Sunday, 30 May 2010
Two Presentations and a Ramble
After a week of fine weather, Saturday's forecast looked certain to spoil things. The first day of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was billed as a double event for West Kent CAMRA, in so much that we had two pubs to visit and different certificates to present to both.
The Hopbine, in the tiny hamlet of Petteridge, is a former King & Barnes pub, which is now owned by Hall & Woodhouse. As such it offers the rare opportunity of sampling this Dorset brewers excellent ales, but good though the Badger beers are in the Hopbine, the purpose of our visit on Saturday was to present landlord Mike Winser, and his wife "B" with a certificate to celebrate 25 consecutive years in the Good Beer Guide. This is a rare achievement, and there are no other pubs in the branch area that can boast such a prestigious long-running appearance. In fact I would be hard pushed to name any other pub in Kent that can claim such a thing.
The award was a few months late in being presented, as we were originally due to visit the Hopbine back in January. Some of the heaviest snow-fall in years though scuppered that plan, and with a crowded branch calender it meant that May was the earliest date we were able to re-schedule the event.
Half of those attending made the journey to Petteridge by bus, whilst the rest of us, myself included, walked. For me this was the first opportunity I'd had to try out my new hiking boots, and I must say they performed very well. Whilst not quite top of the range, I had spent a considerable sum (for me!) on them, and so would have not been best pleased had they failed to live up to expectations. My companions and I set off from Paddock Wood station to walk the three and a half miles or so the the Hopbine; it's a well-tried and well-trodden route and we were lucky that, apart from a few spots of rain, the threatened deluge didn't materialise.
The Badger First Gold on sale at the pub slipped down a treat. I don't know whether it was the thirst I had built up from the walk or not, but this beer had just the right combination of hop bite and sweet juicy malt to be the perfect post-walk pint. Landlord Mike was delighted with his certificate, and it joins several others, including Branch Pub of the Year, on his wall. Photographs were taken, hopefully for publication in the local papers, but shortly afterwards the promised rain started to come down.
I would have liked to have lingered longer in the Hopbine; it really is the perfect country pub, with a warming log fire in winter, tables and benches outside for summer, and a loyal band of regulars who, together with Mike and his wife, always provide a warm welcome for visitors. We had another pub to visit that day though; one that is a perennial branch favourite, and which this year won the Branch Pub of the Year award. On top of that the Halfway House at Brenchley was hosting its annual Whitsun Bank Holiday Beer Festival!
We got soaked walking the short, cross-country route between the two pubs, but arriving at the Halfway House we found that host Richard Allen was well prepared for the vagaries of the English climate. There were 60 beers on sale, all competitively priced at £2.80 a pint. Normally the pub has up to 10 ales on, all served by gravity direct from the cask. The bulk of the festival beers though were on sale outside, from a booth-like tented gazebo structure which provided sufficient shelter for the people serving the beers, plus those queuing up to drink them.
After selecting our beers, most of us ended up inside the pub, which was heaving. We still managed to find a table or two, as one of many delights about the Halfway House is that it is a maze of small, inter-connecting rooms on different levels, all exhibiting a degree of antiquity and cosiness that is the hall-mark of this pub. After enjoying a large beefburger, cooked outside on a covered barbecue from meat supplied by the village butcher, I started to get stuck into the beers. In the main I stayed with the pale and golden bitters, of which there were more than a few! Despite the damp weather they seemed the right thing to be drinking on this late Spring Bank Holiday weekend, and I certainly enjoyed a fair number of them. Amongst those that really stuck out were Coastal Hop Monster, Phoenix Hopsack, Hawkshead Lakeland Gold, Prospect Gold Rush and Fyne Ales Avalanche. Non golden beers I enjoyed included Lymestone Stone Faced, Wold Top Falling Stone (excellent) and Champion Winter Beer of Britain - Elland 1872 Porter.
Mid way through the afternoon the rain eased off and Iain, our branch chairman, managed to grab hold of Richard long enough to present him with his certificate outside the pub, and also to get some photographs taken. Those travelling by bus departed shortly after half four, but those of us on foot stayed until about seven o'clock.
I don't remember much about the walk back to the station , apart from crossing an abandoned golf course, that is slowly reverting back to nature, and the fact that it was quite wet underfoot. Still my new boots performed well and kept my feet bone dry, and arriving in Paddock Wood we had sufficient time to call into the local chippy for a much needed portion of chips to help soak up the excess beer!