It was very disappointing on the beer front the other night; doubly so after the excellent choice of top quality beers we had enjoyed a couple of days previously. I had turned up to the third meeting of the organising committee of the Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival, held at the normally reliable Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells, looking forward to something pale, hoppy and refreshing. Instead I was confronted by three brown beers - Harvey’s Best, Mighty Oak – English Oak and Tonbridge Copper Knob; all perfectly good beers in their own right, but not what I was looking for at the time.
One could argue that drinkers are spoilt for choice these days, and in certain pubs we are. However, many pubs continue to offer just one or two “safe” options – (Harvey’s Best, London Pride or Greene King IPA in this area), but at least with those type of pub one knows there what will be on offer. When one is relying on a pub which is normally renowned for sourcing something out of the ordinary, then it comes as something of a disappointment when it doesn't come up with the goods.
It wasn’t just the Royal Oak that failed to deliver last Tuesday. When the meeting had finished, a couple of us called in at the Bedford on our way back to the station. There were around eight beers on sale, but again despite lots of apparent choice, I didn’t really see anything that grabbed my attention. In the end I opted for Clarence & Fredericks Best Bitter, which was a very disappointing pint to finish on, reminding me of a pint of home brew, back in the bad old days. My friend fared rather better with the same brewery’s mild.
So what of the beers back at the Royal Oak? Tonbridge Copper Knob is a fairly dry, fruity 3.8% beer, copper in colour, as its name suggests. English Oak, on the other hand, was a full 1.0% higher in strength, and was fruity in character with caramel malt being the main characteristic.
OK, perhaps we shouldn’t have expected too much on a quiet Tuesday evening and I’m being more than a little churlish here, but with the preponderance of pale golden ales available these days, it was odd to find nothing apart from malt-driven brown ales.