Friday 12th April 2013
I was in two minds as to whether to file this beer visit as a pub or brewery visit. I have decided that, as my original purpose was just to visit the pub, then that is the category it will appear in. Highgate is a very historic part of London and sits atop a hill on the east side of Hampstead Heath with, naturally, Hampstead on its western flanks. It was the first place that horses were replaced on the stages from London to the north, particularly York. Because of this there are a lot of historic inns and pubs and the Bull is one of these. Its early history is not very well recorded, unlike the rest of Highgate, yet it was known to have been in existence by 1765.
One rather sadly amusing set of incidents involved George Morland (1763-1804), the famous painter, who was at one time a resident of the Bull. He apparently used to shout at the passing stage coaches, until drawing a response from the drivers. In his short life he had much contact with inns and taverns; in some cases using them as subjects. He earned a lot of money from his art, yet lost it several times over. He eventually died of alcoholism. He was an extremely prolific artist and painted many different subjects and personally I like his rural scenes the most.
Unbelievably, there is another connection with pubs, as he was connected with the erstwhile Morland brewery in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and, if you remember their logo, you'll recollect that it is of an artist holding a palate, painting a picture. There is no proof, but this is said to be George Morland. The sign is often in the form a ceramic wall plaque made by the Poole Pottery and can still be seen on a number of their pubs now operated by Greene King. I know this is a digression but I find it very interesting.
Back to the Bull; there are some interesting old photographs displayed in the pub. Studying them closely I observed that there were horses and carriages pictured right outside the pub's doors.
Nowadays the same doors are only reached by climbing up five steps. I could find no explanation for this, except that the gradient of North Hill has been altered at some time, possibly to eliminate a steep section at another location. This is just a surmise; an explanation would be very welcome.
One of these photos indicates the Bull was once a Highbury Brewery Co. house. This brewery, located in the Holloway Road, was founded around 1740. It was taken over by Taylor, Walker & Co of Limehouse in 1912, along with estate of about 40 pubs. That company was itself taken over by Ind Coope of Romford and Burton-upon-Trent in 1959 and the Limehouse brewery was closed in 1960. This didn't last long as in 1961 Ind Coope joined with Ansells (Birmingham) and Tetley-Walker (Leeds and Warrington) to form the Allied Breweries conglomerate.
The Bull ceased being a pub in 1994 and become a restaurant. You might have though that, in affluent Highgate this venture might have been successful. Well I don't know exactly if it was or wasn't, but there were a further four different restaurants in the building after that, until it was boarded up in 2009. The knight in shining amour arrived in 2011 in the form of Dan Fox, the former Manager of the White Horse in Parson's Green, one of London's premier beer pubs.
The Bull reopened in August of 2011 and has quickly established itself as a destination for both beer and food. There is a brewery in the cellar and this came on stream shortly after the re-inauguration day.
I was a bit out of breath when I arrived as it is quite a climb from Highgate Underground station. One of the things I first noticed was the amusing diagram of the brewing process (see photo, above). I settled on a stool and gazed at the array of hand pumps.
Displayed on the bar for my possible consumption were: Beer Street Best Bitter (4.0%); High Rise Pale Ale (3.9%); Stand & Deliver Oatmeal Stout (4.6%); Taurus IPA (5.9%) and Salt Caramel Brown Ale (6.4%). The latter was jointly produced with Brodie's Brewery of Leyton. There was also Severn Cider (6.2%) from Awre, Gloucestershire.
I had the Pale Ale and the IPA and thought them both excellent. The barman, Andrew, asked me what I thought of the beers and I complimented the brewer and so he invited me to visit the brewery. It was a really nice gesture, so that's where I went next. The entrance is through a trap door on one side of the kitchen and the chefs were hard at work doing preparation; there were only two people in the pub at that time. In the corridor to the kitchen I couldn't help noticing the large number of pump clips, see above, displayed on the wall, all representing guest beers sold in the past.
At the bottom of the stairs I met Dan, the brewer. He explained he been there since November and already had 38 brews under his belt. I believe he said he was previously at Brodies. The plant is of two brewer's barrels (bbls) capacity, which with my rough arithmetic would equate to 9 firkins (= 9 gallons per cask) per brew. I was surprised to hear that he often brews three days per week; such is demand in the pub. He explained that, because of technical reasons, he had lost a brewing day that week and was already pushing to catch up.
I asked about possible expansion and he didn't think there was scope for much as the available space was not great enough for that. He explained that this was the reason you will be unlikely to see the brews of the London Brewing Company, as that is what the brewing arm is known as, in other pubs. Although he did mention that London area beer festivals were an exception to this. He said the situation was very much dictated by the number of casks they could hold in the pub at any one time.
I really enjoyed my brief visit below decks and returned to the pub. I was then in discussion with Andrew during which he explained that the pub had already obtained a good reputation for its food as well as the beer. I asked how popular it was considering the available space and he informed there was another bar upstairs. I went and had a look and was impressed, as there was a lot more space and it was all decorated and furnished in the same pale walls and polished wood style of the main bar below.
My thanks are given to Andrew, Dan the brewer and, especially, Dan Fox the owner, for bringing this pub back to life and providing us all with some excellent beer. It just proves it can be done! Thoroughly recommended but, you may wish to visit outside of the main dining hours unless, of course, you want to eat!
The Bull, 13 North Hill, Highgate, London N6 4AB. Tel: 0208 341 0510
Open: Sunday to Thursday 12.00-23.30; Friday and Saturday 12.00-24.00
Food service times are as follows: Monday to Saturday 12.00-22.00; Sunday 12.00-21.00
Bus 143 from Archway to Finchley runs past the pub and operates at about every ten to twelve minutes most of the time. The Hillcrest Estate stop is the nearest.
It takes about 15 minutes (uphill!) from Highgate Underground station on the Northern Line (Barnet Branch). It's only about ten minutes going back!
From Highgate station turn left at the one-way doors at the top of the escalator. At the traffic lights cross over to the other side of the road and turn left into Southwood Lane, continue up this hill till you reach Jackson's Hill on the left. Beyond this junction there is an alley way on the right, continue up this to North Hill, turn right and you will find the Bull a little way down on the opposite side of the road.