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An unscientific approach to Brighton

Its a sign of a good drinking town that you can find multiple decent pubs without doing much research.

In Brighton last weekend, on a trip with Ray’s parents, we weren’t sure how much time we’d have for the pub.

So, we didn’t bother studying the books or blogs, or scouring Google.

The only thing we had in the back of our minds was that it might be nice to revisit The Evening Star after 15 years, on the other side of the Dark-Star-Fuller’s-Asahi situation.

As it happened, we did get a couple of hours free on Saturday afternoon and went straight there.

We caught it between lunchtime and the post-football-match rush and so had our pick of scrubbed wooden tables. It felt like a country pub, with solitary readers and groups of older men in wax jackets and battered hats.

On the bar were cask ales from Burning Sky and others. There were also interesting keg beers such as Saison Dupont.

Everything we drank was in excellent condition, served with distinct pride, but we got stuck on Evening Star (Downlands) Revival at 4.8%. It’s the kind of clear, clean, citrusy pale ale that briefly bloomed for a decade at the start of the century. You know, the kind of thing for which Dark Star became famous.

“…the cashless thing is about complete control of the population…” “…used to brew at Partridge Green…” “…these hoppy IPAs gripe my guts…”

When the football fans began to turn up, the atmosphere changed, but not for the worse.

This remains an utterly great pub.

A wall at The Brick with a vintage German poster from 1954 with a stylised stag's head. There are dangling lamps and simple wooden tables with candles.
European signifiers at The Brick.

We heard about The Brick when The Brick followed us on Instagram two days before our unannounced visit. Spooky.

Its branding and proposition appealed to us immediately: warm minimalism, Czech and German beer.

On a rainy Sunday evening, in the wake of the half marathon, it was a little quiet. But that’s not a bad test of the fundamental fitness of a pub.

With its dark green walls, vintage furniture and antler-themed greebling, even with six customers, it felt alive.

One of the owners was pottering about tidying up and stock taking; two lads were chatting in, we think, Italian; and a group at the bar were exchanging horror stories from working in commercial kitchens.

The highlight of the visit was Vinohradský 11, a Czech pale lager with a delightful flowery aroma, a hint of butter, and a heavy layer of pure zing.

When we ordered, the loitering owner intervened to tell the person behind the bar: “I think we’ve got a nice little Vinohradský glass for that one…” They did, and it enhanced the pleasure enormously.

Squint and, with that handled mug to your mouth, you could convince yourself you were in some eastern bloc bar in 1983. In a good way.

The interior of a modern pub with tiled back bar, keg taps, bunting, chalkboards, and very bright lights.
Craft beer signifiers at The Maris & Otter.

Much as we enjoyed this modern bar, and its continental beer, we then had an itch to drink Harvey’s somewhat on its home turf. A 6-minute walk away we found The Maris & Otter, which we’d clocked on an earlier walk.

Again, it’s tough to judge a pub on a rainy Sunday evening, but this felt inherently bland. It’s an attempt by a trad brewery to do ‘contemporary’ which means:

  • bare brick and concrete walls
  • prints of otters in Peaky Blinders hats
  • the words ‘craft beer’ in random places
  • bright lights
  • pop music

If it hadn’t been for the line up on the bar, we’d have walked, but when you offer us Harvey’s best bitter, mild, porter and old ale, you’ve got us hooked.

The porter was wonderful, we might even say magical, with everything you get from something like Fuller’s London Porter plus that distinctive funky yeast character. The best bitter was in wonderful condition, too, but served in a highball type glass which did it no favours.

The door of a pub toilet with signs warning that drugs are not allowed on the premises, and that only one person at a time is allowed in the cubicle.
Normal pub signifiers at The Waggon & Horses.

As a footnote, Ray also enjoyed Sussex Best at The Waggon & Horses, a city centre pub chosen by his dad because (a) it was handy and (b) looked down-to-earth.

It wasn’t anything special, as a pub, except, somehow, it was. Extraordinarily ordinary. Buttered white toast. A Rich Tea biscuit.

The staff weren’t obsequiously friendly but seemed to have the knack for treating customers like human beings.

The other customers were damp shoppers, lads on crawls, and a trio of older fellers, evidently from London, who made welcoming chat with Dad while Ray was at the bar.

And the beer was… excellent.

Dark Star Hophead, that 3.8% wonder, as good as it’s ever tasted, and Harvey’s Sussex Best in similarly shimmering form.

It seemed to bring Dad, not long out of hospital, and still not quite himself, back to life, as only a really good pint can do.

2 replies on “An unscientific approach to Brighton”

Got myself a small crawl in Brighton – I live nearby these days – and used this post as a marker. By god, Brick had an exceptional lineup and it was tough to choose. Opted for Floc on cask and a Braybrooke dunkel and was hugely satisfied. I got some Revival at the Evening Star but also some Burning Sky Aurora, one of my favourites. Both in sublime condition. This town can be really great sometimes.

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