Last week I sat in The Hope as they were presented with the CAMRA Greater London Pub Of The Year award for third time in five years, and realised it was about time I wrote a few words on why my little local is quite so wonderful. Located in the oft-forgotten but very beautiful outpost of Carshalton (yeah, even most Londoners don't know where it is), the pub was bought by 45 residents back in 2010 when it was faced with closure; now independent and community-owned, they set about changing it into one of the friendliest, charming and most well-respected drinking holes across the land. And this really is a proper English village boozer; an ornate old wooden bar, low ceilings with exposed beams, a fire place for the winter and a cat in the corner (more on her later). This is the sort of place we all recognise, and love for that homely familiarity; the reason I even live down here now might have something to do with popping in before viewing the flat (that, and the 13% black saison I had…)
First and foremost with any pub has to be the beer, both range and quality. The Hope has ten keg lines and seven cask pumps with which to toy; two German lagers, a cider (plus a few boxed offerings), two bitters and a Belgian fruit beer are on permanently, as well as a both a cask and keg dark beer to cater to as broad a spectrum as possible. This still leaves five kegs and four casks for anything and everything else, and what an assortment we get treated to! Since the takeover, the collective have built up great relationships with breweries from around the country, notably the likes of Siren, Arbor and Magic Rock, ensuring they get the pick of the stunning beers they produce. The Hope is also known as somewhere that will cellar, stillage and serve cask beer perfectly, increasing both their reputation and standing amongst brewers and drinkers alike.
Indeed such is the love for The Hope that Kissingate, Redemption and Kent all brewed exclusive beers for the CAMRA presentation, as others have done in previous years. Siren donated a cask of Maiden 2013 last year when the full freehold was obtained, before launching the latest version at the pub earlier this year. There are not many small pubs where you are going to find the Lervig & Hopping Frog chocolate martini stout collaboration, nor Brodie's Elizabethan; Magic Rock's Unhuman Cannonball usually makes an appearance too in the summer, as well as many of the Rainbow Project offerings. As I write, rumour has it there is also a keg of Siren's Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocolate Cake squirrelled away. We are very lucky locals.
Whenever I introduce friends to The Hope, I try and ensure it is during one of their monthly festivals – yes, monthly! The marquee in the garden is now a permanent fixture, including a lovely new bar with a trio of keykeg lines and plenty of space to stillage the twenty plus casks they collect for each one. Often themed to fit in with the season (and given an appropriately bad pun for the title), it culminates with the famous dark beer festival; guaranteed to have a remarkable selection of the blackest delights, some of which will have been aging in the cellar for up to a year. All year round, you'll still expect to find new, rare and experimental beers that have been sent along from the breweries to get early and informed views on how they go down in the knowledge that it is a discerning audience that they are playing to.
And the final mention here must go to the people, both in front of and behind the bar. The staff are without fail friendly and helpful, fully clued up on the beers they are serving and more than happy to offer recommendations and tastings. The punters are not bad either; ranging from early twenties to late eighties, the atmosphere is so welcoming and many are the times great conversations spark up between utter strangers (and half-remembered fellow locals…) Keeping an eye on the proceedings is Pubcat, the queen of all she surveys; a stray who found a box, she is now as much a draw as the beer. Tolerant (at a distance) of dogs, the rattle of a packet of Dreamies is a sure-fire way to gain acceptance; indeed, I always keep a packet sitting by my front door…