at Evening Star
Some stories stick around a lot longer than others.
According to landlord Mark Hazell, people still occasionally visit Brighton’s Evening Star pub expecting to find the Dark Star Brewery in the cellar. This is, of course, where the brewery began more than 25 years ago, in a narrow room beneath the pub, on a kit not much bigger than a homebrew set up. But two brewery moves, and two buy-outs later, the brewery now occupies a very different place.
The Evening Star sits on a desire line from station to sea, a route that joins Brighton’s commuters to their homes, and day-trippers to the beaches beyond. From the first step off the train, the salty scent of the sea and the sound of the gulls caw-caw-cawing draws you towards the heart of this small city. And in a hundred or so paces, you can be standing outside the pub, pushing on the brass fingerplate until the door opens and draws you inside.
The wooden bar is scooped in a neat curve, the edges of which are worn pale in places by the soft rub of elbows. Each of the seven cask hand-pulls draws beer from the cellar with its own distinct sound, its own personal creak.
If you drag up a bar stool, this is the kind of place where you can nod at a stranger and expect to be there, laughing and talking with him or her, four or five hours later.
The shadows left by stories cast large against the walls of this pub. One that lingers concerns the Hilton sisters, Violet and Daisy, a pair of conjoined twins attached at the hip who, during the first half of the last century, worked as vaudeville entertainers. Although based in the USA for most of their careers, the sisters were born in Brighton and spent part of their early childhood living upstairs at the Evening Star pub, where people would sometimes pay the landlady in order to climb the stairs to take a peek at them.
As for the brewery, are plenty of stories there, too. Hazell – who has worked at the pub on and off for many years – remembers the days when the brewery, named after the Grateful Dead song of the same name, brewed beer mostly for the drinkers upstairs. A young Mark Tranter, now the internationally renowned as the founder of his own award-winning Burning Sky Brewery, started here as a brewer in the mid-nineties and remained with Dark Star for seventeen years.
Apparently, the brewery began experimenting with American hops when one of the owners of the pub returned from a visit to California with some Cascade hop pellets in their suitcase. A number of iterations of Hophead were trialled until the version that’s recognised today – a 3.8% pale with Cascade and Amarillo – was consolidated.
It’s rare that I order a pint nowadays. In a world where there are so many beers to try, I usually choose smaller measures, even of sessionable ales. But I always order a pint of Hophead. With its flash of elderflower aromas and just enough bitterness to clear the palate, it’s a beer I’ve drunk in beer gardens over sunny afternoons, and on ice cold evenings with my cheeks pinched pink. It’s a beer I’ve shared with friends, and one I’ve sometimes had the luxury of drinking alone. It’s the beer that puts me in mind of my hometown, and the one I can almost feel on my top lip as my train pulls into the station.
Some beers are polite. They fade pleasantly into the background as they accompany our conversations, never dominating, never shouting. Other beers push to the front, demanding to be heard, making sure you won’t ignore them. But some of the best beers, like the pin-bright evening star hanging in a clear sky, or a familiar story repeated to fade, simply light your way home.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.