Well I finally made it. It had become a bit of a standing joke in my CAMRA branch that I had never been to the Evening Star pub in Brighton. Of course, when I told them I was finally going to go I was told 'you must also visit such and such' and 'you must also visit this and that' too. Unfortunately all of these other suggestions headed off in all directions so I settled on just one 'such and such'. The rest can all wait for another time.
I met my two mates just before 6.00.pm in a very crowded Evening Star. I have known both Ian and Dave for years. Dave comes back from Australia once a year and we always try and meet up. Ian visited Norwich City of Ale with me earlier this year and he popped down from London for this one. Amazingly, I don't think any of us had been in this pub before.
I had been told the pub is small so I was expecting to have to stand up. The three bar staff were busy but getting served wasn't much of a problem. The difficulty was choosing what to drink from the superb beer board. Four beers from Dark Star was no surprise as the pub is the original home of this renowned Sussex brewery and both Dave and Ian chose the classic session beer, Hophead. There was one cask beer from a brewery I am yet to try so I chose the Winter King (4.0% ABV) from Derventio, a Derbyshire brewery.
With pints in hand I took in my surroundings. A single bar pub with wooden floor and tables around the outer edges with plenty of standing room in the middle. My kind of pub for sure. The bar area is small but the bar staff were superb. It seemed that the observant staff were ensuring everyone was served in order and, once served, I didn't feel I was being rushed.
Hophead was given a big thumbs-up from my mates whereas the Winter King was a little too spiced for my liking. It was certainly drinkable but not one I would choose again. For me, Winter beers are very much hit or miss. Spices can be overpowering to serious levels of awfulness. This beer was nowhere near that bad but there were still hints of cinnamon or similar for me to not want more of it.
After a quick pint we headed over to the other side of the valley which constitutes the route of the A23 into Brighton. It may come as no surprise but The Southover is on Southover Street. This is a road with numerous pubs and the Southover had to be on the very top of the hill of course. Before its' rebirth it was known as The Pub With No Name. It has emerged from the refurbishment with a new name and a reputation for selling a great range of both keg and cask craft beers in a relaxed and friendly environment. Whilst I have visited a couple of pubs along Southover Street this was my first visit to this pub and I was suitably impressed. It has very traditional decor and very much the feel of a street-corner local that is serving the community it is a part of. Plenty of well-behaved children were in the pub which I have no objections to and the whole atmosphere of the place was relaxed and homely.
The cask beer range included more from Dark Star as well as Hepworths Old Ale. The keg range was more impressive with a couple from Brewdog among others. I chose a Triple Chocoholic from West Yorkshire brewer Saltaire (4.8% ABV). Served in a distinctive balloon shaped glass it looked absolutely gorgeous. Whilst I supped my way through this amazing stout with some lovely bitter chocolate notes (it was far from being sweet and sickly) my two friends stuck to the Dark Star and both went for the Six Grain. A quick taste of the Saltaire persuaded Dave to finish that quickly so he could enjoy a half of this tremendous stout too. This was only my second keg beer of 2013. I think I've been missing out.
This is where plans can sometimes go astray. Upon leaving The Southover we headed back down the hill expecting to stop in The Basketmakers or the Battle of Trafalgar before ending up back at the Evening Star. However, the heavens opened and Southover Street became a raging torrent and we were all drenched. We came to Trafalgar Street and headed back towards the station thinking we would come to the Battle of Trafalgar along the way. Once we reached the station we realised the Battle of Trafalgar was along a different road and without wanting to retrace our steps and get any wetter we headed straight for the Evening Star.
The pub was still busy but once we had our drinks we found a seat and there we stayed until our respective train times arrived. Ian continued his Dark Star journey with a pint of their wonderful American Pale before finishing with the equally amazing Revelation. Dave tried the Dark Star Winter Meltdown which he wasn't keen on. After giving it a sup I hated it so he was stuck with it whilst I enjoyed a sublime pint of Beavertown Smog Rocket (5.4% ABV). I had this beer in a bottle earlier this year and this was even better. This smoked porter is only lightly smoked and is beautifully balanced and quite rich. My second keg beer of the night and my third of the year. I was on a roll now so I stayed in London and with the keg and finished with a Kernel Pale (6.2% ABV) brewed with Amarillo and Cascade hops. This was yet another superb pint full of fruity hoppiness from a brewery whose beers I have enjoyed in bottled form quite a few times this year. Meanwhile, poor Dave treated himself after his winter spiced nightmare with a half of Wild Beer Ninkasi (9.0% ABV). He was much happier with that one.
That brought a superb evening to a close. Two wonderful pubs. A number of lovely beers enjoyed between us and a good old-fashioned British winter downpour to endure. In 2014 I will visit Brighton more often and sample more keg beers too when I am able to choose from such an impressive range. I could mention the steep prices of the keg beers but that would detract from the quality of the range I enjoyed tonight. If anyone is interested they were all in excess of £5/pint. It's Christmas though so drink and be merry.