My top 10 water holes for ‘beer utopia’

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For the first beery ramblings of 2015, I felt it appropriate to reflect on my favourite pub excursions over the last 12 months. It is an eclectic array of drinking dens that offer a warm welcome, relaxation and first-class service.

I have highlighted 10 boozers that, in my opinion, have the feel-good factor. Pubs you always want to return to, simply because of their special environment - and what they offer to the discerning beer drinker.

Griffin Inn, Haslingden: A whiff of malted barley greeted me and beery buddy Bob Fletcher on our beery jaunt. It’s the home of Rossendale Brewery, and they had all seven of their tasty ales on the bar when we strolled in - beer heaven. Traditional, old-fashioned ale house. Open fire, low-beamed ceilings and lots of comfy seating. Plenty of friendly banter is guaranteed from the regulars. Halo Pale and Pitch Porter are truly exceptional - watch out for them.

Grants Bar, Accrington: Has to be one of the finest boozers in the area. Contemporary themed, spacious establishment, offering eight cask ales when I visited. A few minutes walk from the town centre. It offers total relaxation for both young and the not so young. The new, Big Clock microbrewery is now operational, and situated behind the bar - it looked stunning. Six of their rotating ales are usually available.

Victoria Hotel, Great Harwood: Probably the most enjoyable visit of the year. A quite stunning interior awaits you at this award-winning pub. Little seemed to have changed since it was built in 1905. Art nouveau, glazed tiled decor, floor to ceiling. Five cosy rooms, open fires and ornate elegance. Eight locally sourced real ales, all at £2.60 a pint. Totally relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Dog Inn, Whalley: I have visited a few Ribble Valley pubs in 2014, and this just ticked all the boxes. Unpretentious and offering fine hospitality. I felt at home as soon as I walked in, with the chatty regulars at the bar, exchanging lots of friendly banter. Six rotating ales were on at this free house. It was in superb condition. A proper boozer in every sense. I loved it - and reckon you will, too.

New Inn, Clitheroe: Traditional, folksy and down-to-earth. Three-roomed pub, serving 10 cask ales from its relatively small bar area. This is what you call a proper, homely drinking den. With a snug, cozy retreat, adjacent to the bar. It was well populated, when I called in.

First Chop, Ramsbottom: Quirky, small, cool and delightful. Ideally situated on the main thoroughfare. It offered five cask ales, three of which were the exceptional and hoppy First Chop Brewery beers - one of my favourite brewers. Old fashioned charm, with scrubbed topped wooden tables, stone flagged floors and ornate lighting. It also boasted a cellar bar of a similar design.

Beer Shack, Burnley: A micro-pub in the town centre that offered eight rotating ales and 10 real ciders on my last visit. Beer and conversation is what you will experience in this small, one roomed, laid-back bar. Total relaxation guaranteed. No music, no gaming machines or Sky TV. However, free newspapers were available in the quieter, soft seated area - if unlike me, you were not the chatty type.

Stalybridge Buffet Bar: It was like stepping back in time when I visited this Victorian station buffet bar with a few beery companions. Four-roomed bar that had retained many original features, including lots of railway memorabilia from a bygone age. Eight rotating cask ales were on offer and all were in superb condition. Most certainly a memorable highlight of 2014.

Hare and Hounds, Padiham: I have visited this wet lead, informal boozer a few times in 2014. No surprise really, as it’s one of the best beery joints in the locality. Warm welcome guaranteed on your visit. Six rotating cask ales and permanent draught cider. Open fires and lots of comfortable furnishings for your relaxation. Ale always in great condition.

Bridge Bier Huis: To be honest, I think this contemporary, classy establishment would be in most beer aficionado’s top 10 - and that’s why I am a weekly visitor. However, there is no favouritism here - it simply ticks all the boxes. It boasts a spacious lounge bar area and separate snug. Five cask ales, always in exceptional condition. There are also permanent draught real cider, foreign draught lagers, and an unrivalled selection of bottled beers from around the world. On my visits I always find friendly service, and an eclectic mix of amiable patrons. It has a very special and unique environment – beer utopia.