Sunday, 28 November 2010
West Kent CAMRA 2010 AGM
I mentioned in a previous post that this weekend my local CAMRA branch (West Kent), was holding its Annual General Meeting. This took place at the Oak Tree in Sevenoaks, a large town-centre pub housed in an historic building that dates back several centuries. We had booked a side room that leads off from the main bar, for the meeting, as this area is generally quieter than the rest of the pub, and is free from both TV and piped music.
The Oak Tree has, in the past, offered up to five cask beers, so it was not a good sign when, on arrival, we noticed the Harvey's pump clip turned round and just two other ales on sale; Wells Bombardier and Westerham British Bulldog. I opted for a pint of the latter, which was excellent and, at only £2.40 a pint, extremely good value. The meeting was slightly late in starting, but branch chairman Iain manged to keep things in order, and business was conducted at a brisk pace. Halfway through though, my glass was empty so I sneaked of to the bar for a refill. I hadn't really noticed before just how busy the pub had become, but as I waited to get served I was joined by a friend and we both noticed that only Bombardier seemed to be available. We were even more mortified when we heard the barmaid announce that there would be no bitter on for a while, as she needed to pull another one through.
Apart from a dozen or so of us CAMRA members, the Oak Tree was primarily busy because of the England v South Africa Rugby match being shown on the three TV screens dotted throughout the pub. It was only when I fought my way through to the gents that I realised just how many people were packed into the place. Now rugby supporters are well known for their love of decent beer, so it was perhaps not surprising that supplies were running low, but fortunately the new cask had been pulled through on my return. I patiently queued and was rewarded with a pint of Bombardier for the princely sum of just £2.30! Now I have never been a huge fan of this beer, but I have to say that my pint was superb, with a wonderful aromatic hop aroma evident as soon as one placed the glass to ones lips, and a nicely-balanced citrus hop flavour to match.
I rejoined the meeting in time for the election of the new committee. I had previously agreed to stand again as BLO for Larkins, and was duly re-appointed without challenge. We had a short break in order to eat the buffet that the pub had laid on for us. Afterwards the meeting resumed to consider nominations for the 2012 Good Beer Guide.
We would probably have stayed longer in the pub had there been a wider variety of beers available. As it was the new cask of Bombardier looked as though it was going to run out soon. I couldn't help thinking that the pub's management had missed an opportunity here. Not only were there a dozen or so CAMRA members present who's presence they must surely have been expecting, given the fact that the meeting was pre-booked a couple of months previously, but also the fact that a major rugby game was being televised could not have escaped their notice. To have failed to ensure that sufficient cask beer was available was a spectacular "own goal". Having said that I will certainly give the Oak Tree another try, as I especially like its keen prices, as well as its layout and good mix of clientele.
We moved on to sample the wares of a couple of other pubs in the town. First stop was the Sennockian, scene of our visit a couple of nights previously. This time they had a couple of interesting dark ales on tap; both left over from their recent festival. Lion Stout, at 5% was good, but not as good as the 8% bottle-conditioned version I used to stock in my off-licence. The Titanic New York Wheat Porter was much better, in my opinion, despite its lower strength of 4.2%.
Some of the party wanted to move on, so we walked the short distance, back up the High Street, to the Chequers. I have long considered this 16th Century, former staging post inn, to be one of the best pubs in Sevenoaks, not only for its historic and characterful interior, but for the interesting range of beers it often has on sale. I didn't clock all the ales they had on offer, but I did pick out St Austell Tribute and Black Sheep Best Bitter as the ones to go for. We grabbed a section at the far end of the bar, furnished with plenty of comfortable chairs, and looking out over the street outside. On such a bitterly cold night it was nice to be in the cosy warmth of this ancient inn, and bask in the glow from the open log fires that were keeping the freezing outside temperatures at bay.
A few hardy souls went on to the Anchor, but the majority of us had had sufficient beer by this time, and made our way home. It was bitingly cold walking down to Sevenoaks station, and I was glad to reach the warmth of home. All in all it had been a good afternoon/early evening, with a successful AGM behind us, and another year's campaigning and socialising to look forward to.