The days when the only ales one could find on draught in a pub was Tetley or John Smiths seem long gone now.
As real ales have become a regular feature of bars across the country, new Seven Dials pub The Cow, in the former Tin Drum, is focusing on the next revolution – craft beers.
“There has been a resurgence in real ale,” says general manager Ben Murray, who also runs The Prince George, in Trafalgar Street. “We have built up a real reputation for it at the Prince George.
“I have spent a lot of time going to different craft beer pubs in London, seeing how different companies do it and what works best.
“Previously people have been happy to pay for good wine or cocktails but not for a good pint.
“Now customers are prepared to pay for quality and something they may not have tried before.”
Craft beer is an American term which covers products from microbreweries – those special beer creations which only have a limited production run.
The Cow will be selling bottled beers from across the US, including limited-edition selections from microbreweries Flying Dog, Brooklyn and Anchor, as well as beers brewed by Trappist monks in Europe, fruit beers and speciality Belgian and German ales.
“Often they have stronger percentages which can put people off,” admits Murray. “Some of these you drink more like wine.
“We have a really good supplier who can get hold of beers from all over the world. We are already finding the beers which sell well and looking to see what we can bring in to complement the beers we already have.”
Session drinkers will be happy to find Cobra and Grolsch on tap, alongside craft beers Brooklyn Lager, Vedett Blonde, Bacchus Framboise and Chimay Tripel. Prices start at £2.60 for a half pint.
And for anyone not into beers there is also a choice of wines and spirits.
The selection of beers will hopefully make The Cow something of a destination pub, being only ten minutes’ walk from Churchill Square.
And the pub’s look reflects its craft beer focus – with a specially commissioned neon sign by Andy Doig in the corner, adverts for favourite brews lining the wall, new wooden floors, unusual wallpaper, and plenty of seating for couples and larger groups scattered around the space. It looks unlike any other pub in Brighton at present, owing more to the look of an American bar.
“It's not a traditional-looking pub,” he says. “When we’re busy it has an amazing atmosphere.”
But the pub is not ignoring its predecessor’s reputation as a food venue.
The Cow has taken on head chef Brett Mather, whose 22 years of experience includes ten years in London’s Soho House, Simpsons on The Strand, Orso and Smithfields.
His work at The George And Dragon, in Speldhurst, Kent, earned him a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for good food at affordable prices.
In Brighton he has set up kitchens at The Dyke Pub And Pizzeria, in Dyke Road, and The Hop Poles, in Middle Street, as well as Hove pubs The Connaught, in Hove Street, and The Stoneham, in Portland Road.
“It is relaxed, till ordering,” says Murray. “There is no table service, which has changed the atmosphere and made it less formal.
“During the day we make our own sausage rolls, cakes and scotch eggs – including our black pudding scotch eggs, which have runny yolks in the centre. They are selling really well.
“We keep everything as fresh as possible – the menu changes according to what is available from our suppliers.”
The Cow offers breakfasts up until 3pm, lunches from noon to 5pm, and an evening menu, with plenty of specials, as well as soups and sandwiches of the day. Murray is also proud of the pub’s Sunday roasts, which are served from noon, and offer a choice of beef, slow-roasted pork belly, chicken, cod fillet, leg of lamb or butternut squash wellington, from £9.95. Youngsters are catered for with half-price roasts.
“They are the best roasts in Brighton,” says Murray. “I've been going out to different places to find out what other people are doing and I think our roast is the best around.”
The Cow’s transformation took place over seven or eight weeks, following its takeover in October.
The most obvious difference in the public area is the new wooden floor and decor, but behind the scenes the cellar and kitchen have been transformed, with a new extraction system and equipment installed in the kitchen. Everything was completed in time for Christmas.
“It was pulled off in a very short period,” says Murray. “A lot of the big changes won’t be seen by our customers. The cellar was completely gutted and redone for the extra beers we are serving.
“The feedback has been brilliant. The Tin Drum had a good following of loyal regulars, which could have made it difficult to bring in the new changes, but lots of people are coming back to say they love it.
“People are happy to see the place up and running again – the general feeling seems to have been that it was time for a change.”
As for the future, Murray is pondering whether to start live music nights, or welcome extra attractions such as DJs or quiz nights, but much will depend on what his customers want.
“We want to get to know the area and what people need,” he says. “It seems people want a nice place where they can relax after a long day at work but at the weekend it’s another story!”
Dyke Road, Brighton, 01273 772370. Open Monday to Thursday 11am to midnight, Friday 11am to 1.30am, Saturday 10am to 1.30am and Sunday 11am to 10pm. Visit www.thecowbrighton.co.uk