The Established & The New – 2 Bars in Brighton – 18/05/2015

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(Brighton almost blew me away. Literally)

Some of the more perceptive of you may have realised that I care about the more social side. In that regard, I am indeed, a bit of a Socialist. Over the years, I have held a number of roles in the various Unions that protected my rights. So, when a Senior fella from the Union’s London HQ asked me to fill a role at Conference this year, I accepted. With my stress issues, I could never be a rep again, but if there was a little something that I could give back, I would. Willingly.

So it was, that I found myself in Brighton, walking into the teeth of a gale on the seafront.

I don’t travel TOO much. When I do, I like to catch up with people from the areas that I visit. On this occasion, it was my buddy (and my favourite blogger from that there South) Glenn Johnson. And a young man I have grown to rather respect, Karl.

Glenn suggested meeting in the first of the two pub/bars that we went it. And when I finally reached it, having walked up the hill from the seafront, to Surrey Street, it was only then that I realised that I’d been in a Brighton legend before…

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The Evening Star (Surrey Street)

I’m no expert on this pub, but I know that Dark Star started brewing in the cellar in 1994. Last time I was at Conference, I went in and just presumed it was a Freehouse with good beers, which it did (and still has) and didn’t realise it was a/the Dark Star pub.

The pub is a single room with the smallish bar occupying a corner area. Stripped wooden floor, lots of bare wood tables of various shapes and sizes, for a Nationally renowned pub, this had a real feel of a “local”. The conversations were the thing with just a light background tunage going on. It just felt so….me. Just my kind of pub.

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The pub is located on Surrey Street, mere yards from Brighton Train Station. Now then. Those who know Brighton, will know that there is a bit of a slope from the beach, up West Street to the Station. Which I trolled up. Quickly. because I hate being late. And Glenn was travelling from Yapton, some miles away. The only pint to have was the iconic HopHead. Nicely bitter if not as sharp as I was expecting, this was still a damn fine pint with which to slake a thirst.

As I started to drink, Glenn turned up and after a short while, while he froze a bit (I, being a porker, am numb to the cold), we went inside to carry on our chat.

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I was starting to love this pub. Uncluttered, just tables, chairs and damn good beer. The chat flowed. Inevitably, it was about beer. Glenn knows his stuff and we chatted about a wee plan that he has up his sleeve that he is exploring. When it comes off, I’ll be shouting about it! I’m quite excited for him.

Then Karl contacted me with the words “Was it tonight?” “I take it that you’re in The Evening Star?” He turned up and I got him a pin sharp pint of Arise by Burning Sky. Which he adored. An unfiltered session IPA. When the barman said “It IS £4.40 you know?” My response of “That’s OK, I’m from Manchester. This is cheap!” made him chortle. I could have listened to Karl’s stories all night. One of the three most ferociously smart people I know (the others being a close friend of us both and that friend’s recently deceased Dad), he also possesses a great social conscience and bucketloads of empathy. A man of the same tribe.

After Karl had to leave, I downed my excellent pint of a beer from Brick House Brewing of Brighton which I think was called Requiem (a session strength IPA) which was a beauty. Nice and hoppy. They’ve only being going a couple of months. If this is any indicator, they’ll do damned well. A fine beer. We moved on, to a bar of a more recent vintage.

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The Brighton Beer Dispensary (Dean Street)

Glenn suggested this place. What. A. Bar.

Apparently a joint venture between The Late Knights Brewery of SE London and the Brighton Bier Co, this is a small bar that is well worth seeking out (just around the corner from Craft Beer Co)

The place is not much larger than a Micro pub, but with the addition of a Conservatory to the rear that would increase capacity, with much wood and exposed brickwork, including a few tables with high bar stools. And damn friendly and helpful bar staff.

The four hand pumps on the bar were split between the joint owners, with two further casks on gravity from Liverpool Craft (a welcome sight so far south!) and Williams Brothers. Glenn had the Willams Brothers’ “Mystery Stout” which he enjoyed, whilst I (being a “when in Rome” kinda fella) tried the Brighton Bier Co “Thirty Three” Pale Ale. Which was bloody gorgeous. Surprisingly full-bodied for a beer at 3.3%, it was a hoppy and bitter little gem

The food was of the Craft Burger variety and I plumped for a Portobello & Brie burger. A Huge Portobello mushroom topped with Brie with a nice sweet chutney and some greenery. And gorgeous beer battered gherkins! With great chips. It was superb. And went down even better with a Brighton Bier Co South Coast Pale! Big, juicy, resinous and bitter. As hoppy as I could want.

Glenn had to get himself back home at this point. It’s nice to meet good beery folk. And Glenn is certainly one of those. Proving that “Beer People Are Good People”. There’s another mini crawl in Manchester just waiting for him!

More “Thirty Three” was followed by a can from the well stocked fridge (how remiss of me to omit the excellent keg and fridge choices!) – a Holy Cowbell India Stout from Beavertown. Just wow! A hoppy Stout counterpart for 8 Ball. I gave my Dubliner associate (Denis) a taste. He was bowled over. By an English brewed Stout. Wonders will never cease!

After that, time was up. I love this bar. A little pearl in the Brighton oyster. And well worth a visit.

Thanks to Glenn for the mini tour. And Karl for making the effort. Good people.

That’s it for a wee while. Well, London Part 2 next weekend!

Tune

“I want to forget how conviction fits
But can I get out from under it?
Can I cut it out of me?
It can’t all be wedding cake
It can’t all be boiled away
I try but I can’t let go of it
Can’t let go of it, uh huh.

Cause you don’t talk to the water boy
And there’s so much you could learn but you don’t want to know,
You will not back up an inch ever,
That’s why you will not survive”

(“The Underdog” – Spoon. Clip courtesy “Alphamatrix1” on YouTube)

This track is from the album GaGaGaGaGa. It was the first thing that I heard by Spoon. From the first brass stab, I was hooked. In the US they are (kind of) known as the kings of minimal Indie. If you listen, you can hear why. There is no frippery, no fat. The tunes are pared down and lean. No wasted guitar or keyboard. The music is almost skeletal. Now that may read weird, having used “The Underdog”, but listen to them on Spotify and see what I mean.

It was at the time that I found Spoon and bands like The Decemberists and The New Pornographers ( as well as getting deeper into Wilco) that I became utterly disillusioned with current UK guitar based music. To be frank, it bores me. I haven’t had my ears prick up to anything from these shores since the first Arctic Monkeys album.

Go on. Tell me. “My loss”!

Whilst this song may seem to have nothing to do with the piece above it, I guess that it’s here because I want to get back to a personal space where I’m less ….. I suppose…arsed? To acknowledge that there are things worth giving a shit about. And some that aren’t.

Cutting the latter out of my psyche might mean that I add a few more years to this existence. That, or stronger blood pressure meds!

Toodles!

London – April 2015 – Long Time No See

It had been over a year since the last time I had been drinking in the The Big City. Last March in fact (getting tipsy on boats doesn’t QUITE count!), so when the opportunity arose for a 3 day stay, I grabbed it – though somewhat reluctantly.

Reluctantly?

I guess I am a “home bird”. I am also becoming a bit of a professional Northerner, in that – especially where beer is concerned – I don’t feel that we need to doff the cap any more. Some Northern breweries (in my humble…..) easily brew beers that can match – if not better – their Southern brewing brothers and sisters. Yes, I am biased, something which I freely admit.

However, what London DOES have, is some outstanding pubs, the like of which that Manchester (for instance) simply doesn’t have. So what’s an aging boy to do eh? With a couple of evenings to kill. And an Oystercard.

Yup.

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The Cock Tavern (Mare Street, Hackney – approx 100 Yds from Hackney Central Overground Stn)

According to various sources, there may have been a pub on this site since the early 18th century. However, the current premises was rebuilt by Truman’s Brewery in the 1930s. Now though, it is the brewery (and tap) of Howling Hops Brewery, a brewery whose beers are bloody hard to find Oop North. Which is a shame. Because they are superb.

This interior of this pub is best summed up as….wood. The pace is stripped back and basic. And it is all the better for it. Stripped back floorboards, old wooden tables, chairs and bench seating and a lovely L shaped bar with a LOT of hand pumps dispensing Howling Hops own beers.  It feels like a place to drink beer. And chat. Which is what I and my buddy did.

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I paid little mind to the ciders (though there were a few) and bypassed the craft keg (7 I think) and focused on the 8 hand pulls featuring 7 of the brewery’s own beers – brewed downstairs. I had 3. Well….It was an early start!

XX Pale 5% – A fruity pale ale hopped with Columbus, Citra, Centennial & Mosaic with predictably lip smacking results.

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Mild 3.3% – A Dark Mild. Because I like Mild. OK? A nice Mild can be a thing of beauty and not the preserve of the 1950s and the beclothed of cap, whippet toting Northerners of old. Again, 4 hopped (Centennial, Columbus, Cascade & Citra), this was reminiscent of another of my favourites (All Black by Allgates) but was (an oxymoron for a Mild) slightly more assertive – and it’s a relative term. Either way, a highlight for me. You might say “a Mild for non-Mild drinkers” and I wouldn’t argue.

American Brown Ale 4% – Brown. A dose of rye and licorice on the nose and a crackling dry pint. A corker.
And then I looked in the fridge and noticed some of their own bottles. Up North, these are as rare as the droppings of that legendary wooden steed. So I had to. Didn’t I? And if I’m going to bring one back, it might as well be big.
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And it is.
Now then. For those semi-pro Northerners who aren’t in the know. An Oystercard is a godsend. Especially now that TfL have WANGED up the price for a day Travelcard to £12 or more! So, with that in my pocket, I was off back to Hackney Central, change at Highbury & Islington, Victoria Line to Kings X, Northern Line to Kentish Town, then a C2 bus. In reality, only approx 20 or so minutes. And the bus drops you DIRECTLY outside the door of the next premises.
Was it worth it? Oh yes.
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The Southampton Arms (139, Highgate Road, Kentish Town)
This pub just speaks to my soul. Wooden floors, wooden benches, wooden settles. A mahogany bar. A turntable rather than a CD player or streaming service! 12 hand pumps for beer. Several more for real cider. And proper pub grub. By which I mean, Pork Pies. More on that later.
A place that looks like it’s been here forever, this was apparently reborn in about 2009 and was stripped back to reveal all of that lovely wood. Long, but not particularly wide, the bar is long and festooned with all of those lovely handpulls featuring beers from micro breweries far and wide. A gents with access from outside too, an unusual feature. As is the rather lovely old mirror advertising the wares of the original Lacons Brewery.
It was busy, but we grabbed a table. I reached the bar and started to scan. But my eyes froze and my back leg rose like the tail of a Pointer.
Hobsons Mild. I drink it wherever I find it. It’s quite simply the best brown Mild that I’ve ever had. Refreshing and nutty. And light, at 3.2%. And utterly delicious. As was the 1/2 of Pork, Chicken & Stuffing pie. A steal at £3.60
Now, the Hobsons aside, I am (by nature) a kind of “When in Rome” kind of fella. Therefore, with my predilection for dark beers, the next choice was fairly simple.
Dissident Porter from Gipsy Hill Brewing (West Norwood, SW London) was 4.8%. And Dark. And so damn moreish. First beer from this brewery. Roasted, chocolatey, smooth and Oh. So. Drinkable. I’ll be looking out for this brewery again. excellent beer.
Food was necessary at this point. So we headed back into the city and Holborn via Northern Line to Kings X and Piccadilly Line to Holborn.
Fish, chips & peas with bread & butter and a mug of tea for £10. In London? The joy that is The Fryers Delight on Theobalds Road. A basic caff with excellent grub. And close to the next pub!
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The Lamb (94, Lambs Conduit Street, Bloomsbury)
The Lamb. A Young’s pub. Yet not as it was.
Last time I came in was 10 years ago. The day after the tube bombings. I still have the memory of walking past the destroyed bus at Tavistock Square. Some things never leave you.
Happier times though. The last time I came in, they only sold Young’s beers. So it was a nice surprise to see 2 from Sambrook and a beer (apparently brewed for the pub) from Redemption. Which I had to try. The Bloomsbury Blend was a bit of a surprise, in that it was a nicely flavoured mid-strength bitter, but lacked the assertiveness of some of their other beers that I have had. Nice enough though
Lamb bar
(Nicked from the Young’s Website)
The Lamb is one of those pubs that just HAVE to be visited. It is a Victorian symphony in wood. A beautiful – almost circular – bar with the snob screens being a unique feature to my eyes (those little windows open above the bar – top left of pic) – designed so that bar staff needn’t meet the gaze of Victorian customers.
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(All mine this one!)
The pub is, quite simply, a Grade 2 listed gem. Built (acc to Historic England) probably early 18th Century, it may lack the buzzy kudos od some of the craft bars locally, but it takes some beating as a simply beautiful pub.
All of that travelling, on tube, bus and train? £6.40. What’s the word? Bargain.
Next evening, a little less trekking was in order, Victoria line to Euston, then Northern Line to Old Street. Quality beer and food were sought. We were not to be disappointed.
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The Old Fountain (Baldwin Street, EC1 – 3 mins from Old Street tube, City Rd Exit)
This has been a decent beer gaff as far back as I’ve been coming to London. A “cut” pub, in that there is another entrance on Peerless Street, Baldwin Street is directly off City Rd (A501) just to the north of Old Street.
Again, wood is the thing. Lots of it. Sources date this place to about the mid 18th century and it does have the feel of an old ale house about it. And it was bloody busy. With no tables available. And a lovely menu taunting us!
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A slightly limp pint of Jarl was dealt with, then a table located, luckily. A zinging pint of Oakham Citra accompanied by a HUGE home-made (and slightly runny) Scotch Egg more than made up for the Jarl! The Citra was all that one of the best pale ales in the country should be. Sharp, clean and massively refreshing.
The house burger was huge and (after the Scotch Egg) just too much. The chips were excellent too.
The pub lists 18 constantly rotating beers on cask and keg. And it was a keg font that caught my eye. From my favourite London brewery. And a beer I hadn’t yet had.
London SmokeFive Points Brew Co (Hackney) was SO unctuous! Smooth like an oil slick. Bitter chocolate, root licorice and just the right hint of smoke. Just a bloody superb beer. From a brewery that don’t muck about, take their time and just get the beers right. 7.8% abv was just about right.
Then. That rare thing in London. A walk.
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The Jerusalem Tavern (Britton Street, off Clerkenwell Road)
Walking along Britton Street and entering The Jerusalem, you wouldn’t think that you were only 1 minute away from the recently redeveloped Farringdon tube station! It’s like stepping into the 19th century.
The building dates from the early 18th Century with its conversion to a pub probably a century later. The pub has a bit of history itself, best read here.
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I’ve always felt that this place had the feel of a 17th century coffee-house, it feels unique and I, for one, have never been in a pub quite like it, And I have introduced many of my colleagues to its charms. All have adored it.
It. Is, Small. And can probably handle only about 60 people at most, with punters frequently spilling out from the front and side.
It is owned and run by St Peters Brewery of Bungay in Suffolk. I think that they only have two pubs and the other is a brewery tap. Whatever, it is one hell of a spot and gets busy with an after work city crowd. And rightly so.
In here, I could look no further than the Old Style Porter. Just a beautiful smooth, dark and lusciously roasted beer, with the merest hint of sweetness. It is, quite simply, one of the best porters that I’ve ever had. Moreish in the extreme. I had two. I should have picked up a bottle of Honey Porter too. But I have a memory like Emmental.
Going home the next evening after work, we had an hour or two to kill. Now then, I love the Euston Tap as much as anybody, but the range of breweries just….doesn’t really seem to change much. There never seems anything to excite me. Great beer, granted. But sometimes, I just want something that feels a little bit more, you know….pub like. So I went on a 90 second hike from the front of Euston Station.
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The Bree Louise (Coburg Street, Euston)
If the planners for the HS2 rail link get their way, this pub will be vapourised, obliterated from the map. Some might say “meh”. Me? I like this place. A lot. It has a soul that some nearby places lack. We came here for food and a pint (or 4) and were disappointed by neither,
The pub itself is of the “street corner” type that is sadly missing from my home city. It isn’t huge. And has a chaotic feeling when full of commuters hunting a pint. But the staff are friendly and efficient (incident about a late delivered meal to my mate aside!) and there is a LOAD of cask ale, Probably about 18 on the go.
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Now this amount of beer can lead to the odd dud. That is simply unavoidable, save reducing the number of beers. \But as long as they replace a lame pint, that is fine. I had one. And they replaced it without fuss. Brownie points.
COne of the endearing things about this place is the stillage dispense, a rarity in city centres (Yes, I DO know 57 Thomas Street, but that in itself is an oddity) and to look at the bar, you might struggle to make out what beers are on. Which is where the 42 inch screen comes in with a rotating view of beers separated into hand pulled, gravity and keg. A nice touch.
Now this particular evening was noted as a Tap Takeover by Hogs Back Brewery. Not a fan, so I focused on the other 60% of beers on offer. In order, these were :
  • HopHeadDarkStar – Predictable excellence. Pale hoppy and bitter. A refresher.
  • ConquerorWindsor & Eton – The epitome of a Black IPA for me. Bitter, roasted coffee and big citrus bite.
  • Slovenian DreamDownton Brewery – Now this was so pale that I had it as a Pilsner with a nice gentle floral hop character. The brewery has it as a Pale Ale. Works either way. But a Pilsner for me.
  • Wolf of the WoodsTwickenham Brewery – The pick of the bunch. Amber coloured with a chocolatey malt flavour and a good dose of bitterness. A fine beer.

And that was that. Other than a 45 minute delay at Euston. A further 45 minute delay on the train. The train for Bolton turning into a bus replacement service and the A666 turn off on the M61 being closed. I got home at midnight. Knackered.

London, you wore me out. With the admirable assistance of Virgin Rail & its Northern Rail counterpart. Renationalise the lot of them.

That’s all until next time….

Slainte!