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Review – The Watchmaker’s Arms, Hove, The Kings of cask

The Watchmaker’s Arms, 84 Goldstone Villas, Hove, United Kingdom.

Accessibility: Small step to access, ground floor bathrooms.

Taking their name from a predecessor of the venue, the Watchmaker’s Arms is something of an anomaly. Every wall neatly showcases the passage of time but with no little sense of irony, it’s very easy to lose track of it here. Under two minutes walk from Hove station, this carefully concealed micro-pub could well be one of Hove’s best-kept secrets. Established in 2015, this diminutive boozer has found swift success among locals and pilgrims alike, generating an almost cult-like following of devout ale seekers.

Credit – BRAVO

Complete with its own nano-brewery, the WMA, as it is known, has gained renown among the beer-drinking aficionados at CAMRA for consistently providing some of the best-kept beer in the county. In fact, in 2022 they were accredited with both “Cider pub of the year” and the runner-up award for “Pub of the year”. High praise indeed.

The ales themselves are primarily served cask-conditioned. There are five cask options and two keg options at any given time and normally at least one of these will be one of the in-house brewed beers. There are also six changing real ciders on offer and both these and the beers are from a balanced range of local and more distant producers. Those unfamiliar to the world of real ale can even request a tasting glass of a drink in order to see which they prefer, creating a favourable atmosphere for anyone from the most experienced in the world of beer to an absolute novice. One thing that sets this bar apart from the pack is the zeal of those that own the pub, routinely travelling the 300-mile round trip to the Midlands to procure the Black Country legend Batham’s Best Bitter, which to my knowledge are the only casks of this wonderful brew that Sussex ever gets to enjoy.

There are wines available here – and I have been advised that a special mention goes to the French rose granache – plus two locally-sourced lagers for anyone who needs something a little more fizzy. WMA chooses not to sell spirits but at no cost to the appeal of the place in that this seems to be a more niche venue in the first place.

The pub is not the largest, featuring only six tables and a few casks that have been repurposed. Locals in the wise book a table on the weekend because many a time the pub has been simply too full to squeeze in any more devotees.

This pub, I am delighted to say is thriving. With knowledgable staff who always have the time to shoot the beer breeze and know their regulars – and their dogs – by name, this neighbourhood gem, born of the vision of some dedicated people, is a glorious success.

Given the gloom of the economic climate, the WMA is a defiant cry, a stake in the ground for quality. If beer is your thing, note this: while other venues may struggle to sell a single, delicate cask of ale, this is a pub will get through over ten a week. Speaks for itself. 

Oh, and for those seeking entertainment of a different kind, a “Toad in the hole” table has also recently made an appearance.  A traditional Sussex game – a mixture of bowls and darts – with a prime place in the bar, it’s a crowd-puller. The Watchmaker’s Arms Toads Team (I’ll leave you to guess the acronym) routinely plays against other pubs in the locality.

Don’t worry about the lack of a kitchen, the pub has preferred to purvey pizza partnering with the very respectable offerings from Pizzaface with pamphlets for the perusal of peckish people. It seems true to the general ethos of the real ale movement that the WMA champions genuine, quality products from local artisans.  Be it beer or food, if you’re seeking the mass-produced, look elsewhere.  

Without a doubt, the staff and owners of this gem are extraordinarily passionate about what they do. The service has the warmth and friendliness of the traditional “local”, but with the knowledge of professionals. What’s more, you can expect to be known by name by the time of your second visit.  You’ll meet people from almost every walk of life, united together by the most strengthening of ties; the adoration of good beer.

Written by Sussex.News Chief reviewer – @TheMintonEats

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