Home   Kent   News   Article

Behind the scenes of the Four Candles in Broadstairs, Britain's smallest brewpub


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

Many years ago, Mike Beaumont, the owner of the Four Candles in Broadstairs - which lays claim to being Britain's smallest brewpub - was sat next to Piers Morgan.

The pair were working together at tabloid newspaper the Sun - both working late.

The Four Candles pub is 10 minutes from the town centre but still pulls in the punters
The Four Candles pub is 10 minutes from the town centre but still pulls in the punters

Explains Mike: "It was about 2am and he'd just started doing the TV reviews and chasing after celebrities. I told him it was a waste of time and that doing celeb stuff wasn't real journalism.

"He said 'but people like it'. I couldn't understand it. I was more interested in hard news.

"Now look at us. He's nowhere and I've got two micropubs," he jokes.

While careers advice may not be the 58-year-old's forte, creating a successful venue from next to nothing is.

The Four Candles was only the 12th micropub in the UK when it opened back in 2012 - now that figure has risen to closer to 800.

Mike Beaumont taps into one of his brews at the Four Candles
Mike Beaumont taps into one of his brews at the Four Candles

But what makes this bijou drinking hole unique is that a quick stroll down a perilously steep flight of steps takes you into a cellar where it brews all the ales it then sells upstairs; hence the phrase 'brewpub'.

There are wooden vats through which the water flows into the 'mash' before fermenting and then ending up in the 12 metal casks which, back upstairs, are kept in a chilled cabinet with glass doors so punters can see their beer being poured straight from the tap. ("We don't have any dirty old pipes we have to clean here," Mike says).

They brew 11 casks at a time and, during our visit, batch number 539 is fermenting - all meticulously recorded should the beer duty offices make an impromptu visit.

Just don't expect to be able to return month after month and enjoy the same pint.

"We don't repeat any recipe," explains the former journalist-turned-innkeeper. "We do brew for others - like The Handsome Sam in Whitstable and the In Doors in Sandgate - they like the same recipe so we just repeat that.

Mike Beaumont checks his latest ale as it continues the fermentation process

"But here we don't repeat anything.

"There's only 440 litres of any one brew so once it's gone it's gone."

It is, in essence, the very epitome of the micropub concept - a back-to-basics place to enjoy a drink and a chat and get something different from a regular pub.

"You can get regular beers in regular pubs. But that's not why people come here,” Mike explains. “You're having something not brewed before and something that won't be brewed again.”

And a point of difference is needed here in particular as the Four Candles is slap-bang opposite the more conventional Little Albion pub ("they weren't delighted when we moved in," Mike admits.)

The Four Candles is just across the road from the Little Albion pub
The Four Candles is just across the road from the Little Albion pub

But the two co-exist in a world where our love of socialising and going to the traditional beating hearts of a community has been reignited after 18 months of being unable to do so.

When I meet Mike on a pleasant Thursday afternoon in July, the pub is closed ahead of its 4.30pm opening.

As you would expect, the pub is small – there are just two tables inside and some outdoor seating on the pavement - with, perhaps most notably, no traditional bar. Instead, the array of casks in a small room off the main area is dipped into by Mike or his small team of part-time staff who help him run the place - most of whom were recruited from his regulars.

Yet a steady stream of folk come up to its door on spec and are welcomed in to try a tight menu of drinks. Aside from four of his own brews on the list there's two of Biddenden's notoriously strong ciders and a small splatting of spirits. As for food, well there are the classics - scratchings, pickled eggs, pork pies and sausage rolls. You can even order some Canterbury cheese and pickles if the mood takes you.

His apron goes on and the chatter so missed during the lockdowns resumes once more.

The Four Candles has a tight range of beers and classic bar snacks
The Four Candles has a tight range of beers and classic bar snacks

Genuinely the first conversation I tune into is about the pub's name. It is a story Mike has found himself engaged in repeatedly over the years.

The Four Candles derives its name, for those not old enough to remember, from the Two Ronnies sketch which has found itself alongside the likes of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot skit in terms of all-time classics.

What many aren’t aware of is the sketch, legend has it, has its roots in Broadstairs itself.

Ronnie Barker, so the story goes, visited hardware store Harrington's in Broadstairs while paying a visit to comedy partner Ronnie Corbett who was staying in the town during a summer season in Margate.

Amazed by the fact it seemed to sell everything, Barker created the comic gem of a man asking for what the shopkeeper hears as 'four candles' but is, in fact, 'fork handles'. Cue other gags in a similar vein.

To counteract the inevitable 'do you have any Ps' - or for that matter any 'Os' - there are both on the shelves of the pub.

"People paying me a visit think they'll catch me out," Mike explains.

Mike moved to Kent just before his 11th birthday - his family settling in Tunbridge Wells. He retains the Scottish twang to his accent which reveal his roots north of the border. His first job was working behind the bar in the now defunct Long Bow pub in High Brooms ("a rough pub"), before he embarked on a journalism career which saw him work for regional and national titles.

In the spirit of full disclosure I first met Mike almost 30 years ago. I was a youngster desperate to break into journalism and was doing work experience at the Kentish Express in Ashford while he was a senior reporter. Among plenty of advice he gave me, he taught me how to properly deploy an apostrophe - arguably a more useful piece of career advice than that he meted out to Piers Morgan.

He admits he misses the cut and thrust of journalism and that he continues to have a recurring dream that the Queen gets shot, he's the only reporter on the scene, but he can't find any method to file the copy. A psychiatrist would have a field day.

Mike Beaumont, landlord of the Four Candles, updates his brewing records
Mike Beaumont, landlord of the Four Candles, updates his brewing records

But now he's pulling pints and running a successful business.

"I started off with a budget of £2,500," he explains of the micropub's birth, "and managed to come in under budget.

"I bought a £40 chest freezer and a load of ice packs because I couldn't afford the £2,500 air conditioning when we first opened right in the middle of summer 2012.

"The gel ice packs kept the beer just on the right side of cool."

He'd been taken by the idea of running a micropub after drinking in the Bake & Alehouse in Westgate. When he realised Broadstairs didn't have one he took the plunge.

The Bake & Alehouse micropub in Westgate, inspired Mike to open his own venue
The Bake & Alehouse micropub in Westgate, inspired Mike to open his own venue

He agreed a deal with a landlord for a site which had previously been a deli selling exotic meats and then spent three months sorting out the licence.

"We attracted people just by getting the beer right,” he explains.

"Initially, we didn't have spirits or soft drinks - I did things that you could only get here - I wouldn't sell anything you could get at the supermarkets. I've relaxed that a bit, but try not to do the brands you find at a regular pub."

After proving to himself he could sell beer brewed by others for the first couple of years, he embarked upon brewing his own ales and has not looked back since.

He now supplies to a number of other micropubs and has even had his brew served up in the House of Commons.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay sups a pint of Four Candles' brew in the House of Commons bar alongside Mike Beaumont in 2018
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay sups a pint of Four Candles' brew in the House of Commons bar alongside Mike Beaumont in 2018

But the biggest step forward he has taken was acquiring the Conqueror in neighbouring Ramsgate after the owner there decided, pre-Covid, he wanted to retire. When it first opened it was just the fourth micropub in the country; it too now serves up the beers brewed in the Four Candles cellar. Mike splits his time across the two sites - spending much of lockdown giving his new acquisition a major overhaul.

It's all the more impressive given he had no experience in brewing before. But then he had a little help - going to the likes of Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate brewer Gadd's and Martin Guy of Canterbury Ales for advice and guidance – and recruited a brewer to get his hands dirty.

And, in the spirit of journalistic investigation, I can vouch for its NZ pale ale – the perfect summer brew. Although by the time you read this, the chances are the casks have been replaced with a different variant. At least it keeps the punters on their toes.

"We'll get a new hop and we'll do a single version to see what it tastes like," explains Mike, "then we can mix it up to a slightly stronger or weaker, lighter or darker, or paler version by mixing the hops.

"The basic brew has been pretty much the same for thousands of years, but then you've got the hops which give it the flavour. The hops do everything."

Inside the Four Candles - with the 'fork handles' framed on the wall and 'Os' and 'Ps' on the shelves
Inside the Four Candles - with the 'fork handles' framed on the wall and 'Os' and 'Ps' on the shelves

And it keeps him busy. He admits running the two venues is a "seven-day thing" but his reputation has spread.

He hosted Good Morning Britain TV crews when pubs were reopened earlier this year and he even featured in the documentary of 'Pub Landlord' Al Murray's effort to get elected in South Thanet during the 2015 General Election.

Yet despite the coverage and its popularity among real ale lovers, the Four Candles has a simple premise.

"It's all about having a good beer and a place to sit and enjoy yourself," reflects Mike.

"I'm proud of what we've done."

The Four Candles name is inspired by the classic Two Ronnies sketch
The Four Candles name is inspired by the classic Two Ronnies sketch

In these troubled times for the hospitality business, let's raise a glass to that.

Head to our business page for all the latest news about business in Kent

To read the Secret Drinker’s pub reviews click here

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More