Three years after being opened on the site of a former nightclub, the Sandford Park Alehouse in Cheltenham has been named CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year.
Pub owner Grant Cook put in an offer on the Grade II listed building while on holiday in Thailand – a decision which has been rewarded by the Ale House being named the best pub in the country. To create his perfect pub, Cook put up extra walls, a Georgian-style stairwell and converted the main dance floor into a cellar.
On winning one of CAMRA’s most prestigious titles, Cook said: “At every stage of the competition, we’ve been delighted to get to the next round and, of course, we are thrilled to emerge from the last four on top. Winning the South West round seemed like the biggest achievement because there were so many pubs that we were up against.”
The award-winning pub has ten real ale hand pumps and one dedicated to real cider, which means it is able to cater for a wide audience of real ale lovers. As well as an amazing real ale and food selection, the Sandford Park Alehouse also holds an annual cheese and cider festival.
Pub of the Year organiser Paul Ainsworth said: “The Sandford Park impressed the judges on every level, but especially the quality and choice of its real ales, where the scores were among the highest ever recorded in the contest. Judges also appreciated the stylish modern decor, the knowledgeable, welcoming staff and the lively atmosphere. One judge commented, ‘I might consider moving to Cheltenham!’ Given the all-round excellence of the other three finalists, a win this year is a great achievement.”
To win the National Pub of the Year competition, the Sandford Park Alehouse first had to win its local competition, and then fight off tough competition at the regional stage, before being put forward as one of four finalists – and then of course to be named overall winner. The whole process took a full 12 months with hundreds of hours of judging by dedicated CAMRA volunteers and competition judges.
The three other finalists were, in alphabetical order, The Drovers Rest in Carlisle, Kelham Island Tavern in Sheffield and The Yard of Ale, a micropub in Broadstairs, Kent.
The presentation of the National Pub of the Year award takes place at Sandford Park Alehouse, 20 High Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1DZ at 3pm on Thursday 25 February.
“I cannot ever recall beer quality at this level in a pub offering this number of beers. There was a very positive welcome from staff who are clearly “engaged in a venture” with a positive and enthusiastic interaction from the outset…. On a Sunday afternoon a wide range of customers were enjoying the pub. Perhaps the age range tended towards the under 50s, given the beer cafe style, but other customers of my age were very evident, and I certainly felt very comfortable, so this pub clearly has a broad appeal…A fantastic pub and one I fully intend to visit as often as possible. If it was not utterly unrealistic, I might consider moving to Cheltenham.”
“The quality and choice of the real ales was absolutely outstanding. Smart and stylish, this is very much a pub for the 21st century whilst still espousing the best traditional values.”
Link to today’s Guardian article and interview