My last Wycombe Bites blog started with an adage comparing new bars to buses, this time I'm beginning with one about the levels of precipitation. And, with the Brewery Shop Emporium following hot on the heels of the stylish Heidrun, lucky Wycombians now find it’s the craft beer that’s pouring.
Opened as the flagship branch of the Berkhamsted-based Hertfordshire brewers Red Squirrel, the Emporium is a split level part bar/part bottle shop/part pizzeria. And if that doesn't fulfil all your worldly needs, there's also fresh coffee, wine and snacks and even a cold room - where you can pick cans and bottles, to drink in or takeaway - where the beers are stored at perfect imbibing temperature.
A fun (if bijou) space to browse when they first opened, back in the dog days of summer, it's something more of an endurance, standing in what is essentially an oversized fridge, now the cold weather has set in. Luckily you can see everything through the glass windows, to save yourself getting frostbite while you dither. The lovely staff are also always on hand to help with a suggestion or have a chat about what they're drinking.
Fortuitously (or not) I have to walk past on my way home from work, so have become a bit of a regular. And while all the beer has been reliably decent, one thing that does set it apart from most local hostelries is the quality of their cask offering.
Sometimes you just want a ‘boring brown bitter’ - which, kept properly, is still one of my favourite beers - or a refreshing golden ale or a warming ruby number. While the cask here it’s probably served a touch too cold for the purist, I far prefer this to the lifeless, syrupy stuff that’s sadly often the norm in this neck of the woods. Even better, it’s often cheaper than the keg version of the same beer (a subject that's recently got everyone a flutter all over again thanks to Cloudwater's recent blog).
As well as their superior cask - their Green Hop, brewed with hops grown in Berkhamsted, was one of my beers of the year - the keg and bottle selection is also sound. The taps regularly showcase beers from Cloudwater, Chorlton, Magic Rock and Anarchy among others, alongside a big range of (mostly) British bottles and cans at pretty fair prices.
As with the cask, the keg beers I've most enjoyed drinking here are Red Squirrel numbers - brewed under their experimental 'Mad Squirrel' umbrella. My two favourites being their creamy milk stout, a roasty dark beer brewed with lactose, and their DAPA, a 7.8 percent incarnation of their original american pale ale that has become the traditional nightcap on work nights out and a traditional regret the following morning in the office...
Snack wise – a critical part of any decent bar's offering - they have a reasonable selection of Pipers crisps, posh nuts and the very good Billy Franks jerky, made by the fab @billyfrankscouk in a railway arch on Druid Street in Bermondsey. If they had pickled onion Monster Munch or grab bags of Quavers they would have my heart forever (frazzles for me please - TE), but it’s a good start and there's always the garlic bread (get it with cheese, obviously), which is perfect to tide you over when you’re trying to work out which beer to order next.
Following on from the garlic bread, they also have pizza, which is prepared from scratch in the small ‘kitchen’ area behind the bar upstairs. If you’re a purist, you may want to look away now as flavour combos include pastrami, olives and pesto; smoked salmon, dill and cream cheese (very good); ham, hop oil and star anise-spiced pineapple; pepperoni and pickled jalapeno, pulled pork with bbq sauce and, rather surprisingly, my favourite pairing of jerk chicken, peppers and pine nuts.
In (my) ideal world it would be fired in a wood-fuelled brick oven and bought to the table blistered and crispy with a slightly charred crust – but, back in HP11, it’s cooked in an electric oven and arrives looking more like a frozen pizza that you’ve tried to pimp up at home by adding the contents of all the half-finished jars in the fridge.
From a pizza-fanatic this isn’t a criticism - far from it, frozen pies have got me through some difficult periods of my life -and, for oven-baked pizza, this is really very good. The polenta-dusted crust has a nutty sweetness that pairs well with the bold toppings, while it's crisp structural integrity means toppings can be piled up while the base remains robust. Perfect drinking fodder.
From your morning coffee to your late night night cap, the Red Squirrel is the perfect all-day one stop shop. And, as the long as the beer is flowing and the pizzas are being flung, I'm very happy to make another home from home in my adopted home town.