Fuggles, a famous variety of hops used in the brewing of traditional English ales, and named after Richard Fuggle of Brenchley, who introduced the hop back in 1875 after finding it growing wild in a hop garden in nearby Horsmonden. The village of Brenchley is roughly eight miles from where I live, but travel in a different direction and one reached the famous Spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Here there is another Fuggles, in the form of Fuggles Beer Café, the latest addition to the Tunbridge Wells drinking scene. Fuggles has been open just over a week now, but when a group from West Kent CAMRA called in last Wednesday; it was only its sixth evening of opening. This is what we found:
Fuggles Beer Café occupies a former retail outlet towards the top end of Tunbridge Wells, just along from the town’s main Post Office and shopping centre. A page on Facebook had allowed local beer-loving enthusiasts to monitor the progress, over a period of several months, as the shop was converted from its previous use into a modern and functional looking bar. Despite having quite a narrow frontage, the bar space at Fuggles extends back a long way, in fact right to the rear of the premises, where there are some comfortable looking sofas for patrons to relax on. The functional feel is enhanced by the exposed duct work, and other utility services suspended below the ceiling. The serving area is approximately one third of the way down, on the right hand side. The bar counter is adorned by the usual hand pulls, whilst behind the bar there are ten anonymous-looking keg taps set, American-style, into the tiled rear wall. A large chalkboard behind the bar gives full details of all the draught beers on sale, both cask and keg.
There were four cask and ten keg beers on sale last Wednesday. The place was buzzing when I arrived, with a good mix of customers. After my spectacles had de-misted, I managed to locate my friends towards the rear of the bar, seated at a table. Some were already getting stuck into the three glass “tasting bats” that the pub offers. I opted for a refreshing pint of Otley 01 Gold to begin with, before moving on to the “craft keg” stuff. The “bats” fall into two different price bands, depending on the strength of the beer. For beers up to 5.0%, three third pint glasses will set you back £4.50; whilst above this level they work out at £5.50. Seeing as some for the craft beers were 9.0% abv, this was quite a good deal.
I went for three beers in the lower range to begin with, namely Kirkstall Framboise, a refreshing 3.6% Raspberry beer, Wild Beer Scarlet Fever, a tasty 4.8% amber ale and Titanic Stout 4.5%, a beer I am familiar with in both cask and bottled form. All were good in their own right, with the Titanic exceptionally smooth and chocolate like, suggesting it was dispensed by nitrogen-mixed gas. Later I moved on to the higher end of the spectrum, a choice which included two beers at 9%. One was Houblon Chouffe, a Belgian-style IPA, whilst the second was another Wild Beer Co brew called Ninkasi, a fruity Saison-style beer. In between I enjoyed a slightly weaker IPA; Devil's Rest IPA, from Burning Sky, which weighed in at just 7.0%!
It is early days yet, but it was good to see this exciting new venue so busy. Fuggles might seem a bit new at the moment, with a noticeably strong smell of paint last week, but to be fair the owners have been working around the clock to get the place ready on time. The management will soon be offering food, in the form of locally sourced pies, sausage rolls and scotch eggs. With an eclectic range of interesting beers, and a good café-style atmosphere, Fuggles is a welcome addition to the increasingly diverse drinking scene in Tunbridge Wells. It will be interesting to see how it develops further over the coming months.