Drink: Good taste Going from A to beer

A new editor, Peter Haydon, brings a fresh touch to this spring's Which? Guide to Country Pubs (Consumers' Association, pounds 14.99).

As a student at Warwick, Haydon became so besotted by the charms of the good local that he wrote The English Pub - A History (Robert Hale, 1994). He's been monitoring the onward and upward progress of this essentially British institution ever since.

"Having realised that they should have better food and wine, and done something about that, many country pubs are rediscovering the pleasures of good beer," Haydon informs me. "Some of the best are owned by husband and wife teams rather than a brewery. There is nothing to beat the dedication of a family business, even if they have to learn by trial and error."

I was certainly very attracted by the sound of the Groes Hotel, near Conwy, North Wales ("local crab, lamb from the salt marshes, Banks's beer").

Some pubs featured in Haydon's historical work survive in the new guide, such as the George in Norton St Philip, Somerset ("welcoming staff ... game and ale pie ... spotted dick with custard").

Lovers of plainer pubs might fancy the Hare and Hounds, near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire ("simple, friendly, local ... Timothy Taylor beers in tip- top condition").

And who wouldn't be tempted by Burt's Hotel, in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders, which promises the weary traveller: "Selkirk Bannock Pudding ... Sandy Hunter's Ale and about 80 malt whiskies".

And, certainly, he reckons that there are indeed still rural pubs where a stranger can enjoy a friendly conversation with the locals without the risk of being mowed down by the kind of immaculate Range Rover which never leaves the tarmac - even during its weekends at the cosy country cottage.

These priceless rural pubs feature especially in the Guide's less foody "Out and About" section. There is also a symbol indicating pubs that serve exceptional draught beers. Michael Jackson

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