Thursday, 4 April 2019

Cooper's Arms - Re-visited

I’ve yet to write up the account of last Saturday’s visit to Harvey’s Brewery, but in the meantime, here’s a post about the Cooper’s Arms at Crowborough. Our coach made a brief stop at the pub, in between leaving Lewes and arriving at Cellar Head Brewing.

The Cooper’s is an attractive late Victorian building perched on the side of the hill, in an affluent residential area to the west of Crowborough. It is constructed out of brick and local stone, with a terrace at the front. Internally there is one long and quite narrow bar, which opens up at both ends. There are rooms leading off at either end as well. The Cooper’s Arms is a flourishing free-house which as well as supporting local breweries (in particular Dark Star), holds regular beer festivals.

I first became acquainted with the Cooper’s nearly 30 years ago, when I was working in nearby Tunbridge Wells. I was taken there for lunch by the owner of the company who handled our the print requirements. The pub was his local, and straight away I could see why he liked the place. Back then it was a Charington’s tied house and as such, served a very acceptable pint of Draught Bass. It also offered an extremely good lunch!

Moving swiftly forward to 2007 when, after several changes of job, I returned to the Cooper’s Arms with a group of local CAMRA members, to find it too had undergone several changes. After a spell under Greene King’s ownership, the pub had become a thriving free-house, and at the time of our visit was holding a mini-beer festival celebrating that most threatened of native beer-styles, mild ale.

I have been back several times since then, most noticeably to attend a couple of the pub’s Dark and Delicious Winter Beer Festivals. This is an annual event hosted by the Cooper’s at the end of each January. There are normally a dozen or so strong, “winter ales”, most of them on the dark side, although not exclusively.

As you can imagine, this is a popular event and the pub tends to get really crowded, so it was nice to call in when it was less busy; although our party of 40 did bring one or two problems of its own. Fortunately our tour organiser had warned the pub beforehand that we were coming, and I’m given to understand that they forewent their normal mid-afternoon, closed session, and opened up especially for us.

It’s quite a trek to the pub from the centre of Crowborough, and if you are on foot it’s one of those walks where you keep thinking the pub is just around the next corner, or just over the brow of the hill. Fortunately arriving by coach did away with this lengthy walk, but it’s worth mentioning that the route down to the pub passes some large and very posh looking houses, many of which have splendid views out towards the High Weald.

The pub is situated in a side road, which falls away sharply as you turn into it. Before the road starts to descend, there are some quite spectacular views towards the edge of Ashdown Forest; a reminder, if one was needed, that Crowborough is the highest town in South East England.  

I didn’t rush into the pub, preferring instead to let the rush die down. I’d had plenty of beer at Harvey’s so was in no hurry to get some more in. When I eventually stepped inside, most people had chosen their beer and had moved away from the bar. There were a familiar favourites, but pride of place went to the four beers from the Engineer Brewery. Describing itself as a “nano brewery", the company are based at High Hurstwood, a small village in the heart of the Sussex Weald. 

Their beers are hand-brewed in small batches, which gives them the ability to  produce virtually any style. Two local pubs are supplied regularly at present; one being the Hurstwood in High Hurstwood, whilst the other is the Cooper’s.

The Engineer’s aim is to make a high quality product using the best available ingredients appropriate to the style, from local suppliers where possible and, as with Cellar Head which we visited after leaving the Cooper’s, the brewery does not use finings, filtration or pasteurisation in the production of any of its beers.

Amongst our party was John Packer, who is the brewer and proprietor of the Engineer Brewery. I’m certain he must have been both pleased and proud to see four of his beers adorning the bar. As shown in the earlier photo, the beers were, from left to right, Pink IPA, Sussex Altbier, Golden Ale and Whisky Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

I opted for the Altbier which was an excellent interpretation of this classic German beer style from, Düsseldorf. I also had a small taste of the Imperial Stout, which was on the strong side at 6.8%, but was a lot smoother in taste than the Prince of Denmark Ale we’d been treated to earlier, down at Harvey’s. Some of the party tried the Pink IPA, a 4.5% pale ale, packed full of citrus flavours from both the hops and also whole grapefruit.

It was a real pity that this brief visit was sandwiched in between the two brewery visits, as I would have liked the chance to sample what appear to be some really great beers at a much more leisurely basis.  That’s what comes when you try and cram too much into a day.

On the plus side, it was good to renew my acquaintance with the excellent Cooper’s Arms, and to have glimpse of what the Engineer Brewery is capable of turning out. For a closer look at the company, click on their website, here.



Paul Bailey said...

One thing I forgot to mention about the Cooper's, is something which is another massive point in its favour. All lovers of potato crisps should be aware that the Cooper's stocks Piper's Crisps, in a variety of different flavours.

Surely this is sufficient to convince anyone who enjoys a decent packet of crisps with their beer, that a stop off at this classic, suburban pub, is definitely a must if you ever find yourself in the Crowborough area.

Etu said...

I've been playing Spot The Changes with the pub pictures, and trying to work out the time span over them all. I take it that it's not thirty years Paul?

Paul Bailey said...

Just under a decade Etu. I didn't have a smartphone in 2007 and they hadn't been thought of, let alone invented back in the late 1980's when I made my first visit to the Cooper's.

People would have thought it strange, back then, to go round photographing pubs - too much like train-spotting, and anyway my Pentax 35mm SLR was rather heavy to lug around.