The Spa Valley Railway's second beer festival was a resounding success, with virtually all the beer sold during the three day event. Held at the heritage railway's Tunbridge Wells West base, with additional beers available at Groombridge and Eridge stations, and also on the trains, members of West Kent CAMRA at times were struggling to serve the thirsty punters quick enough, especially during the Saturday afternoon session. We coped admirably though, but by the time the bars closed at 9pm we'd hat to send out for more beer. Thankfully, Tonbridge Brewery, plus Tunbridge Well's Bitter End Off-Licence, came to our assistance, and we were able to obtain fresh supplies and get the beer tapped, spiled and conditioned ready for the following day.
Sunday was slightly less hectic, and I was able to take a train down the line to Groombridge and help out with at the bar there. Spa Valley hosted a Diesel Gala Day on the Saturday, which obviously proved a hit with railway enthusiasts, whilst on the Sunday their normal steam and diesel haulage applied. Food in the form of curry, lasagne and macaroni cheese was available at Groombridge, with an all-day barbecue in the large engine shed at Tunbridge Wells West station, where the majority of the beers were stillaged.
So what about the beers themselves I hear you ask? Well we stayed local with Kentish beers from Larkins, Kent Brewery, Old Dairy, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Westerham, plus Sussex beers from Dark Star, FILO, Hastings, Kissingate, Hepworths, Longman and WJ King. Included in amongst this lot were some excellent "Green Hop" ales, an Old Ale (Longmans), a Smoked Ale (WJ King) plus a strong Audit Ale (Westerham). I don't think the results of the "Beer of the Festival" are in yet, but my three favourites were Dark Star Green-Hopped IPA - a stunning 6.5% beer, light in colour, but anything but light in taste and character; Westerham Audit Ale - a rich amber 6.2% ale, warming and just the thing to keep the cold and damp out on a grey October day; Old Dairy Fresh Top - the Rolvenden based brewery's take on a green-hopped ale, refreshing and not too strong at 4.0%, but dangerously drinkable, and one of the first beers to run out. (Incidentally, the same brewery's Silver Top Cream stout was also very good and proved a great hit with many of the punters.
None beery highlights were the band Rumours, who provided the entertainment on Saturday afternoon and evening, playing some excellent cover versions of late 60's and early 70's rock classics, including numbers by the Small Faces, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Guns and Roses, plus the Goth Morris Men (and Women), who put a whole new twist on this traditional form of Old English Entertainment.
Will there be another festival next year? Well, I'll be very surprised if there isn't, but we'll need to up the beer order again. In the meantime, like all the other volunteers and organisers from both West Kent CAMRA and the Spa Valley Railway, I'm taking a well earned rest and waiting for the final figures and competition results to be announced.
A special thanks to Simon for the photo's.