It is harder than it should be to find a decent pint of bitter near Westminster, let alone a table at which to drink it. And even if you’re lucky enough to grab an ale and a seat, the vast majority of civil servants (and journalists) buying a round in town will give a silent scream at prices that can easily top £4 a pint.
Thank goodness, then, for Samuel Smith. Determinedly pubby, the brewery chain rejects music, TVs, fruit machines, gastro grub and even branded drinks: its 200-odd pubs sell only Sam Smith’s own lines. This back-to-basics approach – plus the business model, under which pubs are run by employed managers rather than paying tenants – keeps prices on the floor, with pints in central London coming in at around £3 rather than £4.
And these are rather good pints. While Sam’s relative John Smith went for the big time – and ultimately created a retailer of anodyne, tasteless beer – Sam Smith is proud of its status as Yorkshire’s oldest brewery: its Tadcaster site brewed its first pint in 1758. Sam’s successors ferment their ale in slate containers, ship it in barrels built by the in-house cooper, and use shire horses for local deliveries.
These are not fashionable pubs; JD & cokes or fancy meals are not available. But when the CSW team fancies a nice pint, sold at a fair price in a pub where we can sit down and hear each other talking (and we have, to be honest, tested these qualities exhaustively), we make a beeline for the Windsor Castle, right behind Westminster Cathedral.
If, on our next visit, the seats are all occupied by thirsty civil servants, we’ll be kicking ourselves over writing this review. But there might be a silver lining: with these prices, you’ll be able to afford to buy us a pint.