Saturday, 29 June 2019

Never travel on a Friday

Never travel on a Friday. How many times have I had that thought but then gone ahead and done exactly that. Invariably I end up stuck sitting in traffic for what seems like hours on end, having forgotten quite how bad it was the last time I set off on the last working day of the week. It’s a case of getting caught a few times on the hop, but then thinking it can’t possibly be so bad next time.

Oh yes it can, especially if last weekend’s trip to Norfolk was anything to go by. In fact I would say the volume of traffic was amongst the worst I have experienced in over 15 years of doing the trip on a regular basis. Rather than the usual shenanigans at the Dartford Crossing, the hold-up  this time round was on the M11, just north of the junction with the M25.

There was nothing Mrs PBT’s and I could do except sit in the car and creep slowly forward. We stopped at Birchanger services on the M11; somewhere I would normally avoid, but with bladder capacity almost reached, and the hunger pangs catching up with us, the Waitrose sandwich,  cup of coffee and “comfort break” were all much needed.

There was another hold-up, further on; this time as we approached the Barton Mills roundabout. This was down to just sheer volume of traffic, so I decided to turn off, up towards Brandon and Swaffham, passing the massive USAF airbase at Lakenheath, en route. Unfortunately the town of Brandon was snarled up as well, but by then I was almost passed caring.

I could almost do the drive up to Norfolk in my sleep, as I know every stretch of the road, every roundabout and virtually every pot-hole, along the M11 and A11. Mrs PBT’s and I were journeying up to Norfolk in order to visit my father in his care home. It was just over three months since I last saw him, although my sister had been to visit him more recently.

It’s always difficult, especially when you’re feeling slight guilty for not having visited more frequently. It is perfectly possible to do a trip up to Norfolk and back in a day, but it does obviously depend on traffic conditions and how willing the driver (me!) is to remain in the saddle for five to six hours!

It is also feasible to do a day trip using public transport, especially as there are some real bargain rail fares available for advanced bookings. There is also a regular and frequent bus service which runs from Norwich station to Dereham, but that still leaves the final and most problematic leg of the journey.

It’s around three and a half miles from Dereham town centre to dad’s care home in the village of Gressenhall, but it’s not a journey I’d want to undertake as a pedestrian. With no footpaths once you reach the edge of the town, and narrow roads busy with speeding traffic, walking is not an option; much as I enjoy being on foot.

A pre-booked taxi, for that final leg, is the answer, but the last time I made the journey I had to re-schedule the taxi, as my train was delayed for 45 minutes at Ipswich, on the outward journey. (That day was a Friday, too!). Taxi companies are often fully booked for the return school run, during term time, and having to change my pick-up time, meant I was left with only a limited amount of time at the care home. Despite these pitfalls, I am still tempted to make use of the public transport option for future visits.

My preferred option though, is to make a weekend of it, and drive up either on a Friday or a Saturday, book into a convenient B&B, and combine the trip with a visit to dad, followed by some time spent enjoying all that Norfolk has to offer. I have been doing this for the last four or five years; more if I take into account the visits I made whilst mum was still alive.

Son Matthew would often accompanied me on these trips, but more recently Mrs PBT’s has decided to join me. The cynic in me would say that’s because my mother is no longer with us. The well known antipathy between wives and their mother-in-laws certainly limited my wife’s trips to Norfolk to just the occasional “duty visit,”  but that’s not really fair, as ever since her spell in hospital, last year, she has been much keener to accompany me on visits to see my father.

So now, instead of an unspoilt country pub, or a quirky B&B in the middle of nowhere, it’s the good, solid and eminently reliable Premier Inns, even if at times they are  somewhat more expensive. And with me picking up the bill, what’s not to like, as far as Mrs PBT’s is concerned!

Last weekend we again found ourselves at the Premier Inn, Norwich West, directly opposite the Norfolk County Showground. We have stayed there several times in the past, as its location to the west of Norwich means that dad’s care home is just a short 20 minute drive away.

Dad seemed much better than he’d done on my previous two visits, and rather than falling asleep in his chair, he was up and walking about. We stayed whilst he had his dinner, and watched him demolish both courses with some relish. Seeing him active and alert like that made the trip all the more worthwhile.

We didn’t get up to that much on the pub front, particularly on that first evening, as after nearly five hours behind the wheel, neither of us fancied jumping into the car again, even for a short while. Instead we popped next door to the Table Table (daft name for an eatery) chain restaurant, adjacent to the Premier Inn.

We’d eaten there before of course, and whilst the food offering is pretty good for a chain, the beer range is piss-poor. With Doom Bar as the only cask ale, and some very lacklustre, big-name international brands of lager (Carling, Stella & San Miguel), on sale, Table Table’s saving grace was bottled Brew Dog Punk IPA – despite its eye-watering price of £4.50 for a 330ml bottle!

We ate there on the second night as well, but only because the pub we’d driven out to was fully booked. In my defence I had tried to book, but the pub is closed afternoons, between 2.30pm and 6pm, and they don’t answer the phone during that time!

The name and location of the pub will be revealed in a future post, but we did manage a drink there after making a frantic phone call to reserve a place at Table Table. You leave me enjoying my roast breast of chicken and rack of ribs, complete with bottle of Brew Dog Punk IPA

Until next time……………….

Thursday, 27 June 2019

The George, Southwark - a slice of history

I was in London on Tuesday evening, attending a function at the historic George, in Borough High Street, just a short hop from London Bridge station. The meeting I was at, took place in one of the upstairs rooms, in the galleried section of this old coaching inn, and when the evening’s business was over, there was beer and sandwiches for those in attendance.

I will reveal the nature of the meeting later, although it is not particularly relevant to this narrative, but for now, the main reason for writing this article is to draw peoples’ attention to the pub itself, as it is a real survivor from a bygone age.

The George dates from the 17th Century and is London’s last remaining galleried coaching inn. As such the building is Grade1 listed, but despite this, it is worth remembering that today’s pub is just part of a building which, in its heyday, was much more extensive. The George is tucked away from the busy Borough High Street, and is reached by means of a passageway marked by a wrought iron arch bearing the pub’s name.

Unsurprisingly given its pedigree, the George is owned by the National Trust, although it is leased to Greene King who, it must be said, make a pretty good job of running it on a day to day basis. The company have also opened up and restored parts of the building which were not previously accessible by the public. These include some of the upstairs rooms, which would once have been bedrooms for guests, either arriving or departing  by one of the many horse-drawn coaches which once operated from the inn.

My first visit to the George took place with an old school friend, back in the mid-1970’s, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the place literally took my breath away. It was like stepping back into a bygone age, with its picturesque, galleried upper stories overlooking the courtyard, and its narrow entrance leading to the busy thoroughfare beyond. I thought I knew London reasonably well, but was really surprised that such an ancient old building was still standing, given the ravages of the Great Fire, the Blitz and modern day property developers!

Stepping inside the pub was equally impressive. With its bare wooden floors, low-beamed ceilings and the serving hatch for a bar, the interior was every bit as good as the outside. The section of the pub which my friend and I visited that day is the area on the far right. Today it is known as the Parliament Bar, so named because of the old Parliamentary Clock hanging on the wall, above the fireplace, but the bar was once a waiting room for stage coach passengers

I still remember my surprise on that first visit at finding the beer being dispensed from an unusual, and rather ancient set of beer pumps, which resembled a cash register. They were reputed to be over 200 years old, and back then dispensed two different draught beers; namely Draught Bass (or Bass Pale Ale as it was then called) and London-brewed Whitbread Bitter. I was pleased to note the other evening, that these unusual “cash-resister style” beer pumps, are still there, even though they are no longer in use.

I have, of course, been back to the George on numerous occasions since that first visit, four and a half decades ago, and if anything the pub seems to have increased in popularity over that period. I was therefore somewhat surprised to discover that, the following morning at work, when I mentioned my visit to a few of my colleagues, not many of them had heard of the George, or knew its historical significance.

During medieval times, there were many such inns in this part of London. Probably the most famous of them was the Tabard which Chaucer used in 1388, as the starting point for his Canterbury Tales.  In 1677 a serious fire destroyed most of medieval Southwark including the two inns, so the Tabard and the George were subsequently rebuilt. However, only the George survives today as, despite its historical significance, the Tabard was demolished in the late nineteenth century.

This is because, with the coming of the railways, the old coaching inns fell into disuse, as their original purpose had been superseded by a faster and more efficient means of transport . The George itself was acquired by the Great Northern Railway, who used the premises as a depot, and pulled down two of its frontages to build warehousing. Now just the south face remains, as a splendid survivor from a bygone age.

So, returning for a short while to the other night’s visit, I was at the George for the Annual General Meeting of the British Guild of Beer Writers. This was my fourth such meeting, and incidentally the second Guild AGM I have attended at the George.

I’m not going to write anything about the meeting, because unless you were there (and you would have to be a Guild member for that), you would probably find the whole thing rather boring. What I will say though, is that the Guild’s current chairman, the well-known author and beer-writer Pete Brown, has written a book about the George, called Shakespeare's Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.

Now this isn’t a plug for Pete’s book, as I haven’t read it – not yet, that is! But after my recent visit, combined with all my others over the past 45 years, I fully intend to purchase a copy, and read up on the history and background of this fascinating old coaching inn.

Finally, if you haven’t been, and are a lover of old pubs, then do pay the George a visit. Unless you are a fan of crowds, I would recommend choosing  a quieter time, say just after the 11am morning opening. The beer is Greene King, but also includes a selection of different beers from other breweries; some which are unusual for the capital.

Do bear in mind though that given the location, and the fact the National Trust own the property, that prices are on the high side. Personally I feel that for a slice of history, the prices are worth it, but like everything in life that comes down to personal  choice.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Trappists go hi-tech

Back in November 2015, I wrote an article about the visit I made to the St Sixtus Monastery at Westvleteren in West Flanders. St Sixtus Monastery is the smallest of the 10 Trappist Monastery Breweries, with an output of just under 4,000 barrels, or 126,000 gallons, a year, but its beers are amongst the most sought after.

I was in Belgium for the 2015 European Beer Bloggers Conference, but didn’t actually set foot inside the abbey or even get much of a glimpse of the place. To say that the monastery, hidden behind its high brick wall, is rather secretive would be an understatement, but the world-class beers brewed by the monks can be enjoyed at the modern and spacious café, located just across from the abbey.

The café is known as In de Vrede, and not only can you drink the beer by the glass there, but you can also buy limited quantities of bottles to take home with you at the integral shop, (maximum of two six-packs per person). Those wishing to buy more have to do so at the monastery gate, and that is a much more fraught experience. Not only are you limited to just one case per car, but your order must be reserved at least 60 days in advance.

You do this by calling the brewery over the "beer phone"; a dedicated number which is supposed to put you through to the brewery, but more often than not, it is impossible to get through. It is claimed that at peak times as many as 85,000 calls are made per hour, and it is reckoned that only around 200 callers get through during the two-to-three-hour window when orders may be placed.

Determined drinkers do manage to place an order though as, on most afternoons, a line of cars forms outside the monastery walls at a pick-up point for the latest coveted batch. Drivers stay in their cars as staff check registration plates, load the single crate and then take the credit card payments.

So why bother, and why all this secrecy and fuss? The answer lies in the title of my 2015 post; “The Best Beer in the World?” Back in 2005, the beer-information website ranked Westvleteren 12° as the best beer in the world.  The monks at Saint Sixtus who brew this dark, quadrupel-style beer were not at all pleased by the ensuing publicity, despite this award being an achievement that most brewers can only dream of.

As you can imagine, a beer which few people had heard of suddenly rocketed in popularity. One day, a few dozen people were drinking the beer; the next, there was a huge line of cars queuing up at the abbey gate to buy it. Stories began to appear about the abbey's stocks of Westvleteren 12 starting to run low, so to counter this situation the monks were forced to reduce the amount of beer sold to each customer.

In a rare interview one of the brothers explained that the abbey had no intention of increasing its production, despite the clear demand for the beer. "We make the beer to live”, he said, “but we do not live for beer.” . In other words, they brew beer only in sufficient quantities to support themselves and their abbey, and are not in the business of brewing beer in order to win awards, or to make money

Despite this reticence, things are about to change at St Sixtus Abbey because, in a bid to stop the thriving black market in this most sought after of beers, the holy fathers have been forced to go digital. Because of its credence and ranking amongst the top beers in the world, Westvleteren 12, which has been brewed since 1838, is a highly sought after beer. The brothers sell a crate of 24 bottles for £40 at the brewery gate, and insist the beers should only be sold to private individuals and not businesses.

In practice, this does not always happen, as despite the ban, it is possible to buy Westvleteren 12,  in a number of off-licences and bars in Belgium, invariably at an inflated price. For example, a bottle can sell in Brussels for about £14, and reach up to £40 in the USA. Its providence is increased by the Trappist monks’ resolve to only brew as much each year as they need to cover their annual costs.

Things came to a head last year, when a Dutch supermarket chain placed 7,000 bottles on sale priced at £9 a bottle. The chain received a stern rebuke from the monks, although at the same time it prompted the holy fathers to abandon their complicated phone ordering system, described above, in favour of an online shop.

The new system allows orders to be placed at anytime, and the software  has been programmed to give first-time buyers an advantage over regular customers. Every beer and every shopper will be given an online code, which means customers can be linked to the beers they buy.

The beers must still be picked up from the abbey, and no customer can return until 60 days after their last purchase. This ruling was also enforced under the old system, as the monks demanded the registration number of their visitors' cars.

Speaking about the new system to Flemish broadcaster VRT, brother Manu Van Hecke, Abbot of St Sixtus Abbey said, “We like to give as many people as possible the opportunity to buy our beer at the right price.”  He went on to warn though that, “Anyone who does not adhere to the sales rules and abuses the system will be denied access to the web store."

The new system certainly seems a lot easier, although whether it can prevent the black-market sales, feared by the monks, remains to be seen. I mentioned in the 2015 article that a work colleague has a Belgian friend who visits England quite regularly. In the past he has brought over various Flemish beers for me, so now, given the new digital system, I am tempted to order a case of Westvleteren 12 and get him to deliver it next time he comes over.

Finally, I wish to express my solidarity with the monks of St Sixtus Monastery, along with my contempt for sites, such as RateBeer, which created this un-holy mess in the first place. They have turned the world of beer drinking into little more than a glorified, "list-ticking exercise", rather than what it should be – the appreciation and enjoyment of  good beer.

No self-respecting beer lover needs a ranking site to tell them what to drink; especially as such a forum can be open to manipulation. Why not make your own mind up? Don’t follow the crowd; do some proper research of your own. Get out there and try these beers for yourself. Even better, try and visit some of the places where they are produced, and experience how better these world classic beers taste on their home turf.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Last honk for Honker's

This short post is not one for those who believe that beer drinking should only be done in the pub, rather than in the home. If you’re a cask/real ale aficionado, I can kind of see your point, but there are times when, for a number of reasons, you just fancy a beer in the comfort of your own home.

For me such situations arise whilst I’m sat in front of my computer, bashing away on my keyboard, but they also occur when I fancy  the odd glass of beer with my dinner, or after a hard day in the garden. (Yesterday, was such an occasion).

Being someone who likes a bargain, a trait I acquired from my late mother, I was more than pleased when, whilst out shopping, some high-quality, cut-price beer turned up in the most unexpected and  most unlikely of places.

Earlier today Mrs PBT’s and I popped into our local branch of the discount store Home Bargains, to pick up a few things for the garden. Whilst walking up and down the aisles, I got all excited when I noticed a member of the replenishment team pushing a trolley full of cases of beer.

The beer in question was Honker’s Ale, from US-based Goose Island Beer Company, so hurrying round to the beer aisle I noticed six-bottle packs of this beer, in their own integral carrier, on sale for the bargain price of £3.99. That’s just 67p a bottle! I grabbed a couple of packs off the shelf, and deposited them in our trolley, alongside the seeds and ornamental plant pots Mrs PBT’s had bought.

Yesterday evening, I stumbled upon a potential reason why this well-regarded beer was on sale at such a ridiculously low price. From what I can gather, Honker’s is one of the brands being dropped from Goose Island’s portfolio. The company is no longer an independent, family-owned concern, having been snapped up by US brewing giant, Anheuser-Busch (AB), back in 2011.

Today much of Goose Island’s production takes place at AB plants either in New York, or Colorado, rather than at the company’s original home in Chicago. Honker’s was one of Goose Island’s original flagship beers, but as the demand (particularly in the US), for over-hopped, high-octane double and triple IPA’s has continued to grow, its popularity has declined.

Described as “a fine pale ale that any Englishman would be proud of: traditional yeast, malt and hops make this ale a classic on both sides of the Atlantic,” Honker’s Ale is an excellent, easy-drinking beer, with plenty of malt body, off-set by a rich, fruity hoppiness. For a 4.3%  beer, it certainly packs in plenty of taste, and whilst it might not appeal to citrus-loving, hop-heads, I’m definitely impressed with it, and looking forward to drinking the other 11 bottles. I may well even buy some more!

Honker’s being discontinued, certainly as a regular brand, might well explain why stocks of it have ended up on the shelves of Home Bargains. The beer is packaged in 355ml bottles, rather than the more usual 330ml ones. The larger size is standard for North America, although they have been labelled to meet UK regulations.

So the United States’ loss appears to be the UK’s gain, for the time being at least, and full marks to the buying team at Home Bargains for snapping up this “unwanted  classic” North American ale.

You can read more about what Goose Island (or rather AB), have been up to here, at the Guys Drinking Beer website.                                                                                                               

Saturday, 15 June 2019

At Anchor for 40 years

In the fast and ever changing world in which we live in, it’s sometimes good to know there are a few things which don’t change as quickly, or as frequently as we might think. You wouldn’t perhaps include the licensed trade in this category, although a generation or two ago, you almost certainly would.

When I first started drinking it was the norm for a pub licensee to remain at the helm for many years, perhaps then handing on the business to a younger member of the family, but today such longevity is the exception, rather than the rule.

Looking at the way the licensed trade is continuing to change, the established pattern of yesteryear has virtually disappeared, along with qualities such as consistency and stability. The latter two virtues in particular, are sadly missing from the pub trade today, but they haven’t vanished entirely, as I’m about to reveal.

I’m pleased to report that one well-known Sevenoaks landlord has bucked the trend and lasted not just for a few years, but for several decades. That person is Barry Dennis, who is by far the longest serving licensee in Sevenoaks. He has now been behind the bar of the Anchor, in the town’s London Road, for the last 40 years!

Barry comes from a family of publicans, and has certainly seen some changes since he first took over this traditional town pub, back in 1979. Forty years ago the Anchor was a Charrington’s pub; serving Charrington IPA and Draught Bass. Today, whilst the pub is owned by Admiral Inns, Barry has a fair degree of control over the cask beers he is allowed to stock.

With the wisdom which comes from four decades in the trade, Barry has resisted the temptation to turn the Anchor into a “beer-exhibition” show pub, and sensibly stocks just three cask ales. He is obviously doing something right, as he shifts around 10 x nine gallon casks each week; the quality of which can be judged by over two decades in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

But it isn’t just the beer which sparkles at the Anchor, because as well as offering food every day, there is always something else going on at the pub. For example,  Monday is Texas Hold ‘em Poker night, and on other occasions the pub holds regular blues evenings, darts, presentations from various brewers, charity events, meat raffles and open mike nights for budding musicians. Barry is also a keen supporter of the town’s Stag Theatre, which is almost opposite the pub.

As if all this wasn’t enough, there is always Barry himself to liven up proceedings. He is certainly a larger than life character and a real showman to boot; conducting proceedings from behind the bar like a “Master of Ceremonies”. In short, Barry never seems to stand still, and there is always something going on at the Anchor.

Returning to Barry’s milestone achievement, last Thursday evening he generously invited a select group of local CAMRA members, to a meal plus a few drinks at the pub, in order to help celebrate this remarkable achievement. The group consisted of those individuals who have been long standing supporters of what Barry has achieved at the Anchor, during his time at the helm.

I was pleased to be invited to this select gathering, so after catching the train over to Sevenoaks, I made my way up the hill towards the Anchor, accompanied by four other members who I met at the station. We arrived at the pub in plenty of time for the eight o’clock sit down, and Barry of course was behind the bar, waiting to welcome us. Barry is generous to a fault, as the first pint was on him, as were the selection of various craft beer bottles on the table, there to be either enjoyed with the meal, or to take home for those that wished. 

The beers on tap that evening were Wantsum Imperial, Franklin’s English Garden and Gadd’s Seasider. I spent the evening alternating between the Franklin’s and the Gadds, as I have never been a fan of Wantsum. However, I do admit that Wantsum is a brilliant name for a beer, even though the brewery is named after the Wantsum Channel, the watercourse which once separated the Isle of Thanet from the rest of Kent.
Barry was certainly on form and we had a lengthy chat before joining the rest of the CAMRA crew, sat at a long table to the left of the bar. The pub was busy with regulars and other customers, enjoying a game of darts, a turn on the pool table or just chatting, but Barry still found time to serve them,  pop back to the kitchen – to see how our meal was progressing, as well as chatting to us.      

Barry and Bill
We eventually sat down to eat and enjoy a well-presented roast dinner of beef and pork, complete with roast potatoes and all the trimmings. The Anchor’s kitchen team certainly surpassed themselves with the meal. There was also cheesecake for afters, but I passed on this, as I find sweet dishes spoil the taste of the beer!

After the meal it was time for the presentation. Forty years deserves something special, and what could be more special and more personal than an original, hand-drawn caricature of Barry, sketched out on behalf of the branch by Bill Beacham, who is a local CAMRA member and regular at the Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells. Bill also hand-drew the card congratulating Barry on his 40 years, which was signed by those in attendance.

For such an outgoing person, Barry is actually quite modest. He thanked everyone for coming and said that despite his longevity in charge at the Anchor, he hadn’t really done anything special, apart from really loving his job. (He did admit to not liking the paperwork side of running a pub, but that’s understandable!)

This is so true. If you can’t love what you are doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it. This is especially true of the pub trade, where you are dealing with people, on both sides of the bar.

So congratulations to Barry and a big thank-you for Thursday evening’s meal and drinks. One final point, and this is one which is puzzling me as well as Barry, does anyone know who is the longest serving licensee in the UK? And if do, how long have they been doing the job, and what is the name and location of their pub?

Footnote: The photos of the presentation, and of Barry's pen and ink portrait, are courtesy of various West Kent CAMRA members. The rest of the photos are, as usual, my own.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Brighton - part two

After leaving the Brighton Bierhaus we set off in search of something to eat. The pub only served pizza, and that had to be delivered in and as I, at least, wanted fish and chips, we took a walk down to the seafront.

I had noticed several fried fish shops as we walked along the front earlier, but as is often the way of things, they all seemed to have disappeared when we actually wanted to find one to eat at. We crossed the road and took a look at the beach and the pier. Both looked their summer best in the bright, early June sunshine, but despite this there was still no sign of a place to eat.

After crossing back and diving briefly into the Lanes again, we struck lucky, with a fish and chip shop on the corner. The only problem was by now, son Matthew had decided he’d rather have a burger, than that most traditional of seaside dishes, cod and chips.

Cursing the fickleness of youth under my breath, we walked a little further, and found a restaurant with tables set out in front, but protected from the off-shore sea breezes, by a glass screen. Matthew wasn’t sure, I don’t quite know why, seeing as I was paying, but we nevertheless found a convenient table tucked away in the corner.

Looking back, number one son had allowed his blood sugar levels to drop. Rather typically he had skipped breakfast, and apart from a bag of crisps eaten on the train, had not had anything to eat. Combine that with two pints of a 5% beer, and it’s small wonder he was grumpy, but he demolished the house-burger and chips with aplomb. I'm not sure whether washing his meal down with a pint of Stella, helped or not, but his mood did seem to improve.

My selection was more reserved; haddock and chips with a pot of tea. This was far more in keeping with the seaside setting. Buddies proved a good place to stop off at, and other visitors to the town obviously thought the same.

There was a party of four blokes from Switzerland, sitting just along from us. They had obviously just got off the plane, judging by their suitcases complete with the IATA airport code labels, but were getting stuck into their fish and chips, as did the group from “souf” London who arrived shortly afterwards.

The afternoon was getting on, and we still had another pub to visit. The Brighton Beer Dispensary is situated just off Western Road, which is Brighton’s main shopping thoroughfare. We made our way along to this busy part of the town, skirting round the Churchill Square shopping centre.

Matthew works in retail, for a well-known hardware chain of stores, and wanted to check in on the firm’s Brighton branch. Talk about a busman’s holiday, but I went along with him, just to be nosey. A stock audit was taking place, as Matthew recognised one of the auditors, but with curiosity satisfied, we made our way to the Brighton Beer Dispensary.

The pub is located roughly two thirds of the way up a steep side-street, in the middle of a row of terraced houses.. Formerly known as the Prince Arthur, the Brighton Beer Dispensary  is a joint venture between Brighton Bier and the Southey Brewing Company, who are based in South London outfit. The main bar, with its exposed brickwork, is at the front of the pub, whilst at the rear is a small conservatory area with seating.

It was there that we sat after selecting and purchasing our drinks. I hadn’t come across Southey Brewing before, but given the proliferation of new breweries in recent years, this is hardly surprising. I opted for the 3.8% Southey Pale, which was refreshing and quite drinkable. Matthew’s choice of the keg Pilsner looked rather strange, as it was hazy, bordering on murky (London murky?). He said it tasted alright, but when I tried it, it was unsurprisingly very yeasty.

It was pleasant sitting out in the conservatory, but I had one eye on the time. We wanted to take the Eastbourne route home, so after noting there was a train departing at 6pm, we made our way back to the station. The train was busy with homeward bound commuters, and students, although most of the latter group alighted at Falmer, adjacent to Sussex University and, for the football fans out there, the Amex Stadium.

The majority of the commuters got off either at Lewes or Eastbourne, and we then had most of the carriage to ourselves. North of Eastbourne the line hugs the coast, as it passes through Pevensey and Norman’s Bay. We left the train at St Leonard’s Warrior Square, and after swapping platforms, waited for train up from Hastings, which would take us back to Tonbridge.

It  had been a good day out, and for me it was especially good to re-visit Brighton after all those years. We barely scratched the surface, beer-wise, so a further visit would be a good idea. Using my Senior Railcard, the return rail fare was a very reasonable £10.90. It is two and half times that amount, should you choose to travel via London, but then, why would you?

Brighton has much to offer besides good beer and good pubs, with a real sense of joie de vie to accompany its free spirit, and general quirkiness. It's therefore, not surprising that the town, very sensibly, voted Remain, by a large margin, in that divisive and totally unnecessary, “advisory”referendum. 


Saturday, 8 June 2019

Brighton - yesterday and today*

It must be 30 years or so since I last had a beer in Brighton, and if I recall the occasion correctly, it would have been in Hove (actually!). Back then Brighton’s neighbouring town was home to a contract pharmaceutical manufacturer who produced the bulk of the vitamin and mineral tablets sold by the Tunbridge Wells-based, nutritional supplements company I worked for at the time.

I was in charge of quality control and regulatory affairs (not much change there then!), but was also responsible for formulating new products. Because of the need for close cooperation with this key supplier, I was a fairly regular visitor to their premises, on the edge of  Hove.

My contact there was a man after my own heart in so much that he enjoyed a pint or two of decent ale. Normally after the business part of our meeting was concluded, but sometimes before, he would treat me to a spot of lunch at a rather nice pub, called Hove Place. The pub is still trading, although it seems to have undergone at least one make-over since my last visit, which would have been some time in the very late 1980’s.

So far as Brighton itself is concerned I visited several of the Great British Beer Festivals, which were held in the town, round about the same time as my aforementioned business meetings. There were four such events, and I definitely remember attending at least two of them.

Prior to that, drinking in Brighton was confined to a couple of pub crawls that I help organise, on behalf of my local West Kent CAMRA branch. Three pubs from those two crawls seem to stick in my mind; all were close to the station, and all are still trading today. This trio of pubs is the Lord Nelson (Harvey’s), Basketmaker’s Arms (now Fuller’s, but back then a Gale’s tied house), and the Evening Star (Dark Star now, but a free-house in the late ‘80’s).

Fast forward to 2019, which saw son Matthew and I taking the day off work and the train down to Brighton. For the outward journey we travelled via Redhill and Gatwick, due to trains on the alternative route, via St Leonard’s, being delayed. We couldn’t have picked a better day, weather-wise, being blessed with blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine.

After leaving the station, we headed down along Queen’s Road, in the direction of the seafront. In my rush to finish stuff off at work, the previous day, I had forgotten to download and print off a map of the town, but had an inkling there would be a tourist information office somewhere along the front, and I’d be able to pick one up there.

My family take great delight in making fun of me making a beeline for the tourist information office, every time we visit somewhere new; particularly when it’s abroad, but then are quite happy to rely on me to guide them to places of interest (mainly shops in Mrs PBT’s case). Son Matthew was content to do the same, and as luck would have it, we stumbled upon Brighton Town Hall, where the nice lady in reception handed me a free map of the town. If only things had been that easy in Guangzhou!

Now I had done a spot of planning beforehand, even if it was just looking up Brighton’s GBG entries using the Good Beer Guide App on my phone. The App threw up  just two pubs  in the town centre, despite me thinking there should be more than that, but the Brighton Bierhaus and the Brighton Beer Dispensary both looked worthy of a visit. 

It wasn’t too far to the first pub, and a quick stroll through Brighton’s famous Lanes, which were looking as colourful and diverse as ever, brought us within sight of the town’s equally famous Royal Pavilion. From there it was a short uphill climb to the Brighton Bierhaus which, with its doors all open, looked bright, breezy and welcoming.

The welcome extended to inside as well and with six hand-pumps and 12 keg lines, dispensing Brighton Bier’s own brews, alongside a number of guest ales, there was something to please everyone. After ordering our beer we sat one of the high “posing tables,” close to the window. Matthew plumped for a pint of Rothaus Pilsner, from the Black Forest, whilst I selected a very drinkable pint of South Coast IPA (3.5 NBSS), from Brighton Bier.

The Brighton Bierhaus opened in its current guise in April 2017, having previously been known as the Jury's Out – a reflection of the pub’s proximity to the local law courts. There were a handful of drinkers in, but not as many as one might expect for a Thursday lunchtime. This might possibly be due to the pub not serving food; well not it’s own food. Customers are able to order a pizza through the pub, which is sourced and delivered from a local pizza company.

We decided to stay for a second pint, with Matthew sticking to the Rothaus, whist I opted for another for Brighton Bier, in the form of the 4.0% Summit Elevation Pale Ale. This was nowhere near as good as my first choice, although I did score it at a rather generous 2.0 NBSS.

It was getting towards the bottom of then cask, but was not quite bad enough to send back, or look for a convenient plant pot to ditch it in, but it was definitely a disappointment. I can’t help thinking that with six cask and a dozen keg-lines, there might just be a little too much choice available, even for a diverse town like Brighton.

We will leave things there until next time, when we'll take a look at Brighton's other GBG-listed pub.