Chelmsford – Woolpack

I visited this pub in October 2020, this isn’t some lockdown breach…… Although it’s Greene King, it’s also in the Good Beer Guide and has been the local branch’s pub of the year.

The pub didn’t have any dark beers and no craft beer, and the poor member of bar staff was left with a dire choice of beers to recommend to me, namely Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip. This beer is, frankly, not particularly good at the best of times, so I wasn’t entirely thrilled. However, I forced myself to have a half, as it seems a little pointless to try and visit every Good Beer Guide pub and then not have a drink.

The interior was decorated for Halloween, or at least I assumed it was….. I tried to ignore the ‘Create Your Own Dance Video’ machine, which seemed ill-fitting in numerous different senses. The presence of this machine confused me a little, is this trying to be a local community pub or Yates? There were also numerous ‘4 shots for £12’ which isn’t really much of an offer when it includes Cactus Jacks, where an entire bottle costs far less than £12. Anyway, all this seemed muddled, and I got the impression that beer drinkers are being shunted out. If you want a young and vibrant theme then get better craft beer, not machines to create your own dance video. Anyway, I digress.

On the point of beer choice, I was slightly annoyed to see there was a picture frame full of Titanic Brewery pump clips as well, as that’s one of my favourite breweries and I would have very much liked to have enjoyed one of their beers. Instead, I was stuck with Greene King’s finest.

The pub serves food including Sunday Roasts and there are burgers and the like.

The service was fine, although the pub being empty didn’t add much to the atmosphere. The staff member asked me for help spelling words on a document he was writing, which made me feel useful at least. I suspect there’s quite a community feel to this pub in normal times, it had that sort of atmosphere to it. It’s quite a ‘lived-in’ pub and I hope they don’t try and modernise this VIctorian pub pointlessly, it’s got charm as it is.

As for the beer, it was bloody awful and on the turn. Usually I’d get it replaced, but it’s such a bland and boring beer anyway that it didn’t much change my enjoyment of it. I think Greene King work hard on their obsession to deliver mediocrity and this beer delivers on that. It comes to something though when I’ve started to wonder whether Greene King beers actually tasted better when they’ve gone off, at least there’s some sort of flavour.

It seems that in normal times there is actually a relatively wide beer choice available, so I was maybe unfortunate to visit when the pub was struggling to offer much of a range. The Railway Tavern in Chelmsford had told me the day before that they didn’t have the trade to justify putting darker beers on, which didn’t seem an unreasonable thing to say. But, judging solely on what was available when I visited, this was sadly just the bland Greene King offering and it also wasn’t kept well.

Whatpub note that the pub underwent a change of management at around the time that I visited, so perhaps this was the dying days of the previous owners, which would explain why things were a bit ropey. So, nothing particularly impressive from when I visited, although it was clean and the pub seemed to be taking the Covid-19 rules seriously. But, the whole set-up seemed to be focused more on moving away from beer towards gimmicks, and I’d rather they went the other way and pushed towards craft beer as that’s where being on-trend lies. This is all very confusing though, the pub is clearly popular with CAMRA and real ale drinkers, but it felt like it was trying to be something else. Maybe this just all makes more sense during normal times, being a publican is hardly easy during these strange times.