Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Magical Mystery Tour - or Pub of the Year

In common with most, if not all, local branches, West Kent CAMRA run a Pub of the Year competition, usually abbreviated to POTY – an acronym I cringe at every time I hear it, even if it does save a bit of typing!  I have written about this yearly award on several previous occasions, and I suspect I shall be writing about it again before the month is out, but it's worth pointing out that I have mixed feelings about the value of Pub of the Year.

I obviously accept the award is good for the winning pub, but the competition can sometimes cause ill-feeling in the licensed trade as a whole; and it's not just a question of sour grapes. The selection process itself can also be fraught with problems, and there is no one size fits all approach when deciding on the winner.

Despite these reservations there has to be some method or other for choosing a winner, so this coming weekend West Kent CAMRA are running a mini-bus tour of the six pubs selected as finalists in this year's competition.

This heralds a return to a selection process last used six years ago, but abandoned for a variety of reasons, not least of which were the organisation involved in hiring a mini-bus and the job of finding a suitable “designated driver” willing to sit there drinking soft drinks all day.

These mini-bus trips invariably took place on a Saturday, because of their lengthy nature. Finding a mutually agreeable date could sometimes pose a problem, but the main concern was that by the time members had reached the last couple of pubs on the tour, their judgement was almost certainly clouded by the amount of beer they had drunk!

On the plus side these trips were highly enjoyable, so I for one am extremely pleased that the branch has decided to reinstate the mini-bus tour as a tried and tested means of selecting Pub of the Year. I am therefore really looking forward to Saturday's trip especially as it gives me the opportunity to visit  pubs I don't often get round to. This is particularly the case with some of the more rural pubs on the list.

Now I don't intend to name any of the six finalists at this stage; just on the off-chance that one or more of the licensees concerned reads this blog, but once the tour is over, I will be writing a short piece on each of the pubs visited. What I will say for now is four of  the contenders are rural, whilst the remaining two are town-centre outlets.

Saturday's forecast isn't looking that brilliant, but no matter we will be getting wet on the inside. It might just mean that some of the photo opportunities won't be as good as they might otherwise have been, if the sun was to be shining.

The other slight downside is that the trip will be quite a hurried affair, with the time at each pub restricted to around 45 minutes. This is to comply with legal requirements concerning driver's hours. I was also talking with a friend and work colleague earlier today, and we were both wondering which pub would be the best for lunch, and would the pub be able to accommodate a dozen hungry drinkers within that time-frame, especially when they turn up unannounced.

That last point is particularly valid, as we don't want publicans knowing in advance that we are coming, especially if they then guess the purpose of our visit. It may just be then that packets of crisps or bags of nuts will have to suffice until later in the evening when we've all been dropped off.

Finally, there are no clues from any of the photos either, all of which are strictly "neutral".


Russtovich said...

"and the job of finding a suitable “designated driver” willing to sit there drinking soft drinks all day."

Ah, memories. We did something similar way back in the late 70's while at Uni. Rented a cargo van (no seats in the back, just the two at the front for the driver and one other lucky person), then drove across the border into Buffalo, New York to the now defunct 747 club. Opened at 9pm (till 4am) and it was a flat fee for all you could drink. Yowza! The seats in the bar were airline seats, the waitresses were dressed as flight attendants (with VERY short skirts) and we got absolutely blotto. And yes, we paid a non-drinker to drive and drink soft drinks all night. :)

It sounds like a great day out, but I can see where drinking six pints and trying to squeeze in lunch and a pint for a dozen or so in under an hour might be problematic. But, it still sounds like a great day out.

Looking forward to the write up. :)


PS - Maybe bring a few sandwiches to keep on the bus as an emergency backup?

Paul Bailey said...

Sounds like a great night out Russ, especially when you’re a twenty-something student with the capacity to drink copious amount of alcohol, without suffering too many ill effects. Six pints over the course of Saturday will be more than enough for me, but my consumption will be staggered over a seven hour period.

My American brother-in-law and I stopped off in Buffalo, on our way back from Niagara Falls (the visit I mentioned in the comments section of the previous post). We parked the pick-up truck (he was driving) and set off to find a place to eat, but we hadn’t gone far before he urged that we return to the vehicle and drive off somewhere else.

He said he didn’t like the look of “downtown” Buffalo. It looked alight to me, and certainly no different from many large British cities, but he reckoned he was getting “bad vibes” about the place. I went along with his suggestion, bowing to his superior knowledge. It was his country, after all! In the end we found some anonymous diner, on a retail park, on the outskirts of Buffalo.

Oddly enough, he was particularly edgy whilst we at Niagara, on the Canadian side of the Falls, (where the best views are). This may have been due to the Canadian border people giving him a hard time when we crossed over from the US. I had no such trouble, being the proud bearer of a UK passport, and a red one at that!

No such trouble envisaged for Saturday’s trip. We won’t even be crossing the county border, as all the pubs are in Kent.

Russtovich said...

Your brother-in-law was probably going on instinct, sad to say. My wife flew VIPs with the Canadian military for a few years in the mid 90's. There were a number of American cities (no names) where the crewed stayed whilst traveling where the hotel staff basically told them when they were going out to find a place to eat that they should they go left, but not right, just to be safe. She said there was one hotel they stayed at in an American city where she never felt more nervous... and this from someone who spent a month in Africa, mainly in Rwanda, shortly after the crisis there.

As for having a better view of the Falls from the Canadian side... yup! :)


PS - I'd say have a pint for me on Saturday but I think six should be sufficient all by itself. :)

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Paul, you could have used that bus to promote CAMRA per se, by hanging posters with claims such as "Real Ale Can Change The Laws Of Physics" on the sides, what?

That sort of idiocy seems to have been effective in the past after all, as I recall?

I hope that you all had a great day whatever.

Cheers, E

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Ethelred, we had a good day yesterday, and despite some initial problems over timing, it all worked out well in the end.

Yes, a slogan or two on the side of the mini-bus, promising bright, sun-lit uplands, or the odd unicorn or two, might have worked, although I gather there is now a bus, doing the rounds advertising the true cost of the path our leaders have embarked upon (£2 billion a week!).

A full report of our pub tour will follow in due course, but for now I'll just say that whilst all six finalists were of a high standard, there was one pub which I thought stood head and shoulders above the rest.

I will find out, early next week, whether it won or not.

Anonymous said...

I hope your bus had a sign saying "CAMRA says Fosters is the epitome of the brewers' art", Paul, or something similarly aimed at promoting inclusiveness post-Revitalisation. You could have given away your vouchers for a free Punk IPA, too.

Russtovich said...

Glad to hear the outing went ok, and looking forward to your top pick. :)


Paul Bailey said...

No slogans on the bus Martin, but you have reminded me that I still haven't cast my vote(s) for the Revitalisation motions.

I haven't used any of my Spoons vouchers either, this year. They are still in the envelope they came in!