CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Three Belfast Area Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - September 12, 2015

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The Kings Head, 829 Lisburn Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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The Hillside, 21 Main Street, Hillsborough, County Down, Northern Ireland

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The Cuckoo, 149 Lisburn Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

On our brief trip to Belfast last spring for family business, we managed to squeeze in time to try a few pubs. On one of our first days, between a hospital visit and heading back to the flat in which we were staying, we pulled off into the huge car park of the Kings Head for a quick pint. This large two-storey pub seems to be centred mostly on food, which they serve all day long; but they did have some cask ale. So we went for pints of Belfast Blonde (4.3% ABV, Hilden Brewery, Lisburn, County Antrim). We had already discovered that cask ale tends to be served very cold in Northern Ireland, so our pints were a bit cloudy at first. Fortunately they cleared once they warmed up a bit. And they turned out to be good standard hoppy pints, although Andrew was pissed off because they were served in Smithwick's glasses.

We first sat out in the beer garden located next to the car park, naturally I sat on the only wet bit of bench. After we briefly admired Kings Hall across the road, I decided it was a bit too cold to have wet jeans, so we went back inside and sat on plush leather chairs by a welcome little fire. We were surrounded by TV screens, and upstairs in the restaurant there are lots of skylight windows. On the walls are old photo murals of Belfast men in hats. Were they digging potatoes? Perhaps for the restaurant upstairs?

Before we left the pub Andrew used the Gents. "The loos are immaculate," he commented on his return. My mother would be very pleased with that.

While we were in Belfast we had one afternoon free, so we decided to treat ourselves to a pub lunch. We drove down into County Down, specifically to Banbridge where we'd once spent the night. Sadly we found no inviting pubs that served lunch, so we continued on. Because a friend of ours grew up there we had planned to drive to the small coastal town of Kilkeel; but when we discovered it was nearly as far as Dublin, and since we didn't have all day, we turned back toward Belfast.

As we passed the quaint village of Hillsborough, located 19 miles from Belfast, my mobile finally managed to alert me to a nearby cask ale pub that served lunch, thus solving our problem. Not only is Hillsborough where another Sheffield friend of ours is from, but it also shares its name with a Sheffield neighbourhood, located just down the hill from us and famous for the Sheffield Wednesday football club.

So we drove down the road to the Hillside. Dating from 1752, this pleasant CAMRA award-winning pub features cask ales, craft beers, a wide selection of Irish whiskies, and an attractive food menu, and they host regular ale and craft beer festivals in the garden. As the pub had just opened when we arrived it was fairly quiet, so we had a good chance to talk to the barmaid about the cask ales. Two of them were too strong for Andrew, who was driving, so he had a bottle of Titanic Quarter Beer (4.2% ABV, Hilden Brewing Company, Lisburn, County Antrim). Named after the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, specifically the industrial area of the Harland & Wolff Shipyard where the fated ship was built, this beer was specially commissioned to mark the regeneration of the Queens Island site. It was light and pale and manageable. I, on the other hand, had a bit more choice, as my only responsibility was to ride in the car. The choices were a bit too strong for lunchtime, though, as one of them was 5.0%, and one that had just gone off was 6.1%. So I went for the safest: a pint of Twisted Hop (4.7% ABV, Hilden Brewing Company), which I'd discovered earlier at the Sunflower. I must say my pint was gorgeous and in absolutely perfect condition, with a rich flavour and peppery hops rolling all over the mouth.

After we ordered our food we sat out in the pleasant beer garden at one of the large wood tables that are so solid nobody could possibly nick them. We even enjoyed a rare spot of Belfast spring sun. Back in the bar we had a very nice "light bite" lunch of deep-fried whitebait, chips, and salad, which was delicious and perfect for us light eaters. After all, we were in Northern Ireland which, we learned on a previous visit, is definitely a land of huge portions. (I wonder if there is some kind of connection with the US...)

As it was a weekday lunchtime there were no other cask ale lovers in the bar with us, just rather posh Hillsborough folk out for lunch. When I went to pay the bill I chatted with the barmaid; and we discovered, to our amazement, that she was the fiancé of the brother of my Sheffield friend from Hillsborough. I know it's a tired cliché but damn, it's still a small world.

When we learned later that our Hillsborough-cum-Sheffield friend had worked at the Hillside when she was younger, we were also told that the pub fills up with cask ale lovers on weekend nights and during their beer festivals.

On our last evening in Belfast we decided to try out an intriguing craft beer bar we kept passing on the way between the hospital and our flat. As we entered the Cuckoo we instantly knew we had entered a wonderfully creative pub. There was quirky art on the walls, and graffiti paintings on walls, and lovely things stuck to walls and sticking out of things, like the naked bottom half of a mannikin projecting from the ceiling in the rear.

Sadly they'd had an accident with their lines that morning and had no craft beers on draft, so we went for bottles of Farmageddon IPA (5.5% ABV, Farmageddon Brewing Company, Comber, County Down). Inspired by West Coast IPAs, this is definitely a yummy brew. And it did remind me of Stone IPA from northern San Diego County, with perhaps a more fulsome flavour a la Stone's Arrogant Bastard.

We decided to check out the rooftop garden and were led up some stairs, where we passed more rooms that looked like potential performance areas, two ping pong tables, and plenty more quirky art and graffiti and murals, on up through a maze of winding stairs and levels. We finally emerged on the rooftop garden where we found a group of cool young men who borrowed some of my notebook paper so they could write limericks and their train-of-thought ideas. We chatted about the high cost of getting pissed in Belfast, and one of them let me read his rather one-track train of thought.

Although we were definitely the oldest people here by far, we really liked this place. It's definitely a creative-juices kind of place.