January is a busy month for active CAMRA members. It's been a strange start to the year for me personally as I had to stop drinking for a week and I also vowed to not drink at home during the month so I could do all my drinking in pubs. That is what January is about for me. The Good Beer Guide selection meeting is in the middle of February so I try and get to as many pubs as I can on our list of potential inclusions for the upcoming guide. Last night I went to Chichester with the intention of popping into four pubs, three of which are on our long list. The long list is a list of pubs which includes all of the entries from the last guide along with pubs we feel should be given a chance for the next. These will then be selected from by all members who attend the selection meeting in February.
I'm sure many CAMRA branches do things differently. Some branches take into account entries made into the National Beer Scoring System (NBSS). Having printed off the scores submitted for pubs in our area I can say with certainty that this is statistically meaningless. Many pubs haven't had a single submission made in the past 12 months and of those that have, the number of entries is so few as to make it so open to manipulation by certain individuals who may want to promote a certain pub. That is why we don't use it in our branch.
My first pub of the evening was The Bell Inn, a pub to the north of Chichester on the main road out of town heading for Midhurst. It is the closest pub to the acclaimed Chichester Festival Theatre and it was in the 2015 Good Beer Guide but failed to make the cut last year. It is a lovely pub with a cosy interior ideal for a cold evening like I expereienced last night. The woodburner was giving off a warming glow and it is the sort of pub that you can settle down in for the evening. The beer selection last night was poor though. Youngs London Gold, Marstons New World Pale Ale or King Poachers Moon were the choices. The first of these is an avoid at all costs so I tried a half of the others. Now sit down for a minute because I am going to praise Marston's, something I can't remember doing for many years. The New World Pale Ale (3.8% ABV) was a delightful beer with plenty of hop character and a lovely dry bitter finish. It was helped by the fact that it was served in perfect condition. The same could not be said for the Poachers Moon (4.1% ABV). This was lifeless and devoid of anything in the way of hops. It is hard to judge the condition when it could be down to the beer and King Beers are notoriously bland in my opinion.
The second pub on my agenda was closed. This obviously means it was difficult to judge so it won't be getting my vote this year although it did not get it last year either so it probably hasn't lost out really. The sign on the door said the 'unexpected' closure was temporary and it would be opening next day. It wasn't the only pub closed last night either. Both Trents and the Globe Inn were shut with scaffolding up suggesting it was time for refurbishing these pubs.
The next pub was not on our long list but it has recently been refurbished so I thought I'd check it out to see what was on offer. One look was all that was needed and I left immediately. A choice of three Greene King beers or a house beer brewed by Cottage was what the Old Cross was offering. I would have tried a half of the house beer but it was 'coming soon'. The interior has been done out to resemble many modern town centre pubs where food is the principle raison d'etre.
I decided to move on to the Belle Isle. This cafe/bar/restaurant was a new entry in the 2016 GBG and it has been too long since I was last in here. They had a winter beer from Sharp's that I was keen to avoid but I was more than happy to try the other offerings. The Roosters Yankee (4.3% ABV) was similar to the Marston's New World but very slightly better. This was followed by a trip to the dark side with a Triple fff Winter Oatmeal Stout (4.4% ABV). Coffee and choccy notes in equal measure here and a nice bitter roasted malt character in the finish. A great stout from a brewery I always appreciate. I ended the evening with a pint of Tiny Rebel Cwtch (4.6% ABV), the Champion Beer of Britain 2015. This hoppy American red was my favourite beer of the evening. Really fresh with a great hoppy aroma.
The evening really summed up my problem with the pubs of Chichester. Those pubs selling great beer are not ideal when it comes to spending a cosy evening in a quiet relaxing environment. The Bell Inn ticks that box but the beer doesn't hit the spot. The Belle Isle has great beer but I wouldn't want to spend long in there drinking unless I was eating too. The Chichester Inn is probably the only pub that ticks both boxes for me. This just happens to be the venue for our selection meeting next month though so I will have some good beer to drink in a proper pub-like environment whilst contemplating which pubs to vote for. If you want to know which pubs we select then you will have to buy the Good Beer Guide 2017 when it comes out in September.