|Always smiling - Barry Dennis|
Barry had his reasons though for, as he told me, he always believed in supporting the “little man”. Like many licensees, he had taken on Doom Bar, back in the day when Sharps were a relatively unknown small brewer, from a tiny Cornish village called Rock. The easy-drinking Doom Bar was an instant hit with the Anchor’s regulars, and pretty soon it became a permanent fixture on the bar.
Doom Bar was also a hit in many other pubs up and down the land; so much so that Sharp’s had to step up production at their Rock Brewery in order to keep up with the demand. As this beer, which is named after the dangerous “Doom Bar” sandbank at the mouth of the Camel Estuary in north Cornwall, became a common feature in the nation’s pubs, Sharps caught the attention of multi-national brewing giant, Molson Coors who bought the brewery in February 2011, for £20 million. Sales of Doom Bar continued to grow after the takeover, increasing by 22 per cent during 2011, making it the UK's fastest growing ale for the third year in a row. In 2015, it was revealed that the bottled version of Doom Bar had not been produced in Cornwall since 2013, and was brewed in Burton-upon-Trent.
This revelation was the last straw for Barry, so earlier this year he took the decision to ditch Doom Bar in favour of a beer with more integrity and also one which could be sourced locally. I was one of the people he confided in, but when he told me how many casks the pub was getting through each week I told him he would be crazy to drop the beer. Barry nevertheless decided to go ahead, but rather than jumping in feet first, he did his homework.
Ideally he wanted to go with a Kentish brewer, but when Sussex micro Turners came up with a proposal to brew a beer especially for the Anchor, he jumped at the chance. Turners had featured as a “guest ale” on several occasions at the Anchor, and their beers had been well received by the pub’s customers. Barry gave them the remit of coming up with a mid-strength, easy-drinking bitter which would appeal to the pub regulars, and in particular the Doom Bar drinkers.
A total of six test brews were produced, which were trialled amongst the Anchor’s customers, over a period of several weeks, before both Turners and Barry plumped for a 4.0% ABV fruity, traditional Sussex bitter. A competition was also held to choose an appropriate name for the beer, and one of the pub’s regulars came up with the name “Pride of Sevenoaks”. The beer was launched during the last week in November, with representatives from the brewery, plus the local press in attendance.
Unfortunately I couldn’t make that evening, as my family and I were off to Austria the following day, but at the beginning of this week our local CAMRA branch arranged an impromptu social at the Anchor, which gave me the ideal opportunity to go along and try the new beer for myself. Being a Monday, it was Texas Hold ‘em Poker night, and the pub was quit busy, but my friends were waiting, sitting at the bar, when I arrived. Barry was there of course, holding court behind the bar, and he pulled me my first pint of Anchor Pride of Sevenoaks. It was mid-brown in colour and reasonably well-hopped against a strong fruity background. I could understand why the beer was a suitable replacement for Doom Bar, and I would add that it has more character as well.
Although it is still early days, Barry said the beer is selling at roughly the same rate as Doom Bar, so it is obviously going down well with the Anchor’s regulars. I had a further pint, before finishing the evening with a pint of Harvey’s; purely because I wanted a beer with a few more hops. Barry did his usual, bringing out plates of sandwiches, hot dogs and sausage rolls. Although these were primarily for the poker players, there was still plenty left for the rest of the pub’s clientele.
Barry Dennis is the longest serving licensee in Sevenoaks. He comes from a family of publicans, and has been behind the bar of the Anchor for the last 35 years. Barry has certainly seen some changes since he first took over this traditional town pub in the town’s London Road, back in 1979. The Anchor was then a Charrington’s pub; serving Charrington IPA and Draught Bass. Barry remarked, the other evening, as to just how lively this legendary Burton beer used to when first tapped and how it was almost orange in colour, (pale amber would probably be a more appropriate description).
Barry is a real showman, conducting proceedings from behind the bar acting like a “Master of Ceremonies”. He never seems to stand still, and there is always something going on at the Anchor. Monday is the aforementioned Texas Hold ‘em Poker night, but the pub holds open mike nights for budding musicians, regular blues evenings, darts, presentations from various brewers, charity events and meat raffles. Barry is also a keen supporter of the town’s Stag Theatre, which is almost opposite the pub.
Turner’s are a brewery based at Highfield Farm, in Ringmer, East Sussex. They were established in 2010, and commenced selling their beers a year later. There are eight core beers; some of which are seasonal, but their best seller is their Ruby Mild. Turner’s beers have appeared at JDW outlets in both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and have also been a regular feature at the Bedford – opposite Tunbridge Wells railway station. Their website can be accessed here, but it is not terribly informative, (presumably it is still under construction).