Craft comes to Kent, or to Tunbridge Wells to be precise. Last week on a CAMRA social in Tunbridge Wells, we finished our tour of the pubs in the Common-Mount Ephraim area of town by calling in at a fairly recently opened place called the Wells Kitchen. I had heard people talking about this establishment before, but mainly about the food. What I didn't know until the day of our visit was that the Wells Kitchen majors on keg craft beer. The building that houses the Wells Kitchen has been home to a number of other drinking emporiums in the past, including a night club and, more recently, a Yates. Certainly in this latter guise it had a reputation as something of a trouble spot, so it is encouraging to see it open in its new re-incarnation as a friendly and modern town pub.
As mentioned, the Wells Kitchen was our final port of call that evening, and after some excellent Harvey's at the Mount Edgcumbe, and some decidedly less excellent Dark Star at the Royal Wells Inn, I was looking forward to something a bit different to stimulate my somewhat jaded palate. We all know that feeling of walking into an unfamiliar pub for the first time and anxiously scanning the pumps for something either recognisable or novel, well my first experience of a craft-keg pub was just like this but several orders of magnitude even more unfamiliar than normal, The other members of our group had already identified what they were going for, and had made their purchases (Larkins Traditional), but I was glad that I had held back for the universal consent amongst my companions was that the beer was flat and lifeless.
In a way I was not surprised; it was dispensed direct from a cask kept behind the bar and whilst the cask was jacketed there was no evidence of any cooling. Sensing my hesitation, the manager asked if I would like to try a few samples. I had already spotted the pumps for the Freedom Brewery, and another that caught my eye was that from Chapel Down Vineyard. Also available, and one that had been spotted by several of my companions, was Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Now I would quite liked to have gone for this, but t £6.00 a pint, no way! The manager explained that the high cost was due to the beer having been shipped halfway across the world and I could see his point, but the prices charged for some of the the other beers was also on the dear side, and we are talking in the main about local ones!
I tried one of the various Freedom brews on sale, their Pilsner I believe, but wasn't that impressed, so in the end settled for a glass of Chapel Down Curious Brew. I have written a previous post about bottles of this company's beer being on sale at Waitrose, but this is the first time I had seen any of them available on draught. Curious Brew is the company's lager,and it is brewed using champagne yeast rather than normal brewer's yeast. Andy Hepworth, from the Horsham based brewery of the same name, is the man behind this brew. Chapel Down themselves are based at Tenterden, and are a wine producer with a serious (ie. extremely good), reputation.
I found the beer a touch too floral for my liking, with a quite pronounced peachy flavour, but it was still pleasant enough. However. at £4.20 a pint it was definitely a beer to sip and savour rather than swill straight down. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to ask the manager his name, as he was called away to deal with a matter in the restaurant. This was a shame as he seemed really passionate about the beers he was selling. He had twigged that we were from CAMRA and was apologetic about his single cask offering and the poor state it was in, but in his defence stated that there just wasn't the market for cask ale at the Wells Kitchen, Apart from the Anchor Liberty Ale, and the Larkins, all the other draught offerings were craft lagers - Freedom, Curious Brew. plus one from Hepworths. They has tried craft-keg ales but like the cask they just hadn't proved popular, so the pub decided to major on craft lager instead.
I will definitely be calling back, as the Wells Kitchen is a welcome addition on the local pub scene. Also it is good to see someone who is so passionate and enthusiastic about beer behind the bar. My one gripe however, and this seems to apply to all craft establishments and is a question posed by many a beer blogger, "Why is the stuff so expensive"?
ps. The pub also stocks a wide range of bottled beers, which includes ales as well as lagers.