Drinking Diaries: The Hop Inn, Swindon

It’s a drizzly Saturday lunchtime, and I’m enjoying a cheese and onion sandwich with a very shaggy dog at my feet. Seated by a crackling log fire with a decent craft ale, it’s a typically cosy scene at The Hop Inn.

Arguably the most famous of free houses within the area, The Hop Inn enjoys a status as the best pub in Swindon. After opening in Old Town back in 2012, The Hop Inn has gone from strength to strength, hosting a whopping 1,600 different cask ales and a fine selection of gin during its time so far. Warm and inviting, with an impressive display of drinks, it’s been a welcome addition to the homegrown businesses beginning to emerge within the area.

The Hop is characteristic in both design and menu; light and airy, with exposed brickwork and stripped down tables, its understatedly rustic without feeling too compact. Pastel walls are adorned with a quaint mix of local art, displaying a variety of sketches and paintings in keeping with the informal décor. It’s also dog friendly, so be prepared to make some furry friends during your visit.

While many bars in the around Old Town place emphasis on 2-4-1 cocktail deals, owners Jason and Karen aim to take a different approach.  Offering a huge variety of prize winning ciders, wines and spirits that serve as a great alternative to mass marketed drinks, as well as craft brewed lagers that are left to fully mature, The Hop holds a unique dynamic that places importance upon quality and integrity.

Do however bear in mind that it can get rather busy here at weekends, especially on Saturday evenings. It’s easy to see why though- The Hop has quickly managed to tap into a niche market that seeks to draw in punters looking for more than your standard pint of Carling. Featuring up to five unusual cask ales at a time, brewed locally from the likes of Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, as well as a great mix of imported lagers, The Hop is a treasure trove of the intriguing and unusual. Be sure to check out Anchor Brewing’s range during your visit; a San Francisco company founded in 1896, they produce everything from classic hoppy flavours to more floral, experimental notes.

If you’re struggling to decide what you want, (understanding given what’s on offer) Jason, Karen and their team are only too happy to advise. Friendly and knowledgeable, staff will guide you through the menu, even allowing you to try before you buy if you ask nicely.

While taking refuge from the rain, we decided to make the most of our visit by ordering some food. At weekends, you can grab a cheese or ham sandwich, accompanied by a selection of chutneys. For something more substantial though, give the infamous ‘The Pizza Man” a shout- usually around from Thursdays and across the weekend, chef Ian makes his dough from scratch, offering a range of classic toppings. Tasty and budget friendly, they’re the perfect accompaniment to a pint on a chilly winter’s day.

Distinctive and organic, The Hop certainly proves it’s worth as a fantastic little pub. It’s great to see an establishment build up a bit of cult status in Swindon, and continue to diversify its range with new and exciting tastes. Whether you’re after a relaxed pint and pizza, or enjoying a night out with friends, The Hop is the perfect place to hibernate this winter.

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