Flying Horse first past the post

(L to R) Landlord Ben Boothman, bar manager Jon Hudson and assistant bar manager Lucy Jones.

Twenty years of building a business has put a Rochdale pub in the winners’ enclosure as it is judged Greater Manchester’s Pub of the Year.

The Flying Horse adjacent to Rochdale’s magnificent Town Hall was in need of Ben Boothman’s vision when he took it over. Trade at the site started in 1691, but it endured a spell renamed as The Sports before he took the reins. Ben could see the potential to transform the town centre building to provide a destination for drinkers, diners and overnight visitors, as well as an ambition to become the town’s premier free live music establishment. But a long-term commitment to providing the very best real ales underscored his efforts.

Ben is well-known in amateur rugby league circles as he combined turning out in the green and gold colours of Rochdale Cobras alongside his work at the Flying Horse. It’s a real family success as mum Pat has supported Ben throughout, taking charge of the functions as well as finding time to run a popular outside catering business, Quirky Catering. The pub is also a vital supporter of town centre initiatives including Rochdale in Bloom and the recent Feel Good Festival.

Recognised by the Rochdale, Oldham & Bury branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) as its pub of the year for the last two years, the Flying Horse first made the Good Beer Guide in 2002. The pub’s growing success saw a doubling in size of its real ales to twelve handpumps, with traditional ciders, craft keg and a selection of foreign beers making it a drinkers’ delight.

CAMRA’s regional director Graham Donning said: “The Flying Horse represents all that a well-loved pub should be. It is supported by its regulars, and attracts visitors for its beer, food and accommodation offers. It has adapted to changing social patterns, but at its heart is a landlord whose commitment to real ale makes the Flying Horse a worthy winner.

“Last year, our regional winner was just pipped at the post, gaining runner-up in the national Pub of the Year. I’m not a betting man but I’m confident this pub will be neck and neck in the final strides!”

The Flyer, as locals call it, lined up against seven other exceptional pubs nominated by the Greater Manchester branches of CAMRA. An expert team of volunteer judges drawn from the 9,400 members in the region visited unannounced and evaluated the qualities of each. They scored the pubs on a variety of weighted features including quality of welcome, value for money, community focus and – most importantly – the quality of beers and ciders.

Regional judging coordinator for CAMRA, Caroline O’Donnell added: “Our judges gave points for the knowledgeable and welcoming service, condition of real ales and ciders, and the innovative use of a digital display board showing beers and tasting notes. Most commented on the building’s interesting features and the lively and friendly atmosphere. It’s great that The Flying Horse champions local breweries, especially the excellent brewers in Rochdale.”

Ben Boothman is thrilled with the award. He said: “This success is down to a fantastic team, headed by my bar manager Jon Hudson. We all share a belief that happy customers will tell everyone about their good experiences. And I’ve been helped by our suppliers and breweries who consistently provide customers with the best food and drink.

“I’m proud of our welcoming atmosphere and delighted the judges mentioned this in their assessments. Keeping and serving our traditional beers and cider in tip-top condition is a matter of personal pride, so it’s fantastic to be recognised as the regional winner.

“I’ve wanted to see Rochdale recognised as a great town for beer choice, and I’ve enjoyed strong support from the local CAMRA branch. There’s a lot of history associated with Rochdale but it has a great future too.”

CAMRA will be presenting the award to Ben at The Flying Horse on Thursday 23rd August at 7.30pm.

Notes

1. Each branch decides its pub of the year, and the regional winner is drawn from these. In 2018 the finalists were:

  • Wigan Central WN3 4DY (Wigan branch)
  • Blue Bell Inn, Levenshulme M19 3HF (Stockport & South Manchester branch)
  • The Brink M3 3BQ (Central Manchester branch)
  • The Flying Horse, Rochdale OL16 1NJ (Rochdale, Oldham & Bury branch)
  • Old Packet House, Altrincham WA14 1LW (Trafford & Hulme branch)
  • New Oxford M3 6DB (Salford branch)
  • The Beer School, Westhoughton BL5 3AZ (Bolton branch)
  • Queen Anne, Golbourne WA3 3PZ (South East Lancs branch)
    The High Peak, Tameside & NE Cheshire branch selected its pub of the year outside Greater Manchester.