Sedgley, West Midlands:
Beacon Hotel (Sarah Hughes Brewery Tap)
Sunday 22nd November 2015
Firstly, I would like to explain the origins of the name of this excellent Black Country pub. It is named after Beacon Hill which is a high point in the West Midlands.
It is said that if you were to go in a straight line eastwards from the hill you will not pass over another point as high until you hit the Ural Mountains, 2,400 miles (3,900 km) away, the traditional edge of Europe and beginning of Asia. That could well be true as most of northern Europe is very flat.
The pub is located on the corner of Bilston Street and Beacon Lane, which leads to the hill.
This hill has considerable folklore attached to it. It is stated that druids once worshipped on its summit. It stands 777 feet high (237m) and is visible from most of the Black Country.
It is surmounted by the Beacon Tower. We know that it was built in 1846 on the orders of Lord Wrottesley, whose seat is not far away. However there is some disagreement as to its use among local historical societies.
Although Lord Wrottesley was President of the Royal Astronomical Society it is the consensus that it was not built so he could observe the heavens. It is generally thought that it was nothing more than a folly. It is constructed of Gornal stone and is Grade II listed, as is its namesake pub.
It would seem that the pub was built shortly afterwards, during the 1850s. Although it would have had its own brewery from that time, I can’t agree that the present building located behind the pub is that old, as I have read.
It has also been recorded as dating from the 1880s and that seems much more likely. It is not known what the name the brewery was back then, probably nothing at all, as it only supplied the Beacon Hotel.
It all changed in 1920 when the pub and brewery were purchased by Sarah Hughes at auction, using money she received from an insurance pay-out after her husband was killed in a coal-mining accident. She assumed the licensees position in 1921 and also became the brewer.
It was in this year that she created the recipe for Dark Ruby Mild, a strong beer, typical of the time. When she died in 1951, the family retained ownership of the pub, using a brewer and employing a licensee. The brewery finally closed in 1958. The Black Country retained a large number of pub breweries right into the 1930s. However, not many reopened after the Second World War. However a handful still survive although some have acquired small estates of pubs to financially support the brewing activities.
Back at the Beacon, John Hughes, the grandson of Sarah, assumed control in 1984 and what he has achieved is nothing less than remarkable. The old Victorian brewery was rehabilitated and recommenced brewing in 1987. He found the recipe for Dark Ruby Mild and it was the first beer to be brewed. This is a 6.0% Mild, very unusual yet a true representation of earlier times. I visited the pub shortly after this had started and for some reason it has stuck in my mind that this beer was 5.7%, I could be wrong.
As soon as he took over, John began restoring the pub to its true 1920s identity, and what a good job he did. There are not many like this, it is a classic. The only major change is the addition of a conservatory to provide space for families. This is good idea as the main rooms of the pub are not really suitable for kids. Also, it is said, there are a number of ghosts in this pub, so it is best that small children aren’t frightened.
I was with Steve on that day and we entered up four stone steps and through the heavily varnished oak door with its shiny brass handrail and etched window. There are several rooms arranged around a central service area. A corridor runs from the front door out to the brewery yard. On the left at the front is the small Snug. This contains a piano and a lovely curved corner bench. This is next to the fire which has a marble surround below the shelf and glossy green tiles on each side of the cast iron fireplace.
On the other (right) side of the corridor is the Tap Room. This is much more basic with panelling on the walls up to waist height with fitted wooden benches below. The tables are also wooden with chairs and a loose bench facing. It is very much like rooms that used to exist in many pubs, even in my memory. The centrepiece of this small room is the fireplace which is actually a stove, with all the different compartment around the fire itself. It is topped off with an old iron kettle sitting on its hot plate.
Moving a little way to the rear of the building past the serving hatch to the corridor on the left. The third hatch serves the Smoke Room which has the expected cast iron fireplace and a beautiful red leather fitted settle around two walls. The other furniture is wooden with cushioned chairs. Varnished panelling continues almost to ceiling height. There is a wonderful wooden dresser surmounted with stone beer bottles, just before the door to the conservatory children’s area.
Should you continue further along the corridor, and you should if you want to visit the toilets, you will end up in the brewery yard. There is a gate from here that leads to a public children’s play area. The brewery towers above and I’d like to visit one day as I understand there is still quite a lot of original equipment therein. They are said to have the Victorian open-topped Copper and the original grist case.
This brewery regularly produces three beers that were all available when we visited. These are Amber (4.0%), which is actually a very nice light-coloured bitter; Surprise (5.0%), a best bitter that is also light in colour, and finally the flagship dark Ruby Ale (6.0%), a true classic. This is supposedly made to the original recipe and includes 90% Maris Otter and 10% Crystal Malt.
Unfortunately I was unable to try this as I was visiting a lot of pubs that day. I had Amber and thought it was excellent. However I do note that Maris Otter malt did not exist in the 1920s so the Mild must be created to a different formula these days.
There were three guest beers when we visited and these were: Bristol Beer Factory (Bristol) Southville Hop (6.5%) and Redwillow (Macclesfield, Cheshire) Wreckless (4.8%).
The final one is a bit of an enigma as it was described as RAD Brewski (4.0%). RAD refers to Real Ale Direct, a beer wholesaler based in Shrewsbury. They do offer a beer called Brewski at 4.0% abv, but they don’t brew it as they are not a brewery. It is made for them. I don’t like this. Like other food products its provenance should be declared. They will sell no less if the brewery is known; why the secrecy? This is no reflection on the Beacon Hotel as they have just ordered this beer, nothing else.
The pub does not serve food and offers packaged snacks only. It states outside that they sell cider. I didn’t notice any so I probably I just missed it. Notwithstanding my adverse comments about one particular beer please note this is a fantastic pub and should be visited but be aware of the “old school” hours of opening.
Beacon Hotel, 129 Bilston Street, Sedgley DY3 1JE. Tel: 01902 883360
Open: Monday-Thursday 12.00-14.30, 17.30-23.00; Friday 12.00-15.00, 17.30-23.00; Saturday 12.00-15.00, 18.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-15.00, 19.00-22.30
The 229 bus from Bilston to Dudley and return stops outside.
This bus conveniently stops in Woodsetton (for Holden’s Brewery tap). It runs every 30 minutes, hourly after 19.00 and on Sundays.
If you don’t mind a short walk from Sedgley town centre you can walk down from the Market Hall stop of the No 1 bus which operates from Wolverhampton to Dudley.
This runs every 7-8 minutes Monday to Saturday, every 20 minutes in evenings after 19.00 and Sundays.