Tuesday, 22 February 2011
West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year Tour 2011
Last Saturday saw a dozen or so West Kent CAMRA members embarking on a tour of of the six pubs nominated for this year's Pub of the Year award. As in previous years we travelled in a hired mini-bus, complete with designated driver.
First port of call was the Anchor, at Sevenoaks, one of a dying breed of proper town locals. we were given a warm welcome from the irrepressible Barry, who has run the pub for the past 30 years or so. Harveys Best, Sharp's Doom Bar plus Ebony Moon, a new 4.2% seasonal beer from the Tonbridge Brewery, which was only set up last year. As its name suggests, this was a dark coloured beer with plenty of roast malt flavours and a good hop finish at the end.
We then moved on to the Bricklayer's Arms in nearby Chipstead, a tardis-like Harvey's pub over-looking Chipstead Lake. The pub is unusual in that it has casks of Harvey's Best Bitter racked up on the back-bar for gravity dispense. Myself and several others though opted for the Rationale, a new beer brewed at just 2.7% and designed to take advantage of recent tax breaks for low-gravity beers.
At such a low strength it did taste a trifle on the thin side, but still had that distinctive Harvey's taste. However, with a long day's drinking ahead of us, it seemed the sensible option. Most of us opted for lunch at the Bricklayer's as well, although in my case having already enjoyed a bacon sandwich at the Anchor, a roast pork baguette (with chips and salad to accompany), was more than enough!
Our next port of call was the Royal Oak at Crockham Hill, a pub belonging to the nearby Westerham Brewery. Three draught Westerham beers were on sale alongside a range of the brewery's bottled beers. The pub though showed clear divisions of having recently been converted from two bars, and somehow the two halves didn't quite seem to go. Having said that we still received a friendly welcome from the landlady and her staff.
Travelling the relatively short distance down the road to Edenbridge, we came to the next pub on our list, the Old Eden. This comfortable old pub was originally a couple of 15th Century cottages. The landlady did give us a potted history of the pub to read, but I wasn't really paying sufficient attention to remember exactly when the cottages were knocked through to form the present pub. There were some excellent beers on sale, including Whitstable Native and Hepworth's Old. The latter at 4.8% was a fine example of the style, and just the thing on a damp, mid-February afternoon.
Our penultimate port of call was several miles away in Tunbridge Wells. The Royal Oak lies a short distance from the town centre, but it miles away from the hustle and bustle of the shops. The pub has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years, having been given a new lease of life by its current owners. There is a large central serving area, with plenty of tables, chairs and comfortable bench seating all the way round. The pub hosts regular live music sesions and other events. The clientele is mainly young, and perhaps slightly Bohemian, although that is no bad thing in my book. When we called in, Larkins Traditional and Porter were on sale, alongside Royal Tunbridge Wells Sovereign. The latter two were in excellent form.
The Halfway House at Brenchley was the our final stop. For those not in the know, this excellent country alehouse has up to a dozen cask beers on tap, all served by a clever gravity-fed arrangement from a temperature-controlled room. Virtually all the beers are from micro-brewers, and usually include a mild, as well as porter or old ale in winter. A local Kentish cider is normally available as well. If all this wasn't enough, the pub itself is a characterful former coaching inn, that dates back to 1740. There are a series of inter-connecting rooms that lead up to the main bar area, with the aforementioned gravity-served beers.
There was a welcoming log fire burning at the time of our visit, and a good mixed crowd in the main bar. The two beers I sampled, Old Dairy Gold Top and O'Hanlons Port Stout were both excellent, and were a fitting end to a really good day out.
Although I have an inkling as to which pub won Pub of the Year, I am not at liberty to divulge its name; not until the announcement is made official that is.