Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Last Night at the Punch



It may not have been the wisest of moves, especially as I am still struggling to shake off this cough and cold, but last night I decided that a stroll down to the pub would do me good. My local West Kent CAMRA Branch were holding an open business meeting at the Punch & Judy in Tonbridge, so I thought I’d go along, get some fresh air and enjoy a pint or two in the company of friends.

It wasn’t too cold out, and after a fifteen minute walk down the hill, I arrived at the Punch; a former Whitbread pub tucked away in a side street at the back of the town’s Police Station. There was a fair mix of customers milling around the bar, and I could see my friends sitting around a couple of tables on the raised area at the rear of the pub. My heart leapt when I spied the pump clip advertising Harvey’s Old, as this rich dark seasonal ale was just what I needed to lift my spirits on a damp January evening.

I ordered myself a pint, and walked over to join my friends. My presence brought the number in attendance up to eight, and I sat listening as the various branch officers went through the salient parts of their reports. I noticed that most of the members sitting round the table were also enjoying the Old; a good choice on a winter’s evening, made all the better by the beer being in excellent condition.

Apart from the various reports, the majority of the discussions centred on the local pub scene, with news of one imminent re-opening and also of an inevitable closure. I won’t give further details of either at the moment, as things could go either way in both cases, but I will say that getting a pub listed as an ACV is no guarantee that it will remain open, and certainly no measure of its viability in remaining as a public house. Changing demographics and social habits will inevitably lead to the loss of more and more pubs which rely solely on their “wet trade”, and many will need to re-think their game if they wish to continue in business.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, although the attendance at branch socials continues to give cause for concern (changing social habits again?). When the meeting ended, the Tunbridge Wells contingent departed; no doubt to continue their drinking on home turf. The three of us remaining ordered more beer and sat chatting, putting the world to right and pouring our scorn on the Chief Medical Officer’s recent report that there is “no safe level of alcohol”.

Two of us are work colleagues and also scientists, so can see through the crooked thinking and manipulation of statistics which characterises this report. On top of this deliberate slanting of the truth, we all agreed the report fails to take any of the health benefits associated with moderate drinking into account. Socialising with one’s fellow human beings, in a relaxed and friendly manner must surely be good for body and soul, and consuming a beverage, brewed from wholesome and natural ingredients, rich in B vitamins and soluble fibre, must also be beneficial.

There were a couple of other beers on sale in the Punch, last night. Local favourite, and “must have” beer, Harvey’s Sussex Best naturally topped the bill, but here was also a new seasonal beer from Tonbridge Brewery in the form of Winter Solstice. This 4.8% chestnut coloured ale, "combines rich malt flavours and subtle cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger notes"; or so says the brewery’s promotional material. I stuck with the Harvey’s Old, but my two companions both gave the beer a go.

It was good to see the pub busy on a Monday evening. Apart from our presence, the numbers were boosted by participants in a local darts match. There were also quite a few people sat at the bar; the main topic of conversation unsurprisingly being the sad and sudden passing of rock legend David Bowie.It was also good to see a pub taking a chance and selling a couple of dark ales. According to the landlord,  both were selling well, thereby proving what most of us already know, that there is a market for dark ales; especially in winter.

I didn’t feel quite so good at work today, and this was nothing to do with the moderate amount of beer I drank. This bug/virus does appear to take some getting over, and apart from work I will not be venturing out again until the weekend, when I plan to attend a social at a former branch favourite pub, situated at the northern extremity of our area. All will be revealed next time.

3 comments:

retiredmartin said...

Good to get a decent crowd on a Monday Paul. Just back from the South West, where several pubs were closed on Monday, and dark beers practically non-existent, to my sister's disappointment.

Curmudgeon said...

Good to hear of a CAMRA branch meeting combining constructive discussion with socialising, given all the moaning we hear from some quarters about them.

I do wonder whether some of the apparent prejudice against dark beers is actually specifically related to stouts and porters, which aren't to everyone's taste. Not sure I've ever had Harveys, but I used to enjoy the beers in that style from Brakspears, Gales and King & Barnes when I lived down there. And they were at a drinkable strength so they weren't just an "end of evening" beer.

Paul Bailey said...

I think the darts tournament helped to pull the punters in Martin, but all the same it was good to see the pub busy. It’s too early to say whether dark beers are having a renaissance; but they do seem to be more common than they once were.

You could be right about porters and stouts not being to everyone’s taste, Mudge. I realise there is often little to distinguish between the two, but I am much more likely to plump for a porter than I am a stout. Pure prejudice, and impossible to rationalise, but with the same lack of logic which leads me to avoid wheat beers, my brain seems wired against stouts.

King & Barnes used to brew a cracking Old Ale, but I only have very vague memories of those brewed by Brakspears and the late lamented Gales. Like Harvey’s Old, these beers were all brewed to a sensible strength, and like the other evening, it was perfectly possible to spend a session drinking them.