dark one!) and the Brown Bitter for me. Both were tasty beers and, especially the T'Errmmm-inator, good enough to have a 2nd pint of. Unfortunately I wasn't in beer-tasting mode so I can't say much more than they were both eminently drinkable. The brewpub has details of all the beers online, the descriptions there seem about right to me.

In what seems to be typical northern style the pumps were fitted with sparklers and the pints served with what I consider to be "too much" head. I'll forgive up to about a ¼ of an inch, but ¾ is in the realm of feeling blatantly short-changed. I wasn't sure what was considered acceptable in the area so kept my mouth shut, most other pints I saw poured were similarly slim and people who seemed somewhat regular didn't complain. I didn't feel too fussed since the beer prices were quite cheap – compared to Hitchin & Cambridge – and the beer just as good.

We scanned the menu and chose to have lunch, it was about 13:00 and we'd had a rather small breakfast. Kat had a cheese & vegetable pasta dish and I had a steak-and-ale pie – both at a good standard for a pub lunch, though nothing to write home about. Kat's pasta was simple and good, my pie a little on the dry and crusty side but tasty.

It transpired the landlord and the brewer were having a drink at the bar. I listened in on their conversation, it was mostly about beer and I'm nosey. At one point they were debating the use of the sparkler on one of the beers, a particularly lively one, and choose to leave it off in the end. The kind of considered approach I like to see – even though the decision seemed to come down making it easier to pull the pint, the subject of possible flavour variations was discussed (I didn't hear any conclusion on the matter). I briefly joined in at one point, curious about the brewing and other local beers, I dropped the HardKnott name into the conversation. They knew of Dave Bailey, the Woolpack is only in the next dale, and seemed to slightly resent his apparent success: "one of the most popular bloggers in the world apparently!" I didn't probe further. They also dropped some other hints. One: contrary to most of what I'd heard Wasdale Head Inn was better before the change of management, and also the current brewing situation there was uncertain. Additionally the The Prince of Wales in Foxfield, another brewpub, was highly recommended – always good to find a brewer happy to recommend the competition. (We visited the Prince of Wales 4 weeks later, it is excellent – but that's another story.)

Overall we were impressed by The Strands and decided that we'd pop in again if we happened to be near Nether Wasdale. We didn't have long to wait. The previous night had been a cold one in the tent, but this night was bloody freezing. In the morning there was a heavy frost, including on the inside of our little tent's outer-shell. Uncomfortable sleeping conditions, to say the least. At the end of the next day's hike over Scafell Pike we returned to the camp-site and pondered our options - we were soon in the car heading down to the Strands Inn. They had a room available!

We spent two nights at the Strands, to cover one more day of walking before we headed home on Tuesday. Thus I was able to enjoy a few more pints, including the rather-tasty-for-3.6% "Responsibly", the "Red Screes", and the "Brown Bitter" – the latter being my favourite, since there was no more "T'Errmmm-inator". I also had a taste of the "Tres Piste", something of a barleywine cum Belgian tripel with an 8% ABV, not bad. The food in the evening was also rather good, I especially enjoyed a stack of chorizo and black pudding with a poached egg on top. Hard to go wrong with that combination. Kat's chicken-and-cheese stuffed red pepper wasn't bad either.

I had a couple of chats with the landlord, Mark, and the brewer, Dick. They've been brewing beer at the Strands Inn for "3 or 4" years, and the landlord did most of the brewing until Dick started to get involved sometime last summer. Dick's brewing background is all-grain home-brew, he's a retired gardener who clearly hasn't quite got the hang of being retired.

All-in-all I recommend visiting The Strands Inn. Especially if you're already in the area. I'd even make a trip slightly out-of-my way to visit the place, though, personally, I might ring ahead to ask if a dark beer is on. ;)

Should you be interested, there are a few more photos at The Strands Inn and of our walking around Wasdale in my gallery.
[1] HardKnott brewery was actually the motivation, well excuse, for our long weekend in Cumbria. We'd volunteered to fetch two firkins of their beer for the Hitchin beer festival.

[2] On our previous trip to the Lake District we crossed over Scafell from Eskdale to Wasdale. However we only managed to fit in the slightly lower Scafell Peak – Scafell Pike, England's highest point, had eluded us.

[3] We never had a chance to try The Screes Inn. It's a Robinson's place, which is no bad thing but is also less interesting than an unexpected brewpub.

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