On Friday I enjoyed a very pleasant walk through the Kent countryside, which always looks splendid at this time of year, having joined friends from Maidstone and Mid-Kent CAMRA on their annual Good Friday Ramble. I've attended quite a few of these walks, but after having missed last year's event it was particularly good to turn up to this one and meet up again with old friends and acquaintances from my former branch.
I've written before about this annual event, most of which have been led by keen rambler Dick Wilkinson. This year's walk was no exception and Dick reminded us of the fact that as we were all getting older, the walks were getting shorter. The first one, back in the mid 1970's was 14 miles in length; this year's was barely half that distance! I mentioned getting older, a fact borne out by Dick now being a grandfather with both his son and daughter, along with their various off-spring in attendance. Some of us too are starting to feel the slow advancement of the years, with the odd age-related aliment beginning to crop up
This year saw nearly two-dozen of us gathering at West Malling station; not a particularly easy place for those of us travelling from Tonbridge to get to, but after two changes of train and the best part of an hour we duly arrived at our meeting place. The day had dawned bright and cold, after a frosty start, and most of us had wrapped up warm against the unseasonably cold weather. A week or so previous, the county was basking in temperatures in the high teens, but not so today. We were aiming for a pub called the Nevill Bull in the small village of Birling. Not only were we buoyed up by the fact that the pub regularly serves beers from the recently established Kent Brewery, but being a public holiday, and the start of the Easter break, it was also holding a mini-beer festival.
For me the opportunity to try Kent Brewery beers was an eagerly anticipated one. The company was set up in late 2010, and whilst they were waiting for planning permission, installation of equipment etc,. commenced brewing operations using the equipment at Larkins Brewery at Chiddingstone. As former CAMRA Brewery Liaison Officer for Larkins I was particularly keen to sample their beers, especially as I had heard good things about them. Brewing at Larkins lasted longer than Kent anticipated as objections from local residents saw the company's original choice of site at Offham being rejected, but fortunately an alternative venue became available at nearby Birling. The Nevill Bull is therefore the nearest outlet to the brewery, and was the ideal place for me to sample the Kent Brewery beers for the first time.
The walk was not an arduous one, with no hills to climb and no stiles to clamber over. Fearing we would arrive at the pub ahead of opening time, Dick was forced to add an extra loop to our route in order to ensure we arrived bang on midday. As the sun was shining and it was quite warm when sheltered from the wind, most of us opted to sit outside on the patio at the rear of the pub, This was also conveniently sited for the barn, just the other side of the car park, where the majority of the festival beers were to be found. Payment for the beers was by means of tokens, with all beers priced at £3.00 a pint; £1.50 per half. The pub itself had Harvey's Best, and Taylors Landlord on sale, alongside Kent Brewery Cobnut. I started though with Spring Top 4.0%, a well-hopped, pale bitter from Ed's excellent Old Dairy Brewery, down at Rolvenden. Then, nipping into the pub to order my food, I opted for a glass of the aforementioned Cobnut. Described, quite correctly, as a "ruby ale" this 4.2% offering was perhaps not the best introduction to Kent Brewery beers, but then I have never been much of a fan of this style of beer. Ruby Ales tend to be synonymous with Irish "Red Ales" and always seem to me to have an overdose of crystal malt and roasted barley. This one was no exception, although it was probably amongst the more drinkable examples.
After an excellent fish pie lunch I was ready for more beer, but wanted something lighter in colour and more refreshing on the palate. Westgate Gold 4.2% from Clarks Brewery and Amarillo, a 5.0% from Crouch Vale both fitted the bill and were both in good form. To end with though I selected another Kent Brewery beer, the 5.5% Enigma. Described on their website as a black IPA, this was a style of beer I have not sampled before. Nevertheless it was a good one to finish on. Well-hopped, as one would expect, but dark and malty to balance this beer did not disappoint. My only regret was that the brewery's three regular pale ales/bitters had not been available for me to try.
Most of the party opted to stay for a few more beers at the pub. but my friend John and I left just after 3pm as we had an awkward train journey to make. For differing health reasons neither of us are drinking particularly large amounts of beer at present, so it made double sense to leave when we did. As luck would have it we arrived back in West Malling town with plenty of time to spare, so nipped into a local coffee shop for a welcome cup of tea, before catching the first of three trains that would see us home.
Once again the Good Friday Ramble had been a good day out, with an excellent choice of pub, fine weather and the chance to renew acquaintances with old friends.