Saturday, 2 July 2016

Southern sojourn

I’ve been away on holidays last week in the Sunny South (yes, really, apart from one day), dividing my time between quirky Thanet and comfortable West Sussex. As ever, I’m not into blow-by-blow descriptions, but these are a few observations.

The Queen's Head, Newton, Cambridgeshire
Features in every edition of the Good Beer Guide
  • The South seems to do both non-food-dominated rural and village pubs, and middle-class urban locals, better than the North. Possibly something to do with demography or settlement patterns, but still very noticeable. The Queen’s Head in Newton, Cambridgeshire, pictured above – one of only five pubs to have appeared in every Good Beer Guide – is an example of the former. You just don’t get pubs like that around here, more’s the pity.

  • The line of blokes sitting at the bar seems to be a South-East speciality. In one pub there was a solid row of stools with backs, and the only way you could reach the bar was over their shoulders. This does, however, tend to promote a bit of banter. One dubious classic of political wisdom I overhead was “if we’d kept the closed shop we wouldn’t have all this trouble with immigration”.

  • Beer prices in the small independent pubs in Thanet are often cheaper than round here, with £2.50 spotted a couple of times, and £3 being common.

  • In one Good Beer Guide pub, I was served a pint of complete vinegar. It was changed without demur, and I was given back the price difference between it and the alternative beer, but even so that shouldn’t happen. It can’t have been much better twenty-four hours earlier. In another, the barmaid said “Let me know what that’s like, it’s getting near the end.” Given that it looked like soup, I immediately asked for a replacement, but she looked slightly put out that I had made no attempt to taste it.

  • There’s a fine line in pubs between lived-in and just plain messy. Having artefacts cluttering up the seats is usually a sure sign of the latter, and you do wonder whether the cellar is the same. Martin Taylor knows which pub I’m referring to.

  • We’ve been discussing recently the need to improve cask beer quality at the point of sale. Classic example, in a non-GBG pub that I had visited for food. Pint of Shepherd Neame Master Brew. £3.80, which is normal for that part of the world. Temperature fine, but very little condition and a slight haze. No discernible off-flavours, but little hint of on-flavours either. Not returnable in my book, but you can understand why many drinkers would go for the Carling tap as a default.

  • The point can’t be reiterated too often that pubs in tourist areas with high pedestrian traffic really should display their menus outside, rather than just saying “Good food - see inside for full menu.”
The Montefiore Arms, Ramsgate, a classic backstreet local,
with classic early 60s Vauxhall Cresta

Commemorative Kent coalfield plates,
spotted in the King's Head, Deal

An oldie but a goodie - the Ship, Itchenor, West Sussex


  1. "Master Brew: No discernible off-flavours, but little hint of on-flavours." Sheps should use that line!

    Hope you enjoyed your trip to the utmost.

    1. Hi, Nick. “Master Brew: No discernible off-flavours, but little hint of on-flavours." Yes, Shep’s should definitely use that line!

      I rarely venture into Shepherd Neame pubs (pity as they’ve got some really attractive ones). When I do the majority of customers are drinking lager; with very little cask being sold. This suits Shep’s as they are a contract lager brewer these days, rather than the brewer of traditional ales, that they claim to be.

  2. Not endorsing the 'closed shop' comment, but you can't fault the logic - closed shops mean wages are kept high, which in turn means there's no point people coming from abroad willing to work for less. You could argue that a closed border makes the country one big closed shop.

    1. Oh, I can see there's a kind of perverse logic to it. It's a good example of political conversation in pubs where people can make odd leaps of the imagination. Only really applies to the "pre-entry" closed shop, though, which it's not hard to criticise as inherently racist, sexist etc.

  3. Deal (and Sandwich) is a particularly good example of a place with middle class urban locals, I guess.

    Sitting in bars a real SE problem, particularly noticeable in South West London into Surrey I'd say.

  4. Sitting on stools at the bar is a Bristol thing as well. I'm as guilty as anyone else.

  5. I would grudgingly accept that sitting on stools at the bar does at least promote a bit of social interaction. Far better than a number of solitary blokes sitting at individual tables in Spoons. But they should provide a gap for other customers to actually get near the counter.

  6. I often used to visit the pub alone, after work or shopping, and my favourite position was on a stool at the bar with something to read or just to ponder. Now with the smoking ban I largely visit only when the weather is ok to sit outside. And yes, I’m from the SE.


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