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Previous Pint Pleasures - April 1999

Guinness Eileen

Pullman Wine Bar, 7 Church Street, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Black Bull Hotel, Canterbury Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Black Horse, 366 Canterbury Road, Densole, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Hop Pocket, The Street, Bossingham, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The George, Stone Street, Stelling Minnis, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Plough Inn, Lees Road, Brabourne Lees, Kent

Guinness Eileen

First In Last Out Pub & FILO Brewery, 14-15 High Street, Old Town, Hastings, East Sussex

Guinness Eileen

The John Harvey Tavern, The Bridge Wharf Brewery, 6 Cliffe High Street, Lewes, East Sussex

Guinness Eileen

The Dorset Arms, 22 Malling Street, Lewes, East Sussex

I visited probably close to fifty bajillion pubs on my recent trip to England. Last month I reviewed my three favorite pubs, so this month I'll mention some of the others, notable for good beer, atmosphere, or perhaps just personal experience.

The Pullman is a pleasant city pub with surprisingly reasonable beer prices. During my visit they had Young' Winter Warmer (5% ABV) on tap, only £1.68 a pint, remarkably cheap for such a popular holiday ale. Young's Winter Warmer -- which won a gold medal in last year's Brewing Industry International Awards -- is straightforward, tasty, and restrained in its leanings. It tastes midway between a bitter and a porter and goes down like a healthy but subtly delicious meal. The Pullman features live music on Thursday nights. We stopped by to hear a band called Rumourz. Although the name brought to mind Graham Parker's old band, this Rumourz turned out to be a rather mediocre Fleetwood Mac cover band. Oh well, there are rumours and then there are rumourz, so whaddya gonna do? At least the Young's Winter Warmer made up for any potential discomfort.

The Black Bull Hotel was the first pub I visited in Folkestone, on a surreal sunny afternoon. Since it was just around the corner from where I was staying I stopped here several times, often just for a quick pint. This is one of the many pubs in England which feature pub quiz nights, a phenomenon which is just starting in Seattle. I've yet to attend the Seattle version, but I did make it to the Black Bull one Sunday night for the quiz. Each person pays a pound and gets a set of answer sheets to fill out. My friend Andrew and I comprised one team, but there were several much larger teams in attendance that night. Then an emcee reads various questions, and you write down the answers, and whoever scores the highest wins a prize, something like a couple free dinners or a free bottle of scotch or something. We were hoping for a challenging quiz to test our knowledge and wits; unfortunately this evening's quiz was full of rather vapid pop trivia questions relating to cartoon characters on TV and the like. Such a disappointment; ah, well, better luck next time and at the next pub.

The Black Horse is a fairly recently opened pub. We enjoyed it the first time we stopped in, chatting quite extensively with the landlord and landlady; but we soon tired of it, especially the not-so-terribly-interesting pints of Bass Ale. The tiny Doberman was very pretty, though.

I was driven out to The Hop Pocket, a charming old pub, on my birthday. As we drove through the tiny village of Bossingham we had to ask a woman on horseback for directions. After ordering pints of Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter (4% ABV) I sat back to examine the lunch menu. (I chose the carmelized apple and brie baguette, a unique and surprisingly sweet experience.) The Hop Pocket's decor is very pleasant: candles, hops hanging everywhere -- a popular motif in these Kentish pubs -- and a huge hop sack spread across the ceiling directly above. I experienced a strange case of dejà-vú, like I seem to do all over the south of England. I distinctly remembered being at this pub before, perhaps as a child, on the same sort of soft sunny day, at the same time of day. And I remembered something about rabbits. Then my quaffing companion told me he used to come here with his wife and kids years ago, when the pub was called The Star. They had a petting zoo for children in the back of the parking lot. And often they'd let the rabbits run loose through the pub. Dejà-vú? Or perhaps just a past-bunny regression?

After lunch at the Hop Pocket we stopped at The George, a pub seemingly in the middle of nowhere (but which is actually in Stelling Minnis), simply because I'd never actually been to a pub with "The George" in the name. (Yes, it's true!) The place was packed, and boiled potatoes were set out in dishes as seems to be the tradition on Sunday afternoons in the pubs. "Meat Raffles" seem to be popular, too, although being a vegetarian I wasn't terribly interested in learning more. I was intrigued, however, by the sign announcing a "Haggis, Neaps, and Tatties" lunch special. I know what haggis is, and "tatties" are obviously potatoes, but I was a little confused about the "neaps". (My English friends guessed it was some sort of cabbage preparation, but I later learned it's turnips.)

We returned to this pub on a Wednesday night for the weekly Irish jam session. On this particular evening two of the regular musicians didn't show up, but there was a small group of guitarists, one fiddle player, one pennywhistle, one bodhran, and a mandolin. I kept hearing an accordion player somewhere; but we soon discovered to our disappointment he was merely accompanying the East Kent Morris Men practicing in the back room. By the way, the garlic prawns at the George are quite delicious...

When a friend and I stopped at The Plough in Brabourne Lees one late afternoon we were the only customers in the place. A little boy was sitting in the corner of the empty room watching cartoons on TV, and a black Labrador and a tiny Lhasa Apso were lounging about as well. We sat at the bar and ordered two pints of Shepherd Neame 1698 Celebration Ale, brewed in honor of the brewery's 300th year in business. Fortunately for our sake the celebration had been extended one more year; this is a very fine beer and quite strong. We chatted briefly with the landlord and landlady; they'd just opened in December and are so far having a lot of success. After a short time we were joined by an older squat man who talked with us about snow driving, snow tires, and being snowed in. Later more people came in, including an appliance repairman who likes to bike and trek around the world and wants to start his own trekking web page. By that time the Celebration Ale had run out, so we switched to Shepherd Neame's Master Brew (3.7%), a well-cared-for batch (and a smart move at that point, since the Celebration was making me quite, well, celebratory).

The First In Last Out Pub in Hastings is a very comfy pub with its own brewery and a fire pit right in the center of the room. The first time I stopped in with a couple of drinking companions some rather caustic materials were burning; but on succeeding visits only your traditional fragrant firewood was in evidence. Perhaps that first afternoon had been simply a caustic sort of day...

Andrew and I had pints of Crofters Best Bitter (4.0% ABV), a most drinkable ale, and Giles had a pint of Cardinal Porter (4.3%) which tasted decent and balanced, not like those overly dry West Coast American porters. Both beers were perfect companions to our lively discussion about the illegal transportation of underage tangerines across the California state line.

We returned here one Sunday night to hear a trio -- two guitars and a violin -- called Stedman. The lead singer and songwriter sounded very much like Michael Penn, and the material was similar.

It was on this evening I realized just how popular rolling tobacco is in England, not to mention smoking in general; I have to admit I enjoy the occasional handrolled Drum cigarette. On this particular night the First In Last Out was crowded with people, young and old alike. And I was quite amazed when I noticed not only that every single person in the pub was smoking, but that they all were rolling their own cigarettes! Says something about British taste, I suppose.

Lewes is a town north of Brighton which used to be on the English Channel but has since moved inland. (No, the town didn't move, but the English Channel did, or so I've been told.) Marking the southern entrance of the town of Lewes are these majestic white cliffs called, surprising, the Cliffes. Just beyond to the east, right down along the River Ouse, is where the Harvey's Sussex Brewery is located. We first stopped at the John Harvey Tavern, a very old pub which sadly has lost its original charm due to the modern polished light-wood floor. We arrived at 1:40, just as I was about to faint from starvation. Sadly they'd just run out of lunch food. So I sipped a pint of Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter (4.0% ABV) and tried not to think about my stomach.

After finishing our drinks at the John Harvey we moved hungrily down the road to the Dorset Arms, where the lunch menu was just being removed as we entered. So we settled for bags of crisps for lunch as well as more pints of Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter. This is a good straight-ahead bitter, excellent for accompanying animated conversations about classic cars, rolling tobacco, and celebrity regurgitations.

Even though it may seem like I spent all my time in pubs I didn't. To prove this fact I'll share my notes from a friendly bottled beer tasting a friend and I conducted one afternoon:

Riggwelter Strong Yorkshire Ale (5.7% ABV, Black Sheep Brewery, Masham). This is what it says on the bottle: "Riggwelter: from the Old Norse; rygg-back & velte-to overturn. When a sheep is on its back and cannot get up without help, local dales dialect says it's rigged or riggwelted." Sheep or no sheep, this beer has a frumpy taste. There's a distinctly roasty hops flavor, but isn't it malt that's supposed to be roasty? The flavor takes the shape of a donut with a vacancy in the middle. It tastes like a roasty motel with nice panelling in the rooms but lousy water pressure. Not to mention it's way too carbonated.

Old Dick (5.2% ABV, Swale Brewery, Sittingbourne, Kent). The Swale Brewery is relatively new, having opened in 1995. Naturally I couldn't resist trying an Old Dick. It's a Beauty of Hops 1997 silver medal award winner, but I'm afraid Old Dick came too soon! The opened bottle spewed forth foam, with a head like an ice cream float. It was slightly sour, otherwise tasteless like -- yes, like an old dick! (And don't ask me how I know; I'm only guessing! Okay?)

Tangle Foot Strong Ale (5% ABV, Badger Brewey, Blandford St. Mary, Dorset). This is Badger's top-selling cask ale. Here's the story on their web page:

"Many years ago the head brewer John Woodhouse invited the brewing staff to sample his latest creation and select a name for it. Enchanted by its unusually rounded flavour and distinctive straw gold colour, the brewers disposed of several tankards in the quest for a name. When the head brewer rose to go he experienced a sudden loss of steering, a sensation not unfamiliar to wearers of exceptionally long shoes and fell unwittingly upon the name most apt for this legendary ale."

My colleague detected a distinct taste of honeyed malt; I clearly perceived little fuzzy rabbits -- clean rabbits, naturally. But this was a vast improvement to the previous two beers. My colleague said it tasted like velvet -- short-pile velvet, that is, but not velveteen or velour, rather like the texture of Axminster carpet. I thought it tasted checked as opposed to polka-dotted.

Bishop's Finger Kentish Strong Ale (5.4% ABV, Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent). What else can I say about Bishop's Finger? (See my previous review of The Stag in Hastings.) This is a FINE beer! Fine! Fine! Truly fine! Yes! A real beer in a bottle! Yes! YES! This is a DAMN FINE BEER!!!!! Need I say more?

1698 Celebration Ale (6.5% ABV, Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent) This was very much like a traditional IPA. Very good, but a tad melancholic, like a tragic movie star who is a truly fine actor but nevertheless has faced many disappointments in life. But who am I kidding -- this could easily be an Oscar winner.

And thus ends my Winter 1999 tours of English pubs. Next month I'll be quaffing myway through the Bay Area before (possibly) returning home to Seattle.

Black Horse Updates
(Last updated 30th July 2000)
George Updates
(Last updated 30th October 2000)
First In Last Out Updates
(Last updated 12th December 2001)
John Harvey Updates
(Last updated 24th July 2000)