Sunday, 13 August 2017

A rather beery week

Several years ago I wrote a post in which I described my reasons for staying in, and doing my drinking at home, rather than venturing out and socialising with my fellow human beings in the surroundings of a pub. The main reason was there weren’t any decent pubs left in Tonbridge; the town where I have lived for the past 30 plus years. 

Things are changing though with the opening on Friday night of the beer café  Fuggles, as I reported earlier and there are reports of another exciting beer venture opening in the town, later in the autumn.

The past week though has seen me out on more occasions than I can remember for many a year. Monday started with a trip up to London for the British Guild of Beer Writer’s Summer Party. The event took place on the Tattershall Castle; a former river ferry, moored on the Thames, just off the Victoria Embankment. It was a good event, and despite doing my best in order to pace myself, bearing in mind I had to work the following day,  I still felt slightly jaded the following morning.

On Tuesday, I wisely had a day off the sauce, but come Wednesday, I had an invitation for the "soft opening" of Fuggles Beer Café in Tonbridge. Thursday was another alcohol free day, but on Friday lunchtime I called in at the recently re-opened Greyhound at Charcott.

The pub wasn’t overly busy, and seeing as I was on my lunch hour I only had the one beer; a very good pint of Dark star Hophead. The lull gave me a chance to chat to landlord Richard about how plans for the pub’s kitchen were progressing. The kitchen was coming along slowly, was his honest reply, but he has been careful to involve the local authority in the project from the start, thereby ensuring full compliance with the various requirements once everything is up and running.

I felt very rather tired that evening; the sort of usual end of week feeling after a busy time at work. Despite my tiredness I wanted to visit Fuggles Tonbridge again for what would be their official opening. So I wandered along to the north end of the High Street, arriving at around 8.45pm.

Fuggles opening night - photo by Jon Collins
The place was absolutely heaving, with customers spilling out onto the pavement, but I managed to make my way to the bar and even to find a seat alongside one of my CAMRA friends and his son, who were enjoying the excellent beer (and gin, in the case of my friend’s son), in the rather noisy, but good-natured atmosphere of this welcome addition to the town.

I only stayed for a couple; Kent Brewery Simcoe 4.5%  on cask and Burning Sky Aspire 4.4% on keg, but both were good. My friends left a little earlier, so I chatted briefly to the two couples who came and sat at the recently vacated table. They were from the same area of Tonbridge as me, and all were really pleased that the town at last had somewhere decent to drink at.

Saturday saw a friend and former work colleague visiting Eileen and I. Our friend moved to London twenty-plus years ago, following the closure of the company where we all worked. He is a Tonbridge lad though, although he said that after his mother died, he had little reason to visit the town.

We met at the station, and the idea had been to visit a few pubs and for our friend to have a look around the town. Unfortunately he had badly sprained a few ribs and was having difficulty in walking far, so we put  plan B into action and headed for the Punch & Judy; the nearest pub to the station.

Posing tables - naturally
I knew the pub had been closed for renovation, so was not overtly surprised by the smell of new paint which greeted us as we walked through the door; even so was rather surprised to learn from the landlady, that the Punch had only re-opened the night before. It had undergone an extensive re-decoration, on the outside as well as in, but the pub has been given a pleasing contemporary look without distracting too much from its 19th Century origins.

Our friend remembered the Punch as the Gardener’s Arms, and so do I – just about. Back then it was a small, two-bar, back-street local, but now the interior has been completely opened up, and the former conservatory area at the rear has been incorporated into the main pub. This, of course, happened years ago, and the recent renovation was more of a cosmetic paint-job than anything else.

As the sun was at last finally shining, we decided to sit out in the small, courtyard garden area at the rear. This also enabled Eileen, who doesn’t drink btw, to indulge in her own individual vice of a cigarette or two. There were two cask ales available; Harvey’s Sussex Best and Tonbridge Coppernob. I went for the Harvey’s whilst our friend opted for the more local beer. Both were in excellent condition.

We spent several hours catching up, reminiscing and putting world to right, but after a few pints were feeling a trifle peckish. I enquired about, but the Punch’s landlady said they not in a position to serve  food yet, as  they had only opened the night before. A quick look on line revealed that the Forester's Arms, just up the road, had pizza available at all times, so given its proximity to the Punch, we decided to give the place a go.

Eileen didn’t join us, as she had some shopping to do, but my friend and I wandered up to the Foresters, which is the only Shepherd Neame pub in town. Neither of us were strangers to the pub, although my friend’s association with the place goes back 50 years or more.

I had been in the Foresters much more recently; in fact I wrote about my visit here. My friend was impressed by the alterations which had taken place, turning what was once an ordinary two-bar pub, into a bright and airy pub, with a friendly welcome and something for everyone.

We ordered some beers; Whitstable Bay Pale Ale, served up in dimple glasses. We also ordered a pizza each; a small one for me plus a large one for my friend. The pizzas are specially prepared by landlord Tyson Marshall, and were delicious. 

We had one final beer before it was time for my friend to depart, and this time we went for the Whitstable Bay Blonde, which was rather good. After finishing our beers I walked back to the station with my friend and said goodbye. I am sure I will be meeting up with him again, but in London’s Kentish Town, next time.

So ended a rather beery (for me at least), week. Today was spent doing housework, gardening plus a spot of shopping, and tomorrow it is back to work.

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