I went on a tour of two pub cellars yesterday afternoon as part of Stockport Beer Week.
The Boar's Head and Baker's Vaults are early nineteenth century buildings, remodelled somewhat in the second half of it, which stand facing each other on opposite sides of Stockport market place. Although only thirty or so feet apart, it would be hard to imagine two more different pubs.
The Boar's Head is a Sam Smith's pub and has all the things you'd expect from Yorkshire's most traditional brewery: a Victorian interior, an older, mainly male, working-class clientele, no TV or music, a single, cheap cask beer, the malty, brown Old Brewery Bitter at £1.90 a pint, drawn from 36-gallon wooden barrels stillaged in the cellar, and their own brand keg and bottled beers. On Saturday dinnertime, despite not serving food it was busy, with people constantly coming in and and going out, some of them for a smoke before returning to their drinks on the bar,
The Baker's Vaults is a Robinson's pub which is operated by the same people who run The Castle in Manchester city centre. It's airy and modern with filament bulbs suspended on long cords, high stools at tables with ornamental bottles and candle holders on them, an extensive food menu, a more mixed, upmarket, and considerably sparser clientele on a Saturday afternoon, with young families dining and older couples drinking coffees at the bar. It sells half a dozen of Robinson's cask beers, as well as guest ales and "craft keg" and lagers from tall founts, rather than the boxy ones at the Boar's Head, The cask beer is a bit dearer, but still pretty reasonable at £3-3.60, depending on abv, and equally well-kept.
As on brewery tours, you always see or learn something new when you go down into a pub cellar. On a busy day, the Boar's Head can shift the contents of an entire 36-gallon barrel (that's 288 pints for the mathematically-challenged like me), which must rank as the most cask beer sold by a pub in Stockport. The Baker's Vaults foundations are even older than the pub itself, with still unexplored tunnels which may connect it to watercourses or other buildings, outcrops of the sandstone on which the nearby Roman fort and later the mediaeval castle were built, and beneath the cellar the high brick bins which once held wine and gin barrels and give the pub its name.