Sussex PoTY Tour May 2012

On a rather grey and drizzly May Saturday, 13 members of the CAMRA South East Sussex branch set forth on a minibus tour to assess 4 pubs chosen by the other Sussex branches as their pubs of the year (PotY) to help decide which Sussex pub goes through to the next stage of CAMRA’s national PotY competition. The collective votes from all 5 branches, who each arrange their own tour, inform that decision.

The Hastings contingent started from the Dripping Spring in St Leonards where they were able to get an early warm up drink. Those from Eastbourne were less fortunate, being picked up from a service station whose selection of real ale was somewhat lacking, not surprisingly.

Our first stop was the Sportsman at Amberley, not far from Arundel, being a small village with very narrow lanes. We seemed to be the only customers initially and were greeted by the landlord who speculated that we might be on a trip to the races. These visits are not advertised so that the pubs are seen in the raw as it were. There was decent beer selection, all of which was in good condition and included Langham Hip Hop, Harveys Best and Longman Blonde from a new brewery in Litlington. Prices were somewhat on the high side and the food advertised was similarly expensive. When we left there seemed to be only one local there and we passed the landlord a little way down the road walking his dog. Perhaps trade is not too brisk at present.

The next stop was the Wilkes Head at Eastergate near Chichester, where we also had lunch. 5 beers were on offer, 2 from Adnams, Bitter and Broadside, 2 from Oakleaf, TSB and Dragon on the Floor plus Mordue Spring Tyne. We concentrated mainly on the Oakleaf beers, all of which were in fine condition. The landlord and staff made us very welcome, prices were reasonable and there was a very good food selection. Some of the food was a bit delayed but be fair 13 orders almost simultaneously would tax most kitchens. There were plenty of locals in evidence and clearly this pub has a good community focus, witness the various notices for events and a garden including a playhouse for children. To be successful these days, pubs have to cater for most tastes and this one seems to be getting it mostly right.

Back to the bus and the next pub was the Swan at West Green, Crawley. By this time we are well into the afternoon and the pub is quite busy. Nevertheless, service was prompt and the beer selection pretty good, as was its condition. There were at least 4 beers although there could have been more as they were spread over 2 bars. There were also 2 ciders and a perry, something unfortunately not seen in many pubs these days. The beers included Boggart Dren, Nelson Thunderer, Dark Star Hophead and Gales HSB. Prices were reasonable and the Hophead just £2.50. A decent, all round pub, a bit shabby but clearly catering well for the local clientele and very popular.

Our final pub was the Brewers Arms in Lewes. The bar staff made us welcome and a nice touch was an apology for one of the beers being a bit hazy, although it tasted fine. Much better to inform customers up front rather than wait for complaints, hoping they don't come. There was a choice of 4 beers and a good variety of styles, from the pale and very citrusy Dark Star Hophead, through the traditional bitters of Harveys Best and Woodfordes Nelsons Revenge to the dark and full bodied Theakstons Old Peculier. The latter was a rather eye watering £3.60 a pint but the others more reasonably priced and as is usual, Hophead being by far the cheapest. There was also Benenden cider on draught but at 8% that was better left for another separate session. Still pleasing to see though, catering for more tastes. This is a well appointed and comfortable pub. Despite the cup final being screened in a back room, there was no intrusion of noise or customers into the front bar, meaning that everyone could enjoy their chosen pastime.

Having completed our tour, the Eastbourne contingent was dropped off adjacent to a local pub for their final pints and farewells. Those from Hastings returned to the Dripping Spring to continue sampling from the 4 or 5 ever changing beers there. And so ended another PotY tour. Everyone had a very enjoyable and sociable day, safe in the knowledge that they had done their best to enhance the reputation of some of the best pubs in Sussex, one of which has the chance of being voted the best CAMRA pub in the country. Here's to next year!

Peter Harrison