A CROXLEY Green watering hole is celebrating after being named pub of the year by local real ale fans.
The Sportsman, in Scots Hill Close, won the title after impressing beer lovers at Watford and District Camra (Campaign for Real Ale), a local arm of the national organisation that promotes real ale and the preservation of traditional pubs.
Licensee Tracy Soden, who runs the pub with her husband, Jason, said she was 'gobsmacked', not least because they took over the tavern little more than two years ago in February 2008.
She said: "It was not something I was expecting at all.
"We have been very lucky that all the punters have been so welcoming here. There's a lot of regulars but we are getting quite a few new people, too. They seem to really enjoy trying the different ales instead of a standard pint of lager, and I think that's because people are becoming interested in more natural products from small breweries."
Since taking over the pub, Tracy and Jason, both in their 40s, have introduced six real ales on tap, three of which are permanent and three which are changed regularly. Cider lovers are kept satisfied with a real scrumpy on tap.
The couple, who have three children, formerly ran a restaurant and bar in Alicante, Spain, for more than three years, and before that, a guest house on the Isle of Wight for 11 years.
They will be presented with their official certificate on June 4, before battling against three other pubs to see which one is judged best overall in Hertfordshire.
The winner will join other county champions from the East of England in the regional competition, in the hope of being named best in the country.
Tracy and Jason will host a beer festival on Bank Holiday Monday with upwards of 20 real ales, plus at least five types of real cider and perry.