For over a thousand years, Canterbury has welcomed pilgrims. And with Kent being England’s biggest hop-producing county, the city is an eminent destination for a modern-day beer pilgrimage. Ambling along the historic King’s Mile I encounter the Thomas Tallis Alehouse, a micropub named after the Elizabethan composer who worked as a “vicar-choral” at the nearby cathedral. One of Tallis’s melodies is immortalised in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ sublime, eponymous Fantasia.
Initially, the alehouse appears little changed from Tallis’s day, housed within Canterbury’s medieval St John’s Hospital. On stepping inside, I notice another similarity with old English taverns: there’s no bar counter. As was the custom centuries ago, beer is carried from cellar to table by the staff. I make my choice of beer from a blackboard (from Gravesend’s Iron Pier Brewery). Kent’s cask ales feature strongly, along with real ciders and craft beer luminaries like Partizan and Cloudwater.
I settle on to a sturdy bench in a low-timbered room, warmed by a glowing wood-burner. I chat to my server and discover that, while the building is ancient, it’s only been a pub for a few years. Previous incarnations have included a hairdresser’s, a charity shop and a tattoo parlour. Pint-size though it may be, the Alehouse has three distinct drinking areas. At the back is a cosy, wood-panelled room, its snug armchairs ideal for hunkering down with a copy of Chaucer’s Tales and a hoppy Kentish ale.
Another pint, Tonbridge Brewery’s Ebony Moon, materialises, along with a Scotch egg and a selection of Kent cheeses. The pub’s Saturday lunchtime ambience is appropriately harmonious – friends catching up after trips abroad, a pair playing a few hands of cards. My table is equipped with a “Pub Dice of Destiny”. With my glass nearly drained, I roll the dice to discover what it recommends I should do next. Happily, its divinations instruct me to stay for another pint. And who am I to argue with Destiny?
48 Northgate, Canterbury, Kent CT1 1BE thethomastallisalehouse.co.uk