Regular guest blogger Rachel Woolgar tells us why she loves The Queens Arms, Basingstoke.
It’s probably because we popped in for a quick drink on New Year’s Eve and ended up staying eight hours that The Queens Arms has gone from being somewhere we’d go occasionally to the pub we think of as our local.
Friendly staff and fellow patrons, an enjoyable and varied beer range and its jukebox are among the things which give the Queens Arms its pulling power.
Because it’s close Basingstoke train station it attracts everyone from day-trippers to the after work crowd and footy fans – be they victorious or drowning their sorrows. Due to this eclectic clientele it feels like you’ve had a different – and always memorable – night out every time you visit. We’ve observed a band enjoying a pre-gig meal and quiet pint; assisted a man in full high vis with his jukebox choice (Hazel O’Connor) and almost incited violence from a non-Bowie fan (“I wish I had a Bowie knife.”) after putting Velvet Goldmine on.
When we noticed the pub was hosting a beer festival we had to go. The leaflet boasted a choice of 19 ales across four days but when we visited (on Friday night) there were only 16. Twelve of these were being served outside and four inside. Some, disappointingly, had been delivered too late to be ready but we were assured they’d appear on the bar soon after the festival.
If you wanted to partake of the ales outside, you had to buy tokens at the bar first. This seemed to baffle some customers but ensured the landlord, Nick, could serve quickly without the faff of a cash bar. Pints cost £3.75, half pints £1.90 and there was a discount offered to CAMRA members.
My first beer of the night was Settle Golden Fleece (3.6%). A light, golden ale it was the perfect beer to start with. Nothing remarkable but nothing offensive either. It was refreshing and hoppy with a slightly dry, lingering aftertaste.
Next up I chose something quite different, Nimbus Brewery Atlas (5%) It was similar to a German Weissbeer – hence its cloudy appearance. It had a malty tang and tasted of honey and lemon peel. I enjoyed it more than some I’ve tried in Munich! When we popped back on Sunday (we ‘found’ some more tokens, honest) its taste had changed totally – but it was even better – much more refreshing and the lemon more prevalent. We suspected it may not have really been ready on the Friday.
Back in the Friday night action though… I was impressed when my partner said we needed to clear our taste buds before sampling our next beer. Until, that is, he gestured to a plate of food at a nearby table.
“Onion rings are not a palate cleanser,” I told him. We had some water instead.
Palates cleansed I moved on to the hilariously named Dorset Knob (3.9%) from Dorset Brewery. (She knows it’s the name of a traditional Westcountry biscuit by the way… but it’s hard not to snigger at a knob gag. Ed) This promised to be zesty and light – but didn’t deliver to my mind. Instead I got a hint of toffee and a whack of caramel putting me in mind of Doombar. Yawn. Perhaps I should have had the onion rings?
I finished with Barngates Brewery’s Red Bull Terrier (4.8%) It was a nice ‘end of session ale’. It was dark red and had pleasant espresso and bitter chocolate hints to it. Not the dry fruit and spice in the tasting notes but damn tasty.
The pub was the busiest I’ve seen it and there appeared to be a good mix of regulars and those who’d come specifically for the beer festival.
Slightly inclement weather meant most of the punters congregated around the bar – which seemed to give the weekly meat raffle more of a competitive edge than usual. I could feel another Queens Arms moment coming on as my partner became jubilant at winning not one but two prizes. We were later advised about meat raffle etiquette… if you win a second time it’s customary to put the prize back to be re-raffled. Oops. But as I say, this is a friendly place that’s made us welcome enough to call it our local so I’m sure they’ll forgive us.
The Queens Arms (which is also dog friendly) is at Bunnian Place, Basingstoke, Hants, RG21 7JE.
Pictures by Andrew Selvon.