The Late Spring Bank Holiday has seen beer festivals a plenty taking place in this small corner of Kent, despite the weather trying to put a dampener on things. The majority of the events were pub festivals, and I managed to get along to a couple on Saturday. The first festival was at the ever popular Halfway House, just outside Brenchley; whilst the second was a smaller, but by no means less interesting festival, held at the Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells.
We were a bit late getting to the Halfway House. Our original plan had been to walk over from Paddock Wood, but torrential downpours on Saturday morning had put paid to that; instead we caught the bus from Tunbridge Wells. Rather than getting off at the Halfway House though, we alighted a couple of stops earlier, as we had another pub to visit; namely the Hop Bine at Petteridge.
Our reason for calling in at this cosy Hall & Woodhouse pub (still showing its King & Barnes livery), was to say goodbye to long-serving licensees, Mike and Bea Winser, who are retiring after 26 years at the Hop Bine. In these days of pubs changing hands on a regular basis and with licensees coming and going, two and a half decades running the same pub is a real achievement, but in Mike and Bea’s case a highly successful one based on hard work, discipline and the right touch – both behind the bar and in the kitchen.
We had been hoping to have lunch at the Hop Bine, but with the couple due to leave the pub next weekend, operations are being run down, Bea has taken a well-deserved rest from kitchen duties, and the pub has stopped serving food. A great shame, as in her time Bea served up some fantastic food. The beer though, acted by way of compensation; Badger First Gold and Tanglefoot. I stuck with the weaker First Gold, as I knew we had a long day ahead of us.
After saying our farewells, and wishing Mike and Bea all the best in their retirement, we set off for the Halfway House. We had a choice of either walking back up to the top of the lane and catching the bus, or of walking the whole way across the fields. The heavy rain outside made my mind up plus that of a companion, but the other two members of our group decided that having walked earlier from Pembury, they would complete the journey on foot, despite the weather, so we went our separate ways with a view to meeting up at the Halfway House.
There were five other local CAMRA members and friends waiting for us when we arrived at the pub, so after ordering a glass of Goody Ales Dark Mild, I grabbed a beer list and went and joined my companions. The rain had put the dampeners on what was going on outside, although Richard, the licensee of the Halfway, has had some very handy outside shelters constructed, enabling customers to carry on their al fresco drinking in the dry.
The programme stated there were 60 Local and National Real Ales on offer; all at just £3.20 a pint. I know the beer list stated "National Real Ales", but even so I was surprised by the inclusion of the likes of Ruddles Best, Young’s Bitter and Greene King Abbot in the line-up. However, there were also plenty of interesting local ales from both Kent and Sussex. For me, Goody Ales proved the highlight of the festival, with all four of their beers in fine form. Also well represented were old favourites Rother Valley, Westerham and Old Dairy, along with Kings and Welton’s – both from Horsham in West Sussex.
My consumption was somewhat curtailed though by the several pints of Badger consumed earlier, and by late afternoon most of my companions were feeling the same way. We decided to go for the penultimate bus back to Tunbridge Wells, but not before a member of our party had presented landlord Richard with a certificate as , West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year Runner-Up 2013. The Halfway House has won the award outright for the previous four years, but recently there has been some strong competition from a couple of relative newcomers. Even so, the result was very close, and I’m certain Richard will do everything in his power to try and reclaim his crown for next year’s award.
Our bus dropped us in Tunbridge Wells, close to the Royal Oak, which just so happened to be holding its own Beer and Music Festival. The pub was packed, although we did manage to secure a table. With a line-up of interesting and unusual beers on the bar, the temptation was to stay. Switching to halves I enjoyed Otley No.3, Great Orme Welsh Black and an interesting smoked stout called “Dirty Stop Out” from Tiny Rebel Brewery. There was some good live music being played at the rear of the pub at a volume which still allowed conversation to take place where we were sitting at the front. Other pubs please take note!
That was me done for the day; pleasantly refreshed, but not overly so! More beer festivals are taking place next weekend, and such events will no doubt continue throughout the summer.