The Pub That Does That One Beer Brilliantly

A perfect pint of Bass in Plymouth.

You know the kind of place we mean: it’s perhaps a bit curmudgeonly, perhaps a little old-fashioned, and everyone knows it’s the place in town to go for a perfect pint of [BEER X].

Most often these days, it seems, BEER X is Bass. Cer­tain­ly in the West Coun­try that’s the case, and there are famous Bass pubs in Pen­zance, Fal­mouth, Bris­tol and no doubt many oth­er places. Here’s a bit we wrote for our now defunct Devon Life col­umn:

Sev­er­al pubs that sold great Bass 40 years ago are still doing so and one of the country’s very most famous Bass pubs is in Ply­mouth… The Dol­phin on the Bar­bi­can is a place to drink, not to dine or pose. There is a range of ale on offer but the main event, as it has been for as long as any­one can remem­ber, is undoubt­ed­ly Bass. An ornate plaque out­side the front door adver­tis­es ‘Bass on draught’; a huge Bass ban­ner hangs behind the bar; and the beer comes in straight-sided vin­tage-style pint glass­es bear­ing the famous logo.… Though Bass may not be the beer it once was, at The Dol­phin under the stew­ard­ship of vet­er­an pub­li­can Bil­ly Holmes, it still has some of its old snap and crack­le, with a chalky dry­ness and a won­der­ful mild funk­i­ness. It is unfussy but cer­tain­ly not bland.… The Dol­phin is by no means the only Bass strong­hold in Ply­mouth, how­ev­er. At the Artillery Arms in Stone­house Belin­da Warne has been learn­ing its ways for 20 years. ‘It’s tem­pera­men­tal,’ she says, reflect­ing the pop­u­lar mys­tique that sur­rounds the beer. ‘I’ve known it be fine and then, bang, there’s a clap of thun­der out­side and it’s turned bad in an instant.’

Becky's Dive Bar, photographed by Grant W. Corby (we'd still like to get in touch with him) and supplied by Eric Schwartz (pictured right).
Beck­y’s Dive Bar, pho­tographed by Grant W. Cor­by (we’d still like to get in touch with him) and sup­plied by Eric Schwartz (pic­tured right).

Beck­y’s Dive Bar, all the way back in the 1960s and 70s, made its rep­u­ta­tion on being one of the few places in Lon­don you would ever find Rud­dles, for exam­ple, and we once made a pil­grim­age to Put­ney in search of Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Ram Tam. (That pub sad­ly gave up on this unique sell­ing point.) The Muse­um Tav­ern in Blooms­bury, a nice pub but oth­er­wise unre­mark­able, is a go-to place for Theak­ston Old Peculi­er.

We reck­on the King’s Head here in Bris­tol is on its way to gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for its Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best which seems to be per­ma­nent­ly on offer and as good as we’ve ever had it. The Bridge Inn round the cor­ner seems to have a sim­i­lar rela­tion­ship with Dark Star Hop­head, a beer we still love despite its ups and downs.

For this mod­el to real­ly work the beer ought to be from anoth­er part of the coun­try, the fur­ther away the bet­ter, and ide­al­ly one that does­n’t have wide nation­al dis­tri­b­u­tion through Wether­spoon pubs or oth­er such chains and pub com­pa­nies. But that does­n’t have to be the case: the sell­ing point is real­ly absolute reli­a­bil­i­ty. If you fan­cy a pint of BEER X, the pub will have it, and because they always have it, and per­haps not much else, they’ll both know how to care for it and get through plen­ty. (See: Prop­er Job at The Yacht Inn, Spin­go at The Dock.)

The pub­li­can has to hold their nerve, of course, when all the oth­er pubs in the area are offer­ing three, five, ten, twen­ty guest ales, plus kegs, plus bot­tles. How long does it take to build a cult rep­u­ta­tion and a steady clien­tele around sell­ing one beer real­ly well? Years, prob­a­bly – per­haps decades. And if a cus­tomer crav­ing BEER X turns up and it’s not there you might find your­self back at square one.

What are some of your favourite One Beer Done Well pubs? Let us know in the com­ments below.

28 thoughts on “The Pub That Does That One Beer Brilliantly”

  1. Two Lon­don pubs that imme­di­ate­ly spring to mind for draught Bass are Simp­sons Tav­ern in Corn­hill in the city (the old­est chop­house in the coun­try) and the Express at Kew Bridge. Both have served draught Bass for decades . Always on good form.

  2. I can think of two in Bath, one known for it, and one that is just always on superb form and that we fre­quent week­ly.
    The Star Inn on the Paragon, used to do draught Bass from a bar­rel (until with no notice ABIn­Bev stopped doing the cask size need­ed) so now serves it from hand­pump.
    Sec­ond and more obscure is the Charm­bury Arms in East Twer­ton, which does an always bril­liant Prop­er Job, one of the main rea­son it is our pre-Bath City game pub of choice, despite many oth­er pubs in the area.

  3. My first thought 0n per­fect beer/pub (with the beer from anoth­er part of the coun­try) St Albans is Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best in the Robin Hood – and to a less­er extent – Oakham Cit­ra in the Mer­maid.

  4. In the days when Bass was Bass, the West of Eng­land was a good area in gen­er­al to drink it.

  5. The New Inn in Clitheroe does the best pint of White Witch any­where in Lan­cashire. I will fight any­one who dis­agrees.

  6. Have to say that I’ve gen­er­al­ly thought of “One Beer Bril­liant­ly” pubs as being pubs very close to the brew­ery con­cerned – for exam­ple, the Bolt­mak­er’s Arms in Keigh­ley was always a superb place to drink Tim­o­thy Tay­lor’s Best Bit­ter – to the extent the beer is now named after the pub. When Tet­leys was brewed in Leeds, the very best pint of it was to be found in the Adel­phi, the de-fac­to brew­ery tap. All the good places to drink it pret­ty much were in Leeds, for that mat­ter. I can think of sev­er­al oth­er exam­ples…
    Bass, though. Bass was always depen­dent on being kept well – dit­to Pedi­gree. The prop­er sul­phurous Bur­ton char­ac­ter need­ed a hand from a sym­pa­thet­ic cel­lar­man, and it’s my expe­ri­ence that any­one who kept either of these two real­ly well often did­n’t keep oth­er beers well – and vice-ver­sa. For many years, by far the best pint of Pedi­gree I knew of was at the Roy­al Oak in Kenil­worth. These days, their choice of beers is more inter­est­ing and the don’t have the Ped on any more, but it was gor­geous.

  7. Oakham Cit­ra at the Live and Let Live in Cam­bridge. Although it’s accept­able to upgrade to the Green Dev­il if they’ve got that on.

  8. My absolute best pub expe­ri­ences do seem to cen­tre around find­ing an excel­lent pub – usu­al­ly a bit old fash­ioned, as you say, but prefer­ably with ‘reg­u­lars’, ample seat­ing and tables, music not too loud etc. – where you dis­cov­er they have a reg­u­lar cask beer you real­ly like, and then you find it is always in excel­lent con­di­tion too – so much so that you can be con­fi­dent in walk­ing in the door and order­ing a pint straight off (which isn’t my default). Just think­ing about the pubs that deliv­er this makes me feel warm & hap­py. Nota­bles for me are (recent find) the North Star in Ley­ton­stone (always has well kept Oakham JHB; occa­sion­al­ly this might be replaced by Green Dev­il but that’s fine by me); the Harp in Cov Gar­den of course – we usu­al­ly go for Dark Star’s APA which they almost always have on beside the Hop Head; and the Great West­ern, near the train sta­tion in Wolver­hamp­ton – a Hold­ens pub so you can reli­ably find their Black Coun­try Bit­ter there, or Gold­en Glow, or Mild – and occa­sion­al­ly they have Bathams on as well. It’s that type of “reli­ably good” pub and cask beer expe­ri­ence that I seem to have been miss­ing / crav­ing since mov­ing to Lon­don – hav­ing had more time to fath­om out like­ly can­di­dates around the Mid­lands – but the recent dis­cov­ery of the North Star by chance (popped up on Google Maps when I was look­ing at a walk­ing route) gives me hope there may be more to dis­cov­er out there!

    1. The Great West­ern is a crack­ing old-fash­ioned pub. Their cheese and onion cobs along with a pint of Hold­en’s is Black Coun­try heav­en. One of the oth­er exam­ples of pubs close to the brew­ery being best for the beer I was think­ing of was the Bull and Blad­der, stonk­ing Bathams, and the Park Inn at Wood­set­ton is obvi­ous­ly a great choice for Hold­ens; but prob­a­bly all three go a lit­tle beyond just one beer done well.

    2. Tania_nexust, If you’re look­ing for a pub as you describe then the Sul­tan in South Wim­ble­don fits the bill admirably. The only Hop­back pub in Lon­don, it always has the GFB in crack­ing con­di­tion. Note The sol­id wood­en square tables installed by brew­ery own­er John Gilbert many years ago to facil­i­tate con­ver­sa­tion between cus­tomers. Well worth a vis­it but be warned, it is one of those pubs that is a pub crawl all of its own. You go there intend­ing to vis­it a few more pubs in the area but just don’t want to leave! But that’s anoth­er sto­ry.….

      1. @Sue Hart.
        Had the very good for­tune to be in the Haunch of Veni­son in Sal­is­bury when John Gilbert walked in with his lady while on their way to the sta­tion and home.
        The land­la­dy hap­pened to men­tion to him that her Crop Circle/GFB/Summer Lightning(can’t remem­ber which )was­n’t on good form.
        He asked for a pint,took one pull and announced ” no fin­ings.”
        He then asked to bor­row a ‘phone and pro­ceed­ed to give some poor fel­low at the oth­er end an almighty bol­lock­ing before promis­ing fresh sup­plies would be in the next day.
        Just before he left I shook his hand and thanked him for get­ting me drunk so often over many years of GFB.
        He was delight­ed.

    3. Oooh, had­n’t heard of the Great West­ern and have been spend­ing more time in Wolver­hamp­ton than i thought pos­si­ble recent­ly! Will have to give it a go.

  9. The Sun Inn. Stock­ton On Tees. The Bass is served using Bankers, half pints pre­vi­ous­ly pulled and kept in the fridge.
    It could be its a rem­nant of the days when many pints had to be pulled as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

  10. White Horse at Par­sons Green used to be famous for Bass in the Mark Dor­ber days. Youngs’ WW at the White Cross in Rich­mond.

  11. Slight­ly at a tan­gent to your theme, as I under­stand it, is the pub that only does one real ale but does it superbly. Most of the time it seems that the sort of pub that has only one hand pump sells so lit­tle of the beer that it’s more often off than on. (There’s no call for real ale, you see.)

    A stand­out excep­tion to this is the Empress in the cen­tre of Hull (see https://www.pubsgalore.co.uk/pubs/54543/). Here the soli­tary beer is John Smiths Cask, but in com­par­i­son with the same beer drunk else­where, well – it’s just not the same beer!

  12. The pub in ques­tion – The Kings Head – Deane, Bolton.

    The beer – Flat Cap, Bank Top Brew­ery.

    When­ev­er I am back up North vis­it­ing fam­i­ly this is usu­al­ly my first ‘Port O’Call’, which rather fit­ting­ly hap­pens to be the name anoth­er of Bank Top’s oth­er pop­u­lar beers.

    The Kings Head is a tied house and the land­la­dy is only per­mit­ted to sell one local guest ale, which hap­pens to be their best sell­er by a coun­try mile. A lot of love and care goes into pre­serv­ing the lines but the sheer turnover of this beer by the numer­ous reg­u­lars makes it an extreme­ly reli­able pint. The oth­er real ale on offer is Bom­badier, but I’m fair­ly cer­tain that if one was to make the error of order­ing this par­tic­u­lar beer in The Kings Head, the hand pump would pull back, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly open­ing a trap door send­ing the unfor­tu­nate punter into mediocre beer obliv­ion. I would go as far as say­ing that the Kings Head serves a bet­ter pint of Flat Cap than in either of the two brew­ery pubs.

    On an unre­lat­ed note; if Mild is on the agen­da in 2018 then town of Hor­wich in Bolton is well worth a vis­it. Both local brewies (Blackedge and Bank Top) serve up award win­ning dark ver­sions.

  13. The fixed tap to me gen­er­al­ly implies own­er­ship, if I’m think­ing through York­shire pubs few still owned by breweries.(or are but are more famed for guests, or are owned by nation­al brew­ers who I’ve zero inter­est in ). The only good exam­ples I’m think­ing of are tim­my tay­lor pubs (I’ve had two oppor­tu­ni­ties to buy bolt mak­er today, one land­lord, all in pubs that are known for their guests not the reli­able pump in the cor­ner), have to admit that the only true “one beer that’s per­fect always on but lit­tle else to say about the pub” exam­ples im think­ing of are pubs I’ve not been in for so long name check­ing is ques­tion­able.

  14. A lot of the ones I was going to sug­gest have been men­tioned – my default sug­ges­tion in the West End for out-of-town­ers or in par­tic­u­lar for­eign­ers who might have had some bad cask expe­ri­ences goes some­thing like “Go to the Harp. Buy a pint of Har­vey’s. Drink. Then see if they’ve got Fuller’s Porter on. If not, get the Dark Star APA. Drink. Then have one of the guests. Drink, and decide it’s not as nice. Go back to the Har­vey’s…”

    If they don’t “get it” from Har­veys at the Harp, then they can fair­ly say that they don’t like brown bit­ter.

    I know they’re effec­tive­ly brew­ery taps but I would also have men­tioned the Bull & Blad­der and Bolt­mak­er’s – if only because there’s so much _bad_ TT around, even in their own pubs.

    The best Pedi­gree in the land is at Test match­es, even though it’s served in plas­tics. It’s in Marston’s hands end-to-end with no mid­dle­men and they’ve known from before it was brewed that on a par­tic­u­lar day they would be sell­ing sev­er­al kils per hour. Mind you, Eng­land’s per­for­mances on the crick­et field are often enough to dri­ve you to drink!

    I could have men­tioned var­i­ous exam­ples of the kind of pub you mean in past lives, but at the moment there’s none spring to mind, all the pubs I go in vague­ly reg­u­lar­ly are mul­ti­choice free­hous­es or micro­brew­ery ties.

  15. To be hon­est, I hon­est­ly can not remem­ber the last time I walked into a pub with only one per­ma­nent beer on, let alone it being great. These days it seems to be none / three / ten+. I do remem­ber back in the brew­eries own­ing the pubs days it was quite com­mon that there was a goto pub for a cer­tain beer in most towns, but there were gen­er­al­ly oth­er beers on offer too (most of the com­ments seem to ignore this part of the cri­te­ria).

    1. The cri­te­ri­on isn’t that a pub only has one beer on – Beck­y’s Dive Bar was known for the mas­sive beer choice – but that it has one beer kept so well that the pub is known for that.

      But on the top­ic of pubs only serv­ing one beer, but bril­liant­ly – in 1990 we walked the Coast to Coast Walk, effec­tive­ly a 192 mile pub crawl.
      One evening, we camped in the gar­den of the Blue Bell at Ingle­by Cross, at the foot of the North York Moors. The pub had recent­ly been tak­en over by a for­mer jock­ey, and the only cask beer on was John Smith’s Mag­net – a beer that did­n’t last all that long in cask form at that time. The land­lord told us that he had had no inten­tion of keep­ing cask beer because he did­n’t know how to look after it, but that the locals had told him that if he put just one beer on, they would drink it fast enough that he would­n’t have to wor­ry. So he gave it a try…
      The Mag­net was absolute­ly superb. I have no idea if he kept that stan­dard up, but on that night, it was the essence of ale – malty and fruity. I nev­er had a pint of it as good again.

      1. Sor­ry my bad, re-read­ing it the mean­ing is clear, my wist­ful imag­i­na­tion had tak­en over! Bear­ing in mind the actu­al cri­te­ri­on, my nom­i­na­tion would have to involve a time machine, but back in the day the Robin Hood in Havant (near Portsmouth) used to serve PERFECT Gales HSB straight from wood­en bar­rels behind the bar. A quick look on google shows it is still going strong with good reviews – unlike the Gales Brew­ery.

  16. Mudgie struck gold first up with the Anchor’s 6X, and Mike’s Bass in Stock­ton is the only oth­er pub with just the one per­ma­nent, great beer that springs to mind. The old par­lour pubs like the Pont­faen often get quot­ed, but can be incon­sis­tent.

    One of the biggest irri­tants as a Bass fan is when Bass is put on “occa­sion­al­ly”, you real­ly need to have it on per­ma­nent­ly to learn how to keep it.

  17. Sad­ly long gone, the Oberon 45 Queen Street Hull (ear­ly-mid 19th cen­tu­ry. Refront­ed c.1891) was well-known for its excel­lent Bass (and licensee whose name escapes me now) to which I can attest, hav­ing been tak­en there many times (and to many oth­er pubs in Hull and around York­shire and Lin­colnshire) from around 1980 when reg­u­lar­ly vis­it­ing friends in Hull for over 30 years since the ear­ly ’80s. I don’t have any pho­tos to hand but Granville was (and is) an invet­er­ate pho­tog­ra­ph­er, many tak­en for his pub reviews in the York­shire Post. He’s still out with a cam­era (e.g. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/457396905881600089/) and active, though no longer much of a pub-goer.

    BTW I picked this up – Num­ber 42 on a list of Fifty “Facts” about Hull which are true/not true: the Oberon Pub, Queen Street, dates back to Shake­speare’s times (this must be true it’s on the Mari­na Her­itage Trail audio cas­sette)
    http://www.greengates.karoo.net/hull/facts.html

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnmightycat/5820421237
    http://www.closedpubs.co.uk/yorkshire/kingstonuponhull_oberon.html

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