Visit To Sarah Hughes’ Dark Ruby Mild Classic Dark Ale Made In An Old Tower Brewery-Pub
The Sarah Hughes Brewery, in the Beacon Hotel, is a classic old brewery-pub in the West Midlands, and it’s a rare and wonderful place to visit for many reasons.
Visit To Sarah Hughes’ Dark Ruby Mild Classic Dark Ale Made In An Old Tower Brewery-Pub Photo Gallery
The Beacon Hotel (which isn’t a hotel, by the way) was built in around 1851 and acquired its first landlord in 1852. A brewery was added sometime after, possibly in the 1860s, but the most significant parts of this story took place in 1920 and 1921. That’s when the pub’s Victorian interior, which still remains today, was renovated. Those years are also when the original family of owners sold the pub to Sarah Hughes who used the compensation money she’d received from her husband’s death in a workplace mining accident. Sarah started brewing beer herself and developed a recipe for a Dark Ruby Mild—a traditional local style that’s strong and sweetish. She brewed for 30 years until her death in 1951, after which the brewery remained active until 1957 when the tanks were indefinitely emptied. The pub stayed in the Hughes family, however, and in 1987 Sarah’s grandson, John Hughes, found Sarah’s Dark Ruby Mild recipe and brought the brewery back to life.
Today the brewery and pub are run by John Hughes’ nephew,
Simon Massey. It’s a traditional old tower brewery that begins in the roof with the grist case, which drops malt down into the mash tun below, with the wort flowing down into an open copper from the 1930s (that’s an amazingly rare thing to see). The floor beneath is a hop back, which is used for cooling the beer, and then the fermenters and packaging areas are on the ground floor. Trap doors run from the floor to the roof, with the malt sacks pulled up and down, instead of the brewers having to brave the steep, narrow staircases. There aren’t many pub breweries like this any more.
Back in the bar and it’s a wonder to explore the pub’s preserved interior. From the front door you’ll enter The Passage. On your left is The Snug and on your right is the Tap Room; there’s a Smoking Room (but no smoking is allowed now, of course) and there’s a more recent addition of a bright conservatory out the back. Central to all of this is a small enclosed bar which can directly serve The Passage, Snug, and Smoking Room. This has another rare feature: a “snob screen.” There’s a small window, around waist-height, through which you order and receive your beer, meaning that the staff and drinkers can’t see each other. All the rooms there are interesting places to drink. They are lively with conversation and they feel like you’ve stepped back in time a few decades with their wooden interiors, burning fires, old draped windows, original wallpaper that’s desirably vintage now, and worn banquette seating. Food is the pub staple of this area: cobs (bread rolls) with simple fillings.
They make three beers all year round and there’s often a seasonal. There’s Pale Amber, a 4.0% ABV session Bitter. Surprise is a 5.0% ABV traditional West Midlands Bitter, which is made with Maris Otter malts and Golding hops, giving a sweet beginning before those hops leave a long bitter finish—this is the pub’s bestseller. The overall bestseller, and the most famous beer, is the 6.0% ABV Dark Ruby Mild. It’s moreishly malty, almost creamy; there’s dried fruit, vanilla, cake, chocolate, plums, nuts, cherries. Every gulp gives you something new and different. It’s definitely sweet, which gives it a lovely comforting quality, a pleasing richness that you’ll never ever get from the thrilling fireworks of an IPA, and yet it still retains a dryness at the end that makes it easy to drink a few pints and still want more. It’s the kind of flavor you rarely get to experience with the current tastes for craft beer and, for me, it was one of those “wow” moments when I drank something remarkable that made me think differently about beer.
To summarize why drinking Dark Ruby Mild in the Beacon Hotel should be high on your must-visit list: unique pub interior (have a pint in each area), fascinating tower brewery, great history, and one of the world’s finest dark beers—a reminder of beers from years ago which still taste excellent today.
WHAT: Beacon Hotel and Sarah Hughes Brewery
HOW: The pub is open every day from midday, but closes for a few hours each afternoon. To tour the brewery, call or message ahead and they will try to accommodate a visit—it’s free, but you should tip whoever gives you the tour (www.sarahhughesbrewery.co.uk).
WHERE: 129 Bilston Street, Dudley DY3 1JE
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