When faced with deciding what to do to celebrate my birthday recently I had no hesitation in telling my husband that I fancied jumping on a train to the Kent seaside to go on a micro pub crawl.
Micro pubs are becoming prevalent in Kent – see www.micropubcrawl.co.uk
For those of your unfamiliar with the concept a micro pub is a small establishment often located in former retail premises. They are independent and serve real ale, cider and maybe some wine but this varies from pub to pub. They may have limited opening hours and some will serve bar snacks which tend to be good old British favorites such as scotch eggs, pork pies and pork scratchings. A no mobile (cell) phone policy may be in place as may one of no music but this varies from pub to pub.
So on a sunny July Thursday we started our crawl at the Wheel Alehouse, Birchington on Sea www.thewheelalehouse.com Located in a street that looks like any other provincial high street the Wheel takes you by surprise. The interior is filled with nautical paraphernalia and I got the feeling much fun had been had collecting all the ships, parrots and other bits and bobs on display. The wheel raises a lot of money for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) by holding pub quizzes and has a nice community feel.
We were greeted warmly and made to feel very welcome. For my first beer I had Mauldons Mid Summer – pleasant seasonal golden ale with a 4% ABV whilst my husband had the Cottage Brewery’s Call to Arms a light cooper fruity bitter with an ABV of 3.8%. I had this for my second half whilst my husband had Cottage Sticky Wicket 4.2 ABV – traditional ale with nice hints of toffee. When researching our pub crawl I had referred to that modern day oracle the internet but the regulars in the pub were very knowledgeable and helpful giving us suggestions for what pubs to try next and how to get to them.
Next we jumped back on the train to Broadstairs, a lovely traditional British seaside town with a sandy beach, beautiful architecture, seafront gardens and a bandstand. I used to holiday here as a child but hadn’t visited for almost twenty years. I was pleasantly surprised at how I still loved the place.
Next on our ‘to do’ list was the Thirty Nine Steps but the nice men in the Wheel had recommended the Chapel which is round the corner from the Thirty Nine Steps and that’s where we headed first.
Blink and you could miss The Chapel as although not micro in the sense that it’s not tiny inside, it’s housed in a second hand book shop so easy to miss. It is well worth seeking out as another friendly welcome awaited us from a very helpful women behind the bar who as well as being passionate about the books, was also passionate about the local produce on sale in the pub which included good local beers, a great local menu and more ciders than I have ever seen in a pub. These ranged from lemon to ginger to chilli ciders. Now although I don’t mind an occasional drop of cider I tend to stick with beer but faced with the array of ciders on offer, I could quite happily have spent an afternoon trying them all- maybe that’s another blog…
We stuck to beer and ordered a Hopdaemon’s Skrimshander IPA 4.5 ABV – which according to the aforementioned barmaid who also happens to be a linguist means whale bone whittler. This beer is a favorite of mine and didn’t disappoint. The Chapel has wall to wall books and a mixture of long tables, benches and arm chairs. There was music playing but this didn’t bother us.
Upon chatting to the barmaid some more I discovered the Chapel is the sister pub of the Lifeboat micro pub in Margate And despite their policy of local produce they also feature regular guest ales which are generally CAMRA award winners. Feeling peckish we decided to try the menu. My husband had local sausage and mash which looked amazing and I had a Biddenden steak and ale pie with mash which was really tasty and at £10 for both was an absolute bargain especially for good local produce.
When we’d first arrived at the Chapel a helpful customer had recommended the Wantsum Ravening Wolf, I think the word he used was ‘awesome’ but at 5.9% ABV we shyed away. With food in our bellies however we thought we’d be brave and share a half. We were very kindly served a quarter of a pint each in individual glasses – what lovely service!
The Ravening Wolf was indeed very good. A pale gold ale which despite a lingering aftertaste belied it’s strength – dangerous! After once again admiring the wall of ciders on our way out, we had a quick stroll along the beach as it was a beautiful day before heading to the Thirty Nine Steps.
The Thirty Nine Steps http://www.thethirty-ninesteps.co.uk is different from the two previous pubs with a more contemporary interior of high wooden tables and stools. The walls are adorned with old brewery mirrors and posters from various productions of The Thirty Nine Steps – the pub is so called as the novel of the same name was apparently written and based in part in Broadstairs.
The casks of beer are displayed behind glass doors which looks good and the hundreds of pump clips displayed on the ceiling and a map on the wall showed that beers from all over the UK had been served at the Thirty Nine Steps. These ranged from Worthington White Shield to specials from Kent brewery Old Dairy who had brewed a special beer for the Broadstairs folk festival. We had the Time and Tide brewery’s Spratwaffler pale ale 3.7% ABV which is pleasantly citrusy. We then had the Wards Best 4% ABV accompanied by a pork pie and a scotch egg as a little snack to keep us going. Like the Chapel the Thirty Nine Steps had music playing which again didn’t feel intrusive – in fact I overheard another customer say to his companion ‘the Smiths are playing and the beers good – I’m happy’
I finished with a half of Lytham Stout 4.6 ABV smoothly bitter on the tongue and a finish with notes of cherry – my favourite of the day as I am partial to stout even at the height of summer.
Both the Thirty Nine Steps and the Chapel had live music that evening which may stray away from what purists look for in a micro pub but probably reflects the local Broadstair’s culture of the arts- not only do they have a folk festival every August – this year from 8th till 15th– see www.broadstairsfolkweek.org.uk but they also have a Dickens festival every June as Dickens was a frequent visitor to the town which he fittingly in my opinion referred to as ‘Our English Watering Place’ see http://www.broadstairsdickensfestival.co.uk I enjoyed trying all three micro pubs which are very different in feel and direction. This shows how much scope there is within the ‘micro pub’ to appeal to a wide range of people. My wise husband however made an interesting point – given the success of micro pubs he mused how long will it be before one of the large pub chains take one over?
From what I know of the people behind these pubs I would be surprised if they were to sell to a pub chain however the idea did remind me of discussions I’ve had regarding the use of the term ‘craft beer’. I have nothing against the use of the term ‘craft’ but the point has been made to me that big brewing companies use it to trick consumers into thinking they are getting a craft – artisan if you like beer, when in fact what’s on offer is simply a mass produced beer masquerading as a craft beer.
Could the same happen to micro pubs? If they cotton on to the success and appeal of these small independent drinking holes, will the large pub chains start opening mini versions of their pubs disguised as independent micro pubs….? Whether or not this is likely I urge you to go sample the genuine article now – a friendly welcome and good beers in a unique atmosphere awaits you.