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.

london photography pubs

GALLERY: Home Front Beer, WWII

We recently discovered the Imperial War Museum digital archive which is (perhaps surprisingly) crammed with pictures of pubs, beer and brewing.

Here are some of the best shots of ‘everyday life’ on the home front during World War II shared under the terms of their non-commercial license. (Click the ID numbers to go to the IWM website for bigger versions and more info.)

A mixed group of uniformed men and a barmaid.
Allied soldiers in a London pub, 1940. © IWM (D 1725)
A dimly lit pub with soldiers in discussion.
Home Guard members in a pub in Orford, Suffolk, 1941. © IWM (D 4852)

Brighton binge

It was a gorgeous sunny day yesterday, so we decided to go to the seaside. Brighton was the natural choice — it has a range of pubs and bars for everyone’s tastes, plus it’s only 50 minutes by train from central London.

Once we’d chucked some stones in the sea and played on the slot machines for a bit, we looked around for some refreshment and stumbled across the Bath Arms. This is a very good pub. It has a nice mixed crowd, extremely friendly staff, good food and five ales in tip-top condition. It’s not in our edition of the Good Beer Guide (2007). Not quite sure why. We suppose the beer selection might be criticised as conservative (Adnams, Summer Lightning, Pride, Sussex Best and Bombardier). Then again, there are a number of places that are listed in the GBG in Brighton which have a much less exciting selection (Greene King IPA, anyone?).

On to another good place not in the Guide — the Victory. We were attracted into this place by the offer of local Arundel ales. Arundel Stronghold was an interesting sweetish brown ale which I might have said had too much crystal malt if it wasn’t nicely balanced with the hops. Bailey had a rich, fruitycakey Theakston’s Old Peculiar. Again, the staff, though busy, were very friendly.

You can’t go to Brighton and not go to the Evening Star, the original outlet for the magnificent Dark Star Brewing Company. There are 10 handpumps, seven ales and three ciders. There are usually four Dark Star beers on, and three guests. This time the guests were from local brewery Rectory Ales. In addition to the cask ale, there is Blonde, an organic lager, and some pumps for kegged beers from Belgium and America. Then there are the bottles, some of which are world classics that are always on offer, others change with the seasons.

We started on the Dark Star offerings. The American Pale Ale was like a sweeter, fuller-bodied, more grapefruity version of their flagship Hophead, and very nice too. The Sussex Extra Stout mimics the Guinness branding, and it’s obvious that it’s targeted at Guinness fans who won’t drink anything else. It’s perfect for this purpose, tasting similar to Guinness but fresher and more chocolatey. Really, really good. “Critical Mass” is their Christmas special, a strong dark ale (7.8%) which contains spices , according to the spiel on their site. Unfortunately, we didn’t like this one — we can’t really put our finger on what was wrong with it, but there was too much alcohol and not enough other flavours. A brave effort, though.

American brewery Stone’s Ruination IPA was on tap, so we had to try it. This reminded us of a more heady Liberty Ale, and regular readers will know how much we love that. Onto the bottles, and we went for a Franconian Christmas theme — Christkindlmarkt beer from Tucher, and Weihnachts-Festbier from Forchheim brewery Greif. Both beers tasted a bit anemic next to the Stone, but the Greif offering was noticeably more flavoursome, and was exactly what we’ve always expected but rarely found in festbiers.

We finished on Bush Noel, also on tap. We like this one, and think it’s clever of them to make a beer so drinkable at 12%. It’s never going to become a regular beer for us at that strength, but it makes a classy nightcap, with all kinds of pleasant brandy and sherry aromas.

It would be easy to assume that, with a line up like this, the pub would be for beer geeks only. However, there was a very mixed crowd, and it was pretty busy from mid-afternoon onwards.

Could this be the perfect pub?