I can think of few better places for me to have emerged from my enforced exile and back into the world of pubs and beer, than the Brecknock Arms at Bells Yew Green.
On Sunday the pub was the venue for West Kent CAMRA's Good Beer Guide 2019, selection meeting, and whilst my interest in the Guide these days is rather limited, the meeting seemed the perfect occasion for me to turn up and re-commence my involvement in branch activities.
The Brecknock has hosted West Kent branch selection meetings for several years now, the main reason being the pub lies in neutral territory, just across the county border in East Sussex. It is also easily accessible by train (Frant station); an important consideration given the high quality of the Harvey's beer stocked there, and its obvious appeal to branch members. If this were not enough, the landlord allows us the use of the former saloon bar area, once the dining trade has petered off.
|Frant station - just three stops from Tonbridge|
Yesterday though, there was no food trade as the chef had called in sick. This was bad news for those branch members who had arrived early, in order to grab a spot of Sunday lunch prior to the meeting. I was unaffected because I would be eating at home, later that evening. Even so, I picked up a roll plus a coffee from Greggs, before boarding the slightly delayed 13:08 train.
I arrived at the pub shortly after 1.30pm, pleased to see a CAMRA contingent already present. This was the first time since before Christmas that I'd seen any of my drinking buddies, and rather ironically that last get together was our CAMRA branch Christmas meal, which also took place at the Brecknock. It was therefore good to catch up with all the gossip, over a few pints of Harvey's Old.
The main purpose of the meeting, of course was to select the branch allocation of 22 pubs for the 2019 Good Beer Guide. Eleven members were present, plus a couple of apologies, along with recommendations in absentia. The proceedings were presided over by branch chairman Craig, who did well in keeping the discussions focussed, and not too bogged down in the detail.
In order to speed up the selection process and cut down on possible areas for dissent, the branch committee had set out firm criteria for selection, in line with CAMRA's Policy Document on Good Beer Guide entries. The number of visits to each pub, as obtained from Whatpub, along with NBSS scores submitted, were all taken into account, along with general branch knowledge of each particular pub plus feedback from the surveyors. It was here that input from the meeting was especially useful, and was where I was able to voice my opinions.
In just under two and a half hours 22 firm entries had been finalised along with three reserves. The latter being ranked 1 - 3, depending on final allocation. This was from a total of 50 pubs nominated and surveyed. Some pubs (just under half ) were obvious candidates, and were selected without dissent, whilst others required re-visiting (metaphorically speaking), involving further discussion.
Without blowing our own trumpets too much, we all felt satisfied that we had approached the task as logically as possible, and had been as objective as we could. Obviously personal preferences can and do come into play, but we were all conscious not to let our feelings have too great an influence on the overall decisions being taken.
Being blessed with an abundance of excellent pubs in West Kent, we had the opposite problem to branches who struggle to fill their allocation; but this meant we were able to approach the task from a position of strength. Despite my limited interest in the Good Beer Guide, I went away feeling pleased with the final selection, and content that the pubs chosen would appeal to both regular and occasional users of the Guide.
Finally, a quick word about the Harvey’s beer at the Brecknock, which was in excellent form. The XXXX Old Ale was especially good and I scored it as 4.0 NBSS. I rated the Best at 3.0, having been spoiled somewhat when compared against the quality of the Old.
There was a small crowd of locals in the bar that afternoon, but the absence of the chef obviously decimated the Sunday lunchtime food trade. Our presence therefore, must have provided a welcome boost to wet sales, so I’m certain that Dave the landlord must have been glad we were there.
I too was pleased I’d gone along, and was equally glad I’d limited myself to just three pints. After nearly six weeks of limited or very moderate consumption, that was just the right amount to ease myself back into the world of pubs and beer.