The pub was surrounded by scaffolding and swathed in the sort of blue mesh fabric that responsible builders put up these days – fortunately whatever work was going on was confined to the exterior. Once inside there’s a relatively peaceful scene, but then the oddness hits you: as well as being a pub with good beer, plenty of character and a friendly atmosphere, this is a pub that relishes eccentricity.
Looking around, I could see one or two items of normal furniture, but most of the stools were based on small barrels, there were shelves made from sections of barrel attached to the bar (for leaning on, or for depositing your beer while expostulating), two stools by the bar seemed to be home-made, to a Heath Robinson design, and then there’s the dentist’s chair…
On the walls, clocks compete for space with equally ancient radio sets, a pair of skis and a telephone; a puppet rides across the ceiling astride a marlin, in the company of a trout and a pike; obscure and irrelevant notices, some in French; photos of artists and others of yesteryear, including Mohammed Ali with Elvis Presley in the same photograph; an optician’s sign, consisting of an over-large pair of cartoon spectacles with bulbous eyes in place, which had been adapted to show the way to the cellar space which is used for live music. Obscure blues music from a CD player provided the aural background as I made my way to the bar, which was partially obscured by a small crowd of enthusiastic drinkers.
On the bar are five hand pumps – on my visit these included Orkney Dark Island from the far north of Scotland, a Shepherd Neame beer from the other end of the country, and offerings from three rather more local brewers: Hadrian Borders, Jarrow and Tempest of Kelso. In addition, there was a BrewDog keg font and another from Williams Brothers of Alloa, one of my favourite breweries. I tried the Dark Island, which was very good, before leaving to visit a couple of other pubs in the town. On my return an hour or so later the same rather repetitious blues legend (or someone sounding very like him) was still playing – this is probably the only reason I could find for not awarding a 10 to this excellent pub.
A change of music, to some lesser-known tracks of the Rolling Stones, was very welcome, and I indulged in a Williams Bros lager/IPA crossover called Caesar Augustus, which was up to their usual standard – interesting without being in-your-face about it – once it stopped being too cold to drink, and finished off the evening with the Hadrian Borders Flodden 500.
This pub is not just recommended – it’s essential. I’m already trying to think of an excuse for another visit to Berwick.
The Barrels Ale House
59 Bridge Street
Review by Will Larter, ‘sheffieldhatter’
Visit Date: 7 May 2013