I thought hard about how to judge for the award. How to cover all entries without some type of exclusion (I would love to have had a criteria for cask ales!). Still, it did eventually appear to be easy (says who?). The criteria? All those things that make a good business, whatever it is.
The choice was very hard and there were quite a few to choose from. One bar did stand out just enough to win the certificate. Maybe you agree - maybe you don't!
POTY - 2022
The Crown Bar, Belfast.
An iconic landmark in the province and prime example of a Victorian gin palace, a firm favourite of visitors, past and present. The Grade A listed building is from the 1840's and it was originally the Railway Tavern in 1849, still with its intimate snugs with bell pushes, mirrors and (surprisingly) snug doors, each guarded by a gryphon and a lion, a living picture of past glory. Busy during the day, it comes into its own at night when the real gas lamps play their wan light over the wide cross section of regulars and visitors from all parts of the globe. It is now part of the Nicholson Group, known for their good food and cask ales, Friendly staff, and is a worthy winner.
POTY - 2021 Lockdown 2021.
Another bad year. It would be unfair to present an award when many businesses are still struggling. Looking forward to normality in 2022.
POTY - 2020 Lockdown 2020.
A long and dreadful year, open / not open.
We will not present an award this year, but we do hope that 2021 will change quickly for the better, the hospitality sector as a whole gets back on its feet and we can get back to normality.
POTY - 2019 Northern Lights, Belfast.
This year we held back the award so that we could coincide it with an official NI Tryanuuary event.
The Northern Lights has been growing in popularity since it opened for its wide range of craft ales (draught, bottle, canned), plus it has cask ale and has been supporting local breweries
and the local homebrewers as well as hosting events like "Meet The Brewer". Add to that; knowledable staff and some cracker bar food. The manageress, Sinead, has been the driving force and it is good to
have a team that works from top to bottom.
POTY - December 2018 Bittles Bar, Belfast.
John Bittles has been running this pub for almost thirsty years. It is one of the best of the old fashioned back street pubs in Belfast. Known for large pictures of literary themes and fine ales for years, it is now making a name for class whiskies. John is a character of the old style, at times gruff and sharp but always a gentleman who knows the licensed trade for many a year. It is a haven away from the shopping complexes in the area.
A well deserved win.
POTY - November 2017 The Errigle Inn, Belfast
The Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road, Belfast, has steadily been making a name for itself as THE place to go for cask ale, and more so for beer from the wood. It was not all that long ago that only one handpull for cask was on the bar counter. The bar took the forward thinking step to move cask ales into the appropriately named Oak Lounge and have not looked back since. So, on Thursday, 30th November, the BFTW members attended a presentation for their Pub Of The Year Award. Four casks were available with two from the wood, plus BFTW membership discount!
BFTWNI VISITS & PRESENTATIONS PAST EVENTS
Ballykilcavan Brewery, Stradbally Visit & Presentation - August 2022
A long drive from Belfast but well worth it to meet David and see the family farm and the brewery. The family have been there since 1639 and, while modern changes have taken place, it still has that cared-for history look and feel. David grows his own ingredients for his beers, including a small crop of hops for a limited edition, and bottle conditioned, beer. The courtyard is huge and has lots of potential for the brewery. The taproom is well laid out and boasts the old water wheel ironwork from years before. There are brewery tours with tasting sessions and David has been kind enough to let BFTWNI members have a discount on the price of tours. The taproom does not, as yet, have a license but David is investigating this. The surrounding countryside is quite flat and beautiful. The nearest town, Stradbally, may be laid back but the main road is busy. The back roads are quiet and there is a lot of bird life around.
Lynestone Brewery, Stone, Staffordshire Visit & Presentation - July
It was a glorious summer morning when we got off the train at Stone station and made our way to Lymestone Brewery for a visit. Set in the old Bent Brewery building, which has lost its top three stories, it is a thriving little hub of social activity and is an amalgamation of the names of the towns of Newcastle under Lyme and Stone, both in Staffordshire. Here we met Ian Bradford (Brad) who has run the brewery for over two years and did 12 years at Titanic before that. He gave us a run-through of the 6X10 barrel set up, producing cask and bottle (which is outsourced to Holden's Brewery) and we presented him with a BFTWNI certificate of the visit. We had a quick sample in their tap room bar, the Borehole, about a minute walk away. It had to be quick as we were being picked up for a our canal boat holiday. Imagine our surprise when we found a welcoming gift of brewery beers on the boat.
Bullhouse Brewery Visit & Presentation - June.
An early start to the day, getting a bus out to Dundonald to meet brewer, Willy Mayne, and be driven to the brewery (courtesy of his mum). A brief intro to the brewery & equipment then it was getting down and dusty helping to load the malt for the P45 mash and get it well stirred in. It is easy to end up looking like a ghost with the fine grain powder floating everywhere. Once the mash was complete it was loads of nibbles and a sample or two to wash it all down. Then the transfer and boil, addition of hops, the strenous job of cleaning out the spent grain and bagging it, and finally a break for a BBQ lunch, all with more and varied samples. We took this opportunity to present a token of our visit to Willy. Finally the brew was sent through the heat exchanger to cool down for the yeast pitching. Time for the taxi back to Dundonald (courtesy of his dad this time) to get a bus home - or, at least, via a couple of well deserved pints in the Crown Bar.
An excellent day out with a great guy.
Sulwath Brewery Visit & Presentation - May.
A weekend away meeting our good friends, the Henderson family, in Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway district, to enjoy great ales at their Brewery Beerfest - along with a jazz band and marvellous pies (Henderson's Butchery - no relation). A walk round the town chacking out the hostelries, and a final day touring the Solway coast and back again for a picnic on the nearby loch shore park. We would like to thank Allen for letting BFTW have a membership discount. The return journey to the ferry and a quick stop-over at The Grapes in Stranraer. A lovely old world boozer, relaxed and very friendly. Our thanks to owner, Billy, for allowing us a BFTW membership discount. Brilliant news for those using the D&G gateway to Scotland and northern England.