AFTER the last trek out to Billinge to the Masons Arms for the first of the Beer Hunter series, this week’s pub is a bit more central.

The Cowley Vaults on Cooper Street is on the northern edge of the town centre, a stone’s throw from Lowe House church.

It nestles, side-by-side, with award-winning sister pub Turks Head – the place that was arguably in the vanguard in bringing the real ale revolution to St Helens.

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The Turks, understandably, draws customers in from all over, but the Cowley Vaults has a more local feel to it.

And that is a local community that has changed over the decades. After all, the early 80s saw the demolition of tightly-packed terraced houses in the section between North Road and Cowley Hill Lane.

The lower portions of Oxford Street, Morley Street, Stanhope Street and Argyle Street, where they adjoined Cooper Street, were razed to the ground as part of the clearance in the middle of the decade.

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The Cowley Vaults - in the this picture of Anthony Liptrot's - was one of the few buildings left standing in this section of Cooper Street, viewed from Morley Street.

Thankfully for pub lovers the Turks Head and Cowley Hill Vaults survived the demolition – and at one stage were the last men standing on that stretch. They both still thrive today on Cooper Street with a new estate built around them.

The Cowley Vaults has experienced something of a renaissance since they adopted real ale back in 2018. It had already had to do a bit of re-invention.

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After the original Cowley Hill Vaults closed, the pub rebranded itself in the mid-80s as a Whitbread pub and was renamed the Anfield Arms in a nod to the Liverpool football team that was conquering all before it then.

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Cowley Vaults beer garden - facing the Turks Head.

But we have been back to a more befitting name for this local for a few years now – and the link-up with the Turks has been beneficial. It’s most positive change for drinkers has been it joining the real ale revolution in 2018.

It certainly has a local feel to it.

The bar counter faces you enter from the Cooper Street doors with the main lounge area to your left.

The walls are adorned with old black and white photos, but there are also paintings of packed Knowsley Road – quite a change from the homage to LFC of 30-odd years ago.

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Posters on the wall tell us that there is ‘Open the box’ every Sunday at 5pm, and charity bingo every Wednesday – and the pub were recently proud to announce that they handed over £200 to the Loving Arms Dementia Group from those sessions.

Thursday quiz nights are also a regular feature of this local’s boozer.

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The pub proudly displays its St Helens & Districts CAMRA certificates ‘Best newcomer’ in 2018 and a ‘Pub of Excellence’ in 2020. They stand beside a dozen past issues of the beer drinker’s bible – The Good Beer Guide – of which they appear in the last three years.

The side door on the right remains from the old days of the split bar/lounge.

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That wing of the pub comprises a games area, complete with pool table and dart board. And up the step there is a cosy, carpeted lounge area with a TV in the corner.

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In a sign of the times there is a food bank collection point tucked in at the side of the bandit.

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Talking of food, there is now a new extended bit on the side – the Cowley Grill – that has shown the pub branching out. And that tucks into a now enclosed outdoor drinking area.

But we are here for the beer – and this week’s offerings on the six handpulls were a gift for those with a palate for the pales.

Even more of a gift was the discount for CAMRA members.

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I’ve a soft spot for Ossett Brewery – especially White Rat (a long-time staple brew at the Cricks). A pint, with discount, cost a reasonable £3.26. I checked that price on my bank statement – although in these cashless times it is debateable whether it is a good or bad thing to see how much you have spent on ale, especially if you have a joint bank account!

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White Rat is a hoppy pale that comes in at a steady 4% - a perfect accompaniment to a warm summer’s day.

Sticking with Ossett, the Silver King American Pale next to it on the pump is a touch stronger at 4.3%.

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But I liked the look of Karma Citra from the Wigan brewers Wily Fox – again at 4.3%. It described itself on the pump clip as a ‘Good vibe Golden Ale, a quadruple hit of Citra hops. Hopster Heaven.”

If the Beachboys did beer… You definitely get the hit of the citrus in the aroma – another one that went down far too easily, but a decent drop.

Read: Masons Arms, Billinge - a pub that ticks all Orwell's boxes

Time was short so I had to make Deception, a NZ Pale from Sheffield brewers Abbeydale, my last. It was another refreshing drop on the palate – weighing in at 4.1%.

The delights of Timmy Taylor’s Boltmaker and the zesty pale Salopian speciality of Lemon Dream (4.5%) would have to wait.

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Beer lovers are spoilt for choice really – a far cry from my previous visit to the Anfield back in 1985 when it was a toss-up between Whitbread Trophy Bitter or Castle Eden – and a boozer that overlooked a vast swath of flattened rubble all the way down to Crab Street. Progress on all counts!