Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Good Beer Guide 2014

Having been a CAMRA member for nearly thirty years and never getting involved with meetings and all that stuff until this year I am only just beginning to realise all the things the local branches need to do.  With the launch of the Good Beer Guide this month one of these tasks is to drop off a Good Beer Guide pack to all licensees of the listed pubs.  The 22 pubs in the Western Sussex area were shared out among members a couple of weeks ago and I picked up three to drop off.  This of course gives me the opportunity to visit three GBG pubs for a pint and I chose a couple of pubs I have never been to along with an old favourite.

Ship Inn, Itchenor

The Ship Inn at Itchenor is a superb pub in an adorable village on the banks of one of the many channels of Chichester Harbour.  There is a lovely walk around the harbour from here and it makes a perfect stop at the end of it.  There is plenty of seating along the front of the pub and although it adjoins the road it is hardly busy as 200yds further on you reach the harbour and have to turn around.

From the car park you enter through a side door into the starboard bar.  It has the expected nautical attire inside but it is not overdone.  The starboard bar has lots of wood.  Wooden floor, chunky wooden tables and a bar area with wooden panelling.  Off to the right is the door that leads into a carpeted dining area.  The pub has an excellent reputation for food (especially seafood) and the times I have eaten here I have not been disappointed.  The dining room is bright and spacious in contrast to the darker bar area.  

The beer selection is very local.  They serve three regular beers from Ballards (Best Bitter), Arundel (Castle Bitter) and WJ King (Horsham Best).  These three West Sussex ales are in addition to a guest ale and today this came from the excellent Langham Brewery which I visited last week (read about it here).  I cannot resist the Hip Hop (4.0% ABV) so I requested a pint after handing over my GBG pack.  It was the first pint drawn from a fresh barrel and it was in lovely condition.  My mouth was tingling with the fresh hoppy zing.

The White Horse Inn, Rogate

The last two pubs are close to each other and are both Harveys pubs.  Harveys is a popular family brewer based in the East Sussex county town of Lewes, a few miles to the east of Brighton.  Their beers are popular across West Sussex too and since the demise of King & Barnes they are the largest brewer left in this area.

The White Horse in located on the A272 which meanders through the village of Rogate between the towns of Midhurst and Petersfield.  It has all the characteristics of a classic village local with lots of wooden beams, large fireplace, stone floors and a friendly rustic feel.  My wife used to work nearby and it was popular for food at lunchtimes.  Whilst it does not have a large garden at the back it does adjoin the local playing field with a large childrens play area.

Only two beers were on offer when I arrived although three is the norm.  The choice was the Sussex Bitter or the IPA.  I was driving so I chose the 3.5% ABV IPA.  It has a pleasant bitterness to it and is probably hopped with the classic English varieties as it is quite a traditional bitter.  There is some fruitiness to it along with some earthy notes from the hops and it is balanced with a little caramel from the malt.  The finish was nicely dry and bitter.          

The Swan Inn, Midhurst

My final delivery was to the Swan Inn at Midhurst.  Midhurst is a lovely town that is distinctly lacking when it comes to pubs.  There used to be a couple of Gales pub in the centre that have disappeared.  Two large hotels dominate the town now which is popular with the polo playing fraternity in the summer months and it also benefits from the close proximity to Goodwood and the South Downs National Park.  

The Swan Inn is located away from the busy High Street and it is a pub I have driven past on hundreds of occasions to and from work but this was my first visit inside.  The pub has two distinct levels as it is set on a slope.  The lower bar can be entered via a door at each end and it is a small tidy public bar with dartboard and TV for Sky Sports.  Steps to the side of the serving area take you up to the upper bar which is a little larger with lots of nooks and crannies and some comfortable seating areas along with a small area set aside for dining.  It has a modern feel to it all round and it is a pub I instantly liked.      

I liked the pub even more when I saw what was available to drink.  This was the first day of the Old Ale (4.3% ABV).  When I lived in Horsham the launch of the King and Barnes Old Ale around this time of year was eagerly anticipated and the Harveys Old is held in similar high esteem.  Black in colour with lots of malt thrown into the mix it has plenty of chocolate, coffee, liquorice and burnt toast flavours mixing together to create a superb, relatively low strength, winter beer.  I love it and I shall be looking out for more of it over the coming months.

The Good Beer Guide is the only pub guide worth buying in my opinion.  I do not know how every CAMRA branch operates but in Western Sussex there is extensive research carried out via branch socials and personal visits throughout the year.  Once a shortlist of possible new entrants has been established the time between now and Christmas will be spent visiting the shortlisted pubs along with the currently listed ones before voting on the GBG 2015 entries in January.  It's a really hard task visiting pubs and drinking beer but somebody has to do it!

Happy drinking.

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