The Black Bull (Pub & Brewery)

A visit to the Lake District really isn’t complete without visiting a few of the many small breweries that abound in this region.

So during our week’s holiday to Windermere in July, Pete and I made our way to Coniston’s Black Bull, attached to the small Coniston Brewing Co.

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The pub is charmingly retro; it’s 1970s interior hasn’t been gussied up for many a decade. The rubbery plastic menu books almost has me scuttling back out but the welcome is friendly so we stay.

Both of us order an 8/10 oz fillet of fresh haddock coated in our own Bluebird real ale batter, served with lemon wedge, chipped potatoes, mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce (£9.95).

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It’s fantastic; wonderfully soft, moist fish inside a light, crispy batter and the chips are decent too. Very nice indeed – we’re so glad we didn’t let my London snobbery about the plastic menu books put us off!

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Of course, an advantage of eating in a pub attached to a brewery is the excellent selection of draft beers served just as they’re intended to be.

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Pete enjoys pints of Bluebird and Blacksmiths Ale (all Coniston ales are £3.10 – £3.20 a pint) during the meal and we also buy several of their bottles to take home, plus a 2 pint plastic container of one of the drafts to enjoy at the holiday rental house.

After our lovely lunch, we ask the bar staff whether they think we might be allowed a peek inside the brewery – they say to knock at the door round back, where we’ve parked, and see if the staff have time – they might not, we’re warned, as they’re really busy, but it’s always worth asking.

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We do as advised and a friendly gentleman explains that they’re short two staff and he needs to perform some time-critical tasks in 11 minutes so there’s no time for a proper tour. Before we can thank him and suggest coming back another time, he warmly invites us in to have a quick look around.

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To our surprise, as he shoos us inside, he launches into a quick tour, showing us around the tiny space, explaining the process, pointing out hops from the UK, Germany and the US, showing us where the pure local stream water is piped in, insisting we peer inside some of the brewing tanks and encouraging my picture taking. It’s succinct but fascinating, especially learning about the small quantities they brew at a time, which allows them to brew so brew so many different ales a week.

Within a few minutes we’ve seen all of the tiny brewery, thank our impromptu guide and are on our way.

Coniston: lovely beer made by lovely people.

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