Yes, here we are again with the hottest takes on the latest developments in beer: not only are there craft beer bars in Hackney, but it turns out there also micropubs on the Isle of Thanet in Kent.
One of our own little rules for coping with the weirdness of the present situation has been NO PUB CRAWLS. In Broadstairs last weekend, though, we made an exception because we figured we could visit every micropub in town without going within a mile of anyone else, and sticking to outside seating for the most part.
We started off with a visit to The Magnet on a hot, golden Saturday evening with the smell of garlic on the air. Sitting in the alleyway outside on wobbly chairs, we could have been in Marseilles or Malaga.
The game in 2020 is all about confidence and reassurance and there was plenty of that at The Magnet. There were enough staff on to intercept every guest and cheerfully direct them to the sanitiser and guestbook, along with table service that felt as if they were doing you a favour rather subjecting you to a restrictive regime. Personality goes a long way, doesn’t it?
When it got cold, we moved inside and, suddenly, it felt more like Belgium than the Mediterranean: brown wood, enamel signs, mirrors, warm light and conspiratorial conversation.
The cask ale selection reminded us of The Draper’s Arms, covering a range of tastes but tending towards the trad and with an emphasis on local. The standouts were a strong, vaguely Victorian IPA from Gadd’s which suggested strawberry jam and orange marmalade, and Bexley Brewery Bursted Bitter: “This is how Shepherd Neame wants its beers to taste.”
Or maybe it just feels like a… pub? Bar, hand-pumps, not especially micro. We liked it a lot and came back for another go on our final night in town.
‘It’s been manic,’ the landlady told us. ‘It usually goes quiet when the schools go back but not this year. All the hotel owners say they’re booked up for weeks. But who knows. You’ve got to keep putting money away in case there’s a second lockdown.’
Let’s hope that one upside of this strange year is a slow, steady trade for pubs in tourist areas right through the off-season.
On a burning hot Sunday, we walked past The Four Candles on the way out of town and noticed three little tables in the shade across the road. On our way back, dusty and dry, we knew we’d have to stop for at least one Ice Cold in Alex.
It’s one of those barless micropubs, the pure Hillier model, with casks in the back room and regulars who look as if they never go home.
A perennial problem for micropub owners is that people confuse them with microbreweries. This micropub is, of course, a microbrewery. One of the beers we tried, a pale ale with Amarillo hops, was outstanding; another, with Centennial, was rough and hard to finish. We’ll let others who know the pub better than us chime in below to suggest which is more typical.
Knowing that the other micropubs in town would be closed on Monday, this is when we decided we had to crawl, small C, and set off for The Pub. Slightly out of town, beyond the railway line, it would probably be classified as a craft beer bar in any other part of the world: vintage record player, smart graphic design and keg beer from breweries such as The Kernel.
Desperate for shade, we sat inside, looking out on a sun-blasted shopping street with ‘Fruits de Mer’ and a Free Church of England. A couple a little older than us sat on a bench outside smiling into the sky.
Finally, we nabbed a seat outside Mind the Gap, where we had a brief, intense emotional affair with Gadd’s hoppy pale ale (HPA).
We’ve known about Gadd’s for a long time, known it was a respected and well-liked brewery, but rarely had chance to drink the beer ourselves. When we have, we’ve been reasonably impressed but, of course, there’s something about consuming cask ale close to source. This beer could not have tasted better, or fresher, more subtle or more vivid.
The phrase ‘Another pint and a half of HPA, please!’ slips off the tongue easily, it turns out.
You can read more about the development of micropubs in our book 20th Century Pub and in this companion piece for Beer Advocate from 2018.