What Makes a Pub a Star?

Some pubs appear in Top Ten lists and pub guides time and again. They are the places that you must visit, according to the experts of Twitter and the Blogoshire.

But what dis­tin­guish­es them from the many run-of-the-mill, per­fect­ly ade­quate booz­ers that sit on cor­ners and high streets through­out the coun­try?

Our first thought was that star qual­i­ty requires one or more of:

  1. Cheap­ness’. This came to mind specif­i­cal­ly because of Sam Smith’s and the Blue Anchor at Hel­ston: the fact that the beer is unusu­al­ly cheap is all part of the fun.
  2. Char­ac­ter’. Hard to define, but can mean any­thing from an inter­est­ing his­to­ry to unusu­al décor. Real char­ac­ter will divide opin­ion. It is also, we think, hard for a brand new pub to have char­ac­ter: it takes a few years to devel­op (but not as many as you might think).
  3. Good beer’. This can mean some­thing unique or unusu­al; a wide range; or a par­tic­u­lar­ly expert han­dling of the prod­uct. A pub with good beer but no char­ac­ter, and scary prices to boot, had bet­ter have very good beer if it wants to be loved.

So, here’s our attempt to map a few well-known Lon­don pubs with those in mind. (Note the empti­ness around cheap­ness: though many branch­es of pub chain Wether­spoon’s could claim to have good, cheap beer, they are rarely loved.)

Venn diagram: star pubs mapped by cheapness, character and good beer.

Look­ing at this prompts one sug­ges­tion for strug­gling pub­li­cans: if you can’t be cheap and can’t sell good beer (for what­ev­er rea­son), make the most of ‘char­ac­ter’. It goes a long way.

Depends, how much did it cost?

Last week, this Tweet got us think­ing:

Well, in a way, the answer is yes, but bear with us.

How do you reduce the price of beer when you’ve got a price point to reach? You reduce the cost of pro­duc­tion, stor­age and dis­tri­b­u­tion by

  • pro­duc­ing in greater vol­umes
  • using few­er and/or cheap­er ingre­di­ents (e.g. hops)
  • conditioning/lager­ing for short­er times (see Tan­dle­man on this here)
  • brew­ing your beer to be accept­able to the widest pos­si­ble mar­ket.

It’s still pos­si­ble to brew a good beer with­in those para­me­ters and, in fact, we’ve had the odd pint of Sam Smith’s Old Brew­ery Bit­ter which rivals Harvey’s Sus­sex Best for com­plex­i­ty and zing. On the whole, how­ev­er, the more cor­ners are cut, the more indus­tri­alised the process, the less like­ly the beer is to excite any­one. Every­one got that like­ly, right?

While it would be wrong to answer the ques­tion “Is this a craft beer?” with “Depends, how much did it cost?”, it wouldn’t be reck­less to bet that a pint that costs £1.30 will be a bit bor­ing. It might still be sat­is­fy­ing, it might not be nasty, but it prob­a­bly won’t be excit­ing.

Note: we’re not mak­ing the case for super-expen­sive beer; our beer of the year for 2011 costs £2.60 a pint. And the Sam Smith’s beer pic­tured above is any­thing but cheap…

Dark chocolate mousse and Sam Smith’s imperial stout


I often like to have a dark choco­latey beer for dessert, but I’d always been a bit scep­ti­cal about match­ing beer with sweet treats, par­tic­u­lar­ly after some unsuc­cess­ful attempts.  For exam­ple, Young’s dou­ble choco­late stout just tastes like a watery bit­ter ale if you drink it with real choco­late.

How­ev­er, hav­ing tried a dark choco­late orange mousse with Sam Smith’s Impe­r­i­al Stout, I think it can work beau­ti­ful­ly when you have a full-bod­ied and bit­ter beer. In this par­tic­u­lar case, the mousse did bring out the bit­ter­ness in the beer, but in a fab­u­lous way. It made the stout taste like real­ly dark, unsweet­ened choco­late (not unlike Yeti by Great Divide). It cer­tain­ly works bet­ter with choco­late than with cheese.

Recipe for mousse after the jump.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Dark choco­late mousse and Sam Smith’s impe­r­i­al stout”

East London riverside pubs – Surrey side

A few weeks back, we went for a river­side walk in the East End and blogged about var­i­ous pubs there. This time, we went Sur­rey side, start­ing at Tow­er Bridge.

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.

The Anchor Brewery at Tower Bridge
The Anchor Brew­ery at Tow­er Bridge

Con­tin­ue read­ing “East Lon­don river­side pubs – Sur­rey side”