CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Three Kent and East Sussex Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - March 1999

Guinness Eileen

The Ship Inn, 65 Sandgate High Street, Sandgate, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Chequers Inn, Canterbury Road, Selsted, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Stag, 14 All Saints Street, Old Town, Hastings, East Sussex

NOTE: The Chequers Inn in Selsted is now closed.

Having just spent a month in England -- in Kent and Sussex -- I managed to visit a lot of pubs and taste a lot of beers. I also learned a great deal more than I ever knew before about English pubs and real ale. Therefore I've decided to write about my experiences in two parts. This month I'll start by reviewing my three favorite pubs.

Any real ale lover who finds themselves in Kent, specifically on the coast around Folkestone, should definitely check out the Ship Inn, which is a CAMRA-approved pub. It's a great place to drink good beer. Not only do they offer an impressive selection of real ales but the ales are listed, along with ABV and price, on a chalkboard which is updated daily. The pub uses the "tap and spile" method of dispensing, where each pint is poured directly from the keg. This is the old way of pouring pints of beer, and you don't see it very often these days. The keg room is located between the pub's two bar rooms, so you can easily watch your pint being filled.

The best beer I tasted here, and now officially one of my favorites, was Greene King Abbot Ale (5.0% ABV). This is a strong, fine, and always pleasing ale -- a congenial and valuable ally, like a handsome and charming taxi driver who agrees to drive you all around the country in the comfort of his or her luxurious cab while relating fascinating stories about the sites along the way -- and all this for the ridiculously low fare of £2.00 per pint. Similar to Abbot Ale but not as strong is Greene King's Triumph Ale (4.3% ABV), named after the British motorcycle company and introduced in October of last year. This is also an extremely good ale, more suitable for drinking. But wait -- isn't that what ales are supposed to be good for? I suppose I meant drinking multiple pints -- but what good is just one pint of any great beer? It seems a pity not to have at least two...

The Ship Inn, which is open all afternoon, is also a great place for people-watching. Along with the regulars you can watch a constantly-rotating mixture of society's characters coming and going, from the mysterious Mr. Nose and his cell phone to the formally-dressed young executives waiting for their Godfatherlike mentor, from the noisy mixed-sex assemblages to the lone married tourist sitting alone in the corner eating his lobster en croûte and drinking pints of Abbot Ale. And if for some reason you need a momentary break from it all, you can always go take a quick stroll on the beach a mere two blocks away.

If you drive north of Folkestone a few miles up to the village of Selstead, you'll come across the Chequers Inn. This is a small, simple pub which caters mostly to passing traffic and closes for the late afternoon hours. As we walked in around lunchtime we were greeted by a friendly German Shepherd behind the bar just as somebody was shouting "One Spotted Dick, please!" in the back. (For those Americans unfamiliar with this term, this was an order for dessert and not what you might suspect.) The landlord -- the human one, that is -- was a friendly gentleman who chatted with us about sport, travel, and his younger days in London. We were soon joined by one of the regulars, a local eccentric who reportedly shares living quarters with forty-four dogs. All this time we were drinking pints of 12-Bore Bitter (3.7% ABV), a fine lunchtime brew from King & Barnes in West Sussex. This beer is the perfect accompaniment for listening to leisurely stories about dogs, airplanes, Nevada, soccer, and old men showing up at their local pub wearing nothing but pants (Americans: read underpants).

Down in East Sussex, in the coastal town of Hastings, I came across a true neighborhood establishment, The Stag. This CAMRA-approved pub, situated on a quiet residential street in the heart of Old Town, serves real ales from Shepherd Neame, Britain's oldest brewery. It's a small, old pub with a comfortably weathered wood floor, lots of horse brasses and old music posters displayed on the walls, and plenty of stag-related pictures and artifacts. A huge roaring fire warms the end of the bar and the regular clientele consists of an interesting and colorful array of characters -- most notably Chuckie, a large mellow English sheepdog who takes up a good deal of the floor by the bar. I suspect he and his owner Eddie must stop in at least once a day. Chuckie's not a beer drinker though, according to Eddie; he's probably more of a single-malt sort of fellow, I would think.

And Chuckie isn't the Stag's only canine patron. On another visit we met a furry miniature dachshund named Benjie and a pug named Chop-Chu. One can't help but appreciate a neighborhood pub which attracts such a furry patronage.

On our first stop here on a Friday afternoon we started off with pints of Bishop's Finger (5.2% ABV), a truly wonderful beer and probably my favorite at the moment (along with Abbot Ale -- yes, I've finally found religion!) This first pint of Bishop's Finger elicited great moans and yelps of pleasure from the depths of my senses. It's also quite a strong brew; since it was still the afternoon we eased ourselves down to pints of Master Brew (3.7% ABV), a beer which can be quite pleasant when taken care of properly -- in fact the Master Brew here is better than anywhere else I tasted it, except for perhaps at the Plough up in Brabourne Lees. On succeeding visits we discovered Shepherd Neame's Best Bitter (4.1% ABV), an excellent quaffing beer for accompanying music trivia debates, not to mention discussions about pubs in general.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to explain the different forms of pub ownership in Britain. The Stag is a good example of a tied house, or a pub owned and operated by a particular brewery -- in this case Shepherd Neame. With the exception of usually one guest beer, all other beers sold in tied houses come from the same brewery. This practice started in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when some of the large breweries such as Whitbread, Charrington, Courage, Worthington, and Bass decided to buy up as many public houses as they could in an effort to control the retail operation as well as production of the beer. Today over 80% of the pubs in Britain are tied houses.

There are two types of tied houses. Tenancies, which comprise around 40% of public houses, are pubs which are leased by the brewery to the landlord who runs it as a self-employed businessperson. The landlord, who may manage the business as he or she likes, must purchase beer and other supplies from the brewery.

Managed houses, on the other hand, are owned and operated by the brewery with the manager as a salaried employee. 25% of pubs are managed houses. Generally the manager and any partners are expected to live on the premises.

Free houses, which account for 35% of pubs, are owner-operator establishments, where the proprietor is free to buy beer and other supplies from whomever she or he chooses.

And in case my American friends are wondering, all pubs are licensed, meaning they own a license to sell intoxicating liquor as well as serve it. An off-license establishment is basically the same as a liquor store, where you can buy alcohol but you can't drink it on the premises.

But enough about business -- next column I'll continue with my Kent and Sussex beer tastings...

Ship Inn Updates
(Last updated 23rd December 1999)
Stag Updates
(Last updated 24th July 2000)