Disappointment was the order of the day following the beer selling out early at this weekend’s Winter Beer Festival, held at Tonbridge Juddian’s Rugby Club.
We sort of knew the event was going to be popular; coinciding as it did with the start of the Six Nation’s Rugby Competition, so for this reason most of us avoided the opening session on Friday evening. As the club were screening the opening game of the contest, featuring Wales versus England, it seemed wise to wait until the following day to get along and sample the beers. My wife’s niece and her partner had gone along on the Friday and had sent a message via Social Media that the club-house was absolutely rammed; so much so that it was difficult to move around and that it was standing room only.
Considering I had made a wise decision not to go along for the opening night, I set off from home shortly after 4pm, looking forward to sampling a few of the 24 ales on offer; the majority sourced locally from Kent and Sussex breweries. I walked along the riverside path beneath the walls of Tonbridge’s historic 12th Century castle, and made my way past the swimming pool to the TJ’s clubhouse. As I approached I thought I recognised the figure coming towards me as friend and fellow CAMRA member, Jon. When he told me that most of the beers had run out and that the place was absolutely heaving, I thought he was joking.
He wasn’t though, as he had just come from the clubhouse. He suggested that I pop in and take a look for myself. On doing so one of the women on the door explained there was only around five or six beers still on, and that these were likely to run out soon. The organisers were putting a further three casks on sale at the clubhouse bar, so suggested I go in for a quick look first, before deciding to purchase a “starter pack” (glass plus tokens).
|A much more relaxed festival at TJ's back in 2013|
I forced my way inside, but there were so many people present that I was virtually impossible to get near the bar, or to see what, if anything was available on the stillages at the front of the clubhouse. I gave the whole thing up as a bad idea, but on my way out I bumped into Jon again. He was aware that Nigel, another friend of ours was in the clubhouse and he asked if I had seen him. Well given the number of people inside my reply was “No”, so after leaving a message for him on “WhatsApp”, we headed off in the direction of our local Wetherspoons for a much needed beer.
The Humphrey Bean was busy, but not too crowded and after ordering our beers, we managed to find a table. Jon went for Birra Armada a 4.8% Spanish Craft Beer brewed in collaboration with Adnams at their Southwold Brewery. I went for a pint of Turner’s American Pale Ale, which was very good. We hadn’t been there that long before we were joined by Nigel. He explained that having bought £10 worth of tokens at TJ’s, he wanted to use them up before joining us in Spoons. He mentioned a very nice Oatmeal Stout from 360˚ Brewery, and had also managed to sample the new Pale Ale from local heroes, Larkin’s.
The Bean also had a presentation of Rockin’ Robin beers on the bar, with three of the brewery’s beers on sale. Both Jon and Nigel went for one, but for my next pint I opted for the Spanish beer which Jon had been drinking earlier. I can’t say I’m a fan of Rockin’ Robin beers, despite having met the brewery’s gregarious and larger than life founder, Robin Smallbone. Robin readily admits he has stuck with the tried and tested malt-driven, “brown bitter” format, rather than going down the strong pale ale, bittered with New World, citrus-like hops style which has been very much in vogue over the last few years, and his decision has obviously struck a chord with local drinkers. Good luck to him for going against the trend and sticking to what he does best!
A third pint was called for, along with a bite to eat. The 6.0% ABV Rogue Brutal IPA, another collaboration brew from Adnams, hit the mark, as did the pulled-pork sandwich I ordered. Nigel departed; he had promised his wife he would pick up some shopping on the way home. Jon had the best part of an hour to kill before his train home, so we decide to head up towards the station and call in at the Punch & Judy.
This suited me as well as the P & J is on my way home. The pub was pleasantly busy and had a welcoming log fire blazing away. On the bar were Harvey’s Best, Tonbridge Alsace Gold, plus a beer from Wychwood whose name escapes me. Jon went for the latter, whilst I opted for the Alsace Gold, which was in fine form. There was just time for another swift half before Jon left to catch his train. I wandered back up the hill towards my house and surprised my family with my early arrival. They had obviously been expecting me back home a lot later.
It was obviously a shame about the TJ’s festival; good for the club, but not so good for all us thirsty local punters. For those interested in what brews were available, here is a list of the 24 beers.