Voted by the local CAMRA branch as Champion Pub of Cheshire 2011, Hops is a lovely little hidden gem tucked away from the main high street area in Crewe town centre, it has a small seated area out front with a few tables which I’m sure are well utilised in the warmer months giving that Belgian boulevard feel.
When we first arrived and stepped inside I was hit with an immediate feeling that it didn’t feel like your typical Belgian bar, although it was very warm and welcoming with the reassuring buzz of happy chatty customers, it sort of reminded me of walking into a friend or families home. As you settle in though and take in your surroundings you begin to realise that it isn’t your typical Belgian bar, nor is it a British pub its a hybrid of the two venue styles in perfect harmony. On one hand you have the my favourite old style of pub, with low ceilings and small compact rooms with lots of quiet little nooks for cozy chats, on the other lots of small tables complete with beer menus and a bar packed with fonts backed with a colourful array of Belgian bottled beers. The bar sits to the left of the entrance with a small standing area, opening out on the right with small tables with books and games scattered about the place. I didn’t venture upstairs but it sounded similar with what I can only imagine to be Jenga of some sorts being played based on the regular loud crunch, closely followed by hoots and shrieks of the crowd having fun up there.
On the bar itself you have a choice of several draught Belgian beers, a choice of five real ales and ciders. (They also do speciality teas and coffees for those unfortunate enough not to be able to drink alcohol).
The menu itself quotes listing over 100 Belgian, Continental and British bottled beers, I didn’t bother to count them but can confirm that there are a wide and varied selection of styles to choose from. The menu itself was the only thing to draw criticism from people in the group on the night. The menus available were simple lists of beers by brewer or brewery and had no real explanation as to what each beer was, to a seasoned Belgianite that would be fine but to the uninitiated it was a felt as potentially a little daunting.
However, I did manage today to get hold of an electronic version of a recent menu which I will attach a link to later. Although slightly outdated on price etc the format is completely different and worlds apart, showing more than ample clear descriptions of beers and styles, the breweries, their location and circumstances. I’m hoping that the menus therefore were a blip and the other style is the norm, if not I hope the good folks at Hops take note..
For the real ale drinkers, the selection of ever changing hand pumped ales has recently increased from three to five, on the night two from Acorn caught my eye although I was clearly in Belgian beer mode, they were the Sonnet IPA and the fabulous Russian Stout Gorlovka which I know from experience is stunning. A special note to CAMRA members, Hops offer discounted prices on the hand pump ales on a Monday evening so be sure to take your membership card.
It was hard to keep track of what everyone was drinking but particular highlights from others were Leffe Radieuse, the uber sweet but non less delicious Loubecoise Maple Syrup beer, Kwak, Celis White and Wittekerke Rose. I myself started off by sampling the Florreffe Brune as the first thing that caught my eye as I was pegging for a beer and couldn’t stand the wait that a menu sweep would have meant.
I then moved on to my find of the night which was Beer number 41 from the 100 beer challenge, Arabier, it’s a strong golden pure malt Belgian Ale with a lovely malted taste with lots off dry hop bitterness. Enjoyable but the Oerbier from the same De Dolle brewery stable is more to my taste generally. On reflection I think the Arabier would be a great beer for summer, on hopefully warmer days, sat outside in the beer garden and paired with some strong cheeses and crusty bread..
The most interesting beer for me on the night was the cracking strong dark Quadrupel from La Trappe, I’d never had this before and it set ideas running about pairing it with food and blind tasting sessions, definitely one to revisit..
The final beer of the night was the superb Rochefort 10, a fine beer to top off a great evening. For anyone who has not yet tried one it’s another Trappist Quadrupel beer it’s rich, sweet, dark and bloody delicious, one my all time favourite beers. As you can probably tell by the care and concentration on my face as I’m pouring it..
To summarise, the evening we spent at Hops was an all round success, the whole group really enjoyed the night, commenting on how well laid out everything was, the friendliness of the staff and above all the quality of the beer. We will be back with reinforcements from sunny Staffordshire…
Also check out the link to the extensive beer menu below, not factually correct on prices etc as I said earlier, but a good indicator of what to expect when you visit and visit you should SOON.