There’s no denying it – beer is big at the moment. Small breweries and micropubs are popping up all over the place, more and more pubs and shops are selling so-called “craft beer”, and sales of cask beer and real ale are on the rise. And, as evidenced by my recent trip to the Southampton Beer Festival, everyone – young and old, male and female – is on board. Beer isn’t just for old men anymore!
Many of the pubs and breweries that sell and produce real ale and craft beer are small independents. However, the larger breweries and chains are starting to get in on the act. One of these is the Henley-based Brakspear, which has recently opened its Churchill Tap bar in Marlow, Bucks. (Brakspear is a family-run company that runs 145 pubs.)
The bar is attached to, and part of, the Chequers pub on the High Street. It sells up to 10 local real ales and ciders on draught, as well as a large selection of bottled beers and ciders. There’s also a limited food menu offering simple pub snacks such as pork pies and scotch eggs. The room was formerly the Chequers’ “Whisky Bar”.
Tiff and I popped into the Churchill Tap last Sunday afternoon for a drink and a snack with Tilly. Despite the huge choice of ales, I had a pint of the Rebellion IPA from the brewery just up the road in Marlow Bottom. Tiff went for a half of the Thatcher’s Heritage cider. We also ordered some bread and olives from the Chequers menu. The barman, who was a thoroughly happy and helpful chap, offered to get some water for Tilly and gave us the choice of straight or handled glasses – I opted for the tankard. (Oddly, he also had to check whether it was OK for us to eat food from the Chequers menu in this bar, despite it being technically the same establishment.)
My IPA was delicious and well-kept. But, Tiff wasn’t too keen on her drink, which tasted more like a sour beer than a Westcountry cider – probably her fault for not trying it first! Tilly was happy – she found a cool spot on the wooden floor along the wall for a snooze.
Overall, the Churchill Tap is a nice little venue with a great selection of beers and ciders. Although the bar is owned and run by a relatively large company, it supports small producers and other local microbreweries.
On the negative side, the experience felt a bit manufactured compared to the atmosphere you get in a genuine independent real ale pub. It was a bit pricey, too – £4.10 for my pint of IPA. But that may be more to do with the going rate for drinks in the local area.
I also noticed a couple of people having to go to the main bar in the Chequers to order popular “non-craft” drinks such as lager as part of their rounds. It might make sense to offer some other popular drinks in the Churchill Tap bar as well in the main part of the pub to save people having to go through the rigmarole of ordering other drinks separately – not everyone in a group will always want a real ale or craft beer!
Info: The Churchill Tap is part of the Chequers pub at 51 High Street, Marlow, Bucks, SL7 1BA. Open from 4pm Tuesday to Friday and from 12pm at weekends. Closed Mondays.