My heart sank. “This is a boring pub,” I thought. “Those beers will probably also be in really bad condition.” I walked on.
All three of those beers were real ales, and all three have their fans (we’re partial to Pride ourselves). This pub would qualify for CAMRA’s pub guide, too.
So why the instinct to pass on my part? I guess I’ve been to too many pubs offering that particular line-up and been disappointed. It’s a learned response.
Deuchars, in particular, is a sad case. It used to be a beer I enjoyed, but it’s so often poorly kept and stale that I don’t bother anymore.
I suspect this is a result of pub company policy — “we serve real ale in our pubs because, but we don’t really care about it, or expect our managers and staff to”. It’s bad because it can really tarnish some good brands. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is getting dangerously close to being included in this list, which would be a pity as it is fabulous.
We had a half-decent pint of Deuchar’ IPA in the Speaker in Westminster a few weeks ago. Any other suggestions as to where we can find it on good form? Or is it just a terrible beer these days?
While the tourists were busy snapping the bridge, we were photographing the remains of the Anchor brewery. Or rather, one of the Anchor breweries. There were (at least) two on the south side of the Thames. The arguably more famous one was further upstream, on Bankside, and was home to Barclay Perkins.
Richard Keverne’s guide to England’s historic inns was first published in 1939. Hammond Innes revised the book in 1947. In his introduction, Innes makes the rather poignant observation that a new edition was needed not only to help returning servicemen reacquaint themselves with the country they’d fought to defend, but also to edit out mention of pubs which were destroyed by bombing during the war.
There’s further poignancy in reading about pubs which have great histories; which, in 1951, were still charming; but which are now plasticky chain pubs selling microwaved food (The Ferry Boat Inn, Tottenham, for example).
For all this book has about it the whiff of conservatism (there are lots of wistful comments about the simplicity of life in the ‘old days’) the author is surprisingly sympathetic to the motives of generations of innkeepers who destroyed the historic interiors of their pubs for commercial reasons.
Of particular interest to beer geeks are the rare passages which actually touch on beer. The Bell at Orford Hill in Norfolk, for example, was apparently a pioneering outlet for porter in the 1750s:
Sam Barker [the landlord]… also appreciated the use of advertisement. He advertised the then comparitively new malt liquor, porter. “A truly British liquor,” he called it, of which he had “a large quantity always bottled and fit to drink.” He offered it at five shillings a dozen (thirteen bottles to the dozen) or three shillings if you returned the bottles.
Keverne also tells us that the Sun Hotel in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was typical in having its own brewery in the 18th century:
You should not leave the Sun without wandering through its big gardens, and seeing how the old malt and brew houses, alas! no longer in use, reminders of the days when the inn brewed its own beer. Then you will realise how vast were the resources of the big coaching house.
On the whole, it’s just a long list of pubs connected by vague anecdotes, usually unsourced, about Regency dandies and pub landlords. It’s not much use as a travel guide unless you are particularly interested in pub architecture. Nonetheless, it does give a great sense of just how much of a part of Britain’s infrastructure pubs (but specifically inns) really were, and reading about one village pub after another is almost as relaxing as spending an afternoon in one.
The small Welsh hamlet of Solva has three pubs within a hundred yards of each other, and there’s at least one more up the hill in Upper Solva. Only the Harbour Inn is mentioned in the Good Beer Guide (2007) but the other two are also worth some love.
The Harbour Inn has the best location, and therefore the lion’s share of the punters. It has fine views across the harbour and an ambitious menu. Beer-wise it’s a Brains place, offering the regular bitter and Reverend James. I have to say, I’m not a massive fan of these two. Perhaps I’ve never had a really good pint, but they really don’t do very much for me.
It’s cosy, and the young chap behind the bar was very friendly, although I didn’t much care for the older chap chasing families with children into their own special ghetto. “Dogs are fine, it’s children I can’t stand,” he said cheerfully to a couple on the next table from me. That’s Britain summed up for you.
Almost next door to the Harbour Inn is the Ship Inn, which also doubles as the Spice Galley, an Indian restaurant/takeaway. I’d never been in this place before, and rather expected it to be an unfriendly locals’ place. The barman ignored me initially, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, as he may not have seen me. I’m quite small.
It’s a Marstons pub, so had Pedigree and Long Hop on. They’d just had a beer festival, so on the other two taps were specials from that — something by Banks, and Golden Thread by Salopian. I went for the latter, and it blew my mind. I don’t think I’ve had a better pint this summer. It was in perfect condition, with a creamy head, and a gorgeous hop aroma. Flowery hops dominated the flavour but there were also hints of banana and clove in it. Wonderful stuff. I would have stayed to drink more, but I had one more pub to check out before the bus was due.
The Cambrian Arms looks a bit like a hotel bar and also has interesting food. On tap they had Tomos Watkin’s OSB which has a lovely heavy malt & marmalade flavour. They also had Bevan’s Bitter, from the Rhymney Brewery. This was a good deal hoppier than the TW, but beautifully balanced. I also had their Rhymney Bitter in the Farmers Arms earlier in the week, and was impressed. I reckon that the Rhymney brewery is a welcome new addition to the Welsh brewing scene.
The Cambrian Arms also had Butty Bach, by the Wye Valley brewery, but I didn’t have a chance to reacquaint myself with this delightful drop as I could hear the bus coming down the hill.
Solva is served by semi-regular buses Mon-Sat between Haverfordwest and St Davids. It makes an excellent end point for cliff walks from Newgale or Caerfai, St Davids. Just give yourself more time for the beer before the last bus leaves…
The Rhymney brewery is a comparatively new Welsh brewery. It was started in 2005, but is keen to draw links between it and historic breweries from Merthyr Tydfil. It has an interesting page about these breweries on its website.