11 Jul 2011

Dark Star Hophead and my hunt for a local

The beer

If you’re looking for the perfect summer beer to drink in pub gardens over the next couple of months, I urge you to consider Dark Star Hophead, a pale ale from one of the most exciting breweries in the UK.

Drink it in a pub garden and watch as sunlight illuminates its fluffy pure-white head sitting atop a glistening straw-gold body.

Breathe in its freshly-cut grass aromas and understand it is the smell of the English countryside.

Revel in its soothing, fresh-out-of-the-oven bready malt flavours and refresh your senses with its lingering lemon bitterness.

Recognise that Dark Star Hophead is a beer to be enjoyed over and over again, especially while the days are long.

The hunt

I’ve written about my work local on this blog before, and while this is a crucially important pub to get right, I believe it to be secondary to your actual local – the pub that’s stumbling distance from your place of residence.

I've lived in this part of South London for around 3 years, but have yet to find the pub that satisfies my strict criteria for the perfect local:

1) Within easy walking distance (no more than 1 mile from my house)

2) A decent selection of good beer – doesn’t have to be outstanding, but enough to keep you coming back

3) Welcoming staff, whom I can envisage greeting me by name

4) Friendly regulars (ideally older gentlemen)

5) Traditional pub interior and exterior design

6) Reasonable pub grub

7) A quiet, relaxed atmosphere, without being lifeless

There are some reasonably decent boozers round here, but none of the pubs I’ve investigated have come close to ticking all of these boxes.

I had started to believe that my romanticised vision of a local did not exist near me. I had almost given up hope.

That is until I picked up a copy of Des de Moor’s The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer, Pubs & Bars.

The match

The Dog and Bell. A name whispered on the wind. Down a back street somewhere in Deptford. Kinda near Greenwich. Maybe I’d seek it out sometime. Filed in the dusty recesses of my mind.

And then there it was: The Dog and Bell in Des de Moor’s top 25 pubs and bars in London, alongside some of my favourite drinking establishments.

Des is an extremely knowledgeable man. I once shared a taxi with him and it was like having a fascinating, private, guided tour of London – a city I’ve lived in for a number of years and feel I know well.

Needless to say, I trust his judgement.

From Des’s map it looked like the pub was relatively close to my house. I hurriedly entered the postcode into Google Maps.

One of the best pubs in London is 0.9 miles from my house.

Sunday is the perfect day to test a local’s credentials. I don’t know why, it just is.

It’s also important that I go alone. If you don’t feel welcomed and comfortable when you enter a pub by yourself then it will never be your local.

I set off. The route from my place to The Dog and Bell is not great, being that it requires passing by some slightly dodgy housing estates.

A peaceful, stress-free stroll was always going to be unlikely though – there’s been four murders within 200 yards of my house since I moved here.

As I near my destination, I’m filled with apprehension.

My journey takes me through another housing estate. The pubs around here are, to make a sweeping generalisation, dodgy as fuck.

As I turn the corner onto Prince Street I’m convinced this is a mistake. I anticipate swinging saloon doors, silence and furious stares.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I push open the door and am greeted with the pub I've been waiting for all my life.

‘Hello. What can I get you?’

I'm still closing the door behind me.

There are older gentleman sitting on stools at the bar. There is a range of very respectable draught beers on the bar, one of them being Dark Star Hophead. I instantly order it, bewildered by the combination of interesting, modern brewing and this idyllic, traditional pub.

Wait. The fridges behind the bar are full of exceptional Belgian beer bottles. What?

I'm giddy. My head is spinning. I pick up my pint and look for a comfortable spot suitable for a couple of hours spent collecting my thoughts. There are numerous options. I’m overwhelmed.

I almost stumble into the serene little garden at the back of the pub. Someone has kindly left the sports pages on a chair for me. My chair.

Once finished with my pint I head back to the bar and ask for a bottle of Rochefort 6. There’s a little buzz of excitement around me and the regulars chat for a bit about Trappist beers.

I sit at a well-weathered two-person table inside and absorb the flawless atmosphere.

Young couples scoff roast dinners, older couples debate crosswords, community events posters dot the walls, Bass and Harvey’s mirrors augment the subtle, tasteful decor. And like all the best pubs, I feel like I’ve been invited into someone’s living room to have a drink.

Trying to distil all that is wonderful about this pub into a blog post is just not possible. I could write a dissertation about The Dog and Bell and still not capture its greatness.

You might think this is another beer and pub matching, and in a way it is.

In a way it's so much more.

Hunt over.


  1. Hi Chris, Like yourself I am a beer nerd, recently I have become even more snobby about texture, temperature bubliness (this sort of thing - http://www.wesureservegoodbeer.com/pouring_the_perfect_pint.cfm) and was just wondering what your opinions were on the way the pint is actually poured and served?
    If the beer is popular enough it will be sold everywhere but only in certain places will it be served correctly (In my opinion).

  2. Chris -- glad you found the D&B. What a gem -- it's my local too, though I'm not in there nearly enough.