The Boar’s Head Inn, Crowborough
I sometimes wonder if the archetypal English country pub really exists. There are the country pubs turned gastropubs, country pubs turned children’s play centres with a pub attached, country pubs turned inwards for a select clientele and nobody else, country pubs turned into something else entirely.
And then I start to wonder if the archetypal English country pub ever really existed anyway. Was it just something that lingered in the collective unconscious but never really manifested itself in practice?
And I then I wander into a pub like The Boar’s Head Inn and realise the English country pub is alive and well. There is the friendly and informative greeting from the staff. The smiles from the regulars. The wood beams, the huge fireplaces, the nooks and crannies, odds and ends. The beer. The food.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Harvey’s Best lately. It can be a great pint, one of the best. It is grassy, hoppy, malty – a proper classic English pint. And yet despite the balance it isn’t bland – those grassy notes keep it feeling fresh, interesting, almost a little wild.
And yet it is also one of those beers you hear people mumbling that “it doesn’t travel well”. I’m not sure if this is true, or just another example of the (possible) fallacy of the Guinness Tastes Better In Dublin variety.
There are plenty of reasons why a beer might taste better closer to home. The publican might have a good relationship with the brewery, so a better feel for how to keep the beer. The beer might just sell more quickly, so is fresher. Or it might be something else.
It might be that while beer is made up of hops, barley, water and yeast, the most important ingredients are time and place. The best pint is rooted in occasion and location. And so this was a great pint of Harvey’s. Well-kept, no doubt, but boundlessly improved by being in a beautiful part of Sussex, sitting with loved ones in a wonderful country pub on a lovely Sunday lunchtime, accompanied by an excellent Ploughman’s – a rare example where the pub got the ratio of cheese to bread just right. It all adds up to something special.
We were in the “eatery”. Something about calling it an eatery rather than restaurant really appealed to me – less pretentious, an acknowledgement that food is important in a country pub, but isn’t the reason for one to exist. It was light and airy, and had a view out to cows in a field which made me glad I’d given the roast beef a miss.
The main bar had more of a hubbub and felt very much like a proper pub. I managed to take a photo on my phone of a boar’s head on the wall, although felt wary of taking too many pictures – especially as there were signs warning against the use of mobile phones – a policy I wholeheartedly support even when I am pushing my luck. I’d been made to feel so welcome I didn’t want to start acting like a tourist or interloper.
I was pleased the bar still used the old Harvey’s pump clips, made the beer taste even better I reckon. There was a couple sat doing the crossword. A dog lolloped on the floor. Snatches of conversation – “I see they drew nil-nil” – “Yep, off on holiday, just a couple of days, thank goodness” – “Two packets of the chef’s fudge, please” – a place to congregate, contemplate the week, laugh, drink, just be.