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Stroud CAMRA reveals Pub of the Year 2024

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The Ale House is Stroud CAMRA’s Pub of the Year for 2024. And on an unseasonably warm and sunny February afternoon, Stroud CAMRA presented landlord Nigel Crofts with a framed certificate recording the pub’s triumph, writes Tim Mars.

The presentation took place on Sunday, with the service of the pub’s famed Sunday lunch winding down and in the supposed afternoon lull before the regular weekly ‘Sado-Masochistic Quiz’. But the pub was very busy with diners, regulars and CAMRA members there to celebrate the Ale House’s success in the ballot for Pub of the Year.

The Ale House topped a shortlist of three pubs in a ballot of local CAMRA members, comfortably beating last year’s winner, the Prince Albert on Rodborough Hill, and the Crown & Sceptre. These are the scores (the grand total of three points for first preference votes, two points for second preference, one point for third preference for the shortlisted pubs.

• Ale House 64 points

• Prince Albert 54 points

• Crown & Sceptre 35 points

This is a triumphant come-back for the Ale House, which reigned supreme as Stroud CAMRA Pub of the Year for six years between 2014 and 2019—an unbeaten run. In 2020 the Prince Albert finally took the top spot, before being unexpectedly toppled by the Crown at Minchinhampton, which seized the throne in 2021 during Richard Terry’s all-too-brief stewardship. The Albert reclaimed the title in 2022 and held it for two years before the Ale House returned to the fore in 2024.

CAMRA 1 | Stroud CAMRA reveals Pub of the Year 2024
Lotte and Miles Lyster Connelly from The Prince Albert, handed the Pub of the Year baton to Nigel Crofts at The Ale House, with Tony Hill, Chair of Stroud CAMRA.

Lotte and Miles Lyster Connolly, landlady and landlord of the Prince Albert, asked to take part in Sunday’s proceedings so as to ‘pass on the baton’ to Nigel—a remarkably generous gesture and a sign of the genuine friendship and mutual esteem that exists between the two establishments.

The Ale House’s success will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been there. It is an ale-drinker’s mecca, an all-year-round beer festival, officially the best pub in Stroud and one of the finest in the county.

The Ale House now goes forward to the next round, to compete with the other Gloucestershire CAMRA sub-branch nominations for the title of Gloucestershire CAMRA Pub of the Year for 2024. The winner of that round goes on to compete for the prize of CAMRA South West Pub of the Year—and so on until one pub out of a shortlist of four is crowned national CAMRA Pub of the Year for 2024.

So far, three Gloucestershire pubs have scooped the supreme title of CAMRA Pub of the Year:

* Sandford Park Alehouse, Cheltenham (2015)

* Salutation, Ham (2014)

* Old Spot, Dursley (2007)

The Ale House boasts an ever-changing selection of nine beers on handpump, which runs the gamut of styles, colours and strengths, from fixtures like Burning Sky Plateau (3.5%) all the way up to guests like Tiley’s India Pale Ale (6.5%). And all at very competitive prices, starting at £3.70 for a pint of Plateau.

It is quite a feat to keep nine real ales in tip-top condition, but landlord Nigel Crofts manages it day after day, week in week out. Nigel comes from a family of hoteliers and publicans and previously ran award-winning Good Beer Guide-listed pubs in Ipswich, Hitchin, Chelmsford and Hertford, so he knows the business inside out. He runs the Ale House like a pub-lover rather than a landlord and keeps a range of ales to appeal to enthusiastic and discriminating ale drinkers—because he is one himself.

He is first and foremost a cellarman and there are no corners cut. The beer lines are properly and thoroughly cleaned between every cask, even at hectic times when the temptation might be just to flush the lines with water and get the ales back on—an all too common practice, even in Good Beer Guide-listed pubs.

The Ale House does not stock any so-called ‘craft’ keg beers. Aside from ideological considerations, Nigel believes they would inevitably impact on the turnover of his cask ales. In the long run the number or quality of the real ales on offer would be bound to suffer.

Local ales from Tiley’s (brewed behind the Salutation at Ham) plus a cider and perry are always available, supplemented by an adventurous and catholic range of guests from breweries up and down the country, including Arbor, Fyne Ales, Howling Hops, Mallinsons, Salopian, Saltaire, Tiny Rebel, Thornbridge, Vocation—the list goes on. A dark beer (mild, porter or stout) is always available.

This daily cornucopia is supplemented by two themed beer festivals over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend and to coïncide with the Stroud Fringe at the end of August. These festivals showcase beers from a specific area—London, Manchester, South Yorkshire etc—and have gained an enthusiastic and appreciative following, with people travelling many miles to sample a unique selection of beers from new and established microbreweries.

The Ale House occupies magnificent premises—a grade-II listed building built in 1837 for the Poor Law Guardians. The bar occupies the double-height top-lit former boardroom with two smaller rooms adjoining. It is far and away the finest pub interior in Stroud with elegantly proportioned, well-lit, high-ceilinged rooms heated by antique-style radiators and a blazing log fire in winter. The walls are painted in rich colours and display paintings by local artists. The small patio courtyard is a suntrap in summer. A restored 1932 bar billiards table is a popular recent addition.

The pub is also extremely dog-friendly with a water bowl and biscuits always available.

The Ale House is home to a wide range of societies, meetings and clubs, including a writing group and the Stroud Radical Reading Group. Nigel himself presides over the fiendishly difficult Sado-Masochistic Ale House Quiz which draws a good crowd on Sunday evenings.

A board outside proclaims ‘The Ale House—where the art of conversation rules’. And so it does, but live music also features at the weekend. House bands include the Achievers and, once a month on Thursday, world-class jazz from Dave Ayre and friends.

When he’s not pulling pints or keeping an eye on the ales in the cellar, Nigel is also chief cook and bottle-washer, preparing from scratch a ‘perky’ chilly and a signature range of curries—if it says ‘spicy’ on the menu, prepare for an endorphin rush!—together with other less challenging dishes. The portions are extremely generous and very good value. Home-made soup and freshly prepared sandwiches are also available, while the Sunday roast is ‘superb’ and ‘outrageously good value’ (according to one satisfied diner).

Perhaps the last word should go to the customers. This is what they say on the pub’s Facebook page: ‘Very welcoming. Friendly staff and really good beer at really good prices’; ‘Love this place, staff are really friendly and welcoming!’ And finally, ‘You won’t find better beer or a better bunch of people in Stroud’.

I’ll drink to that!

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