Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Kings Head, Billingshurst

It was thanks to a tip-off from Gary Lucas of Kissingate Brewery that I found myself alighting from Billingshurst station on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon. It was my first visit to this large, lower Wealden village since it was the focus of The Quaffer, No. 16, December 2007, but (some) things have changed since then.

It took me ten minutes to reach my destination, the Kings Head, at the top of the High Street, a 17th century coaching inn, marked by its overhanging ornate ironwork sign. The interior layout looked much the same to how I dimly remembered it from several years earlier, except that all was now spick and span and an enticing bank of eight hand pumps was mounted on the bar. I asked for half a Hop Back World Hop Medley. This 4.2% golden ale collaboration with Greene King was at perfect temperature and exactly what was needed on this hot July day.

Having asked for whereabouts of the landlord - for I had emailed him in advance to say that I was dropping by - I was told that he was mending a fence in the back garden and that it would be difficult to miss him. Quite so. Genial Irishman Colin Ganley is a larger than life figure, 6 foot 3 inch tall, well-built and in his late-40s. Originally hailing from County Meath, he has been a licensee for thirty years, having previously run pubs in Brixton and Herne Hill. His parents own Ganley's Irish Bar in Morden. Colin is marred to Oonagh and they have been at the Kings Head for a year, having purchased the freehold from previous owners Enterprise Inns.

Colin has put in planning permission to convert the interior into two bars to include a steakhouse restaurant, function room and tea room conservatory, also to install a new kitchen and to have sixteen en suite letting rooms. As Colin oversees strategic operations, his managers Stuart and Kirsty look after the bar and the beers. Hogs Back TEA is a permanent; Kissingate beers always feature, as do the more interesting offerings from Greene King. Other breweries that may appear include Dark Star, Firebird, Top Notch and Triple fff.

There is also a real cider, which on my visit was Black Pig (6.0%). If Belgian bottled beers are your tipple then some delightfully strong examples can be found in the fridge. After chatting to Colin, I finish my visit with a Greene King Magna Carta, a 5.0% amber ale infused with Juniper, and a Hogs Back Hopping IPA, which at 5.4% turns out - surprisingly - to be ruby and vinous. Both beers are beautifully kept.

The Kings Head, 40 High Street, Billingshurst, West Sussex, RH14 9NY, 01403 782012

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