Monday, 11 June 2018

George & Dragon - Speldhurst

Here’s a short post to act as a "fill-in" whilst I work on a couple of longer ones. It’s about visiting a pub which you haven’t been to in ages, and being pleasantly surprised when you find that, in-spite of a few changes, it's still pretty much as you remembered it.

Our son Matthew, passed his driving test at the tail end of last year. He finally got round to buying himself a car back in March; although to be fair to him, the delay was partly caused by his mother being laid up in hospital for seven weeks at the beginning of the year, and me not having sufficient time to spend looking at suitable vehicles with him.

Well although he’s now got a set of wheels, he hasn’t been that far with them. He’s somewhat on the cautious side (not a bad thing), and still a little lacking in confidence, so I’ve been accompanying him on some of his drives out.

On Sunday, we took a drive over to nearby Southborough, in order to visit the Majestic Wines outlet situated there. Being a lager fan, Matthew has taken quite a liking to the re-vamped Hofmeister Lager, which was relaunched in blaze of publicity around 18 months ago. This time around, the beer has much more genuine credentials, being brewed in Bavaria under the strictures of the Reinheitsgebot, rather than being just another big-brewery brand, promoted by a “jack-the-lad”  bear.

Unfortunately for Matthew, only a handful of local pubs are stocking the beer, and as far as we can make out, the bottled version is only available by mail order. It was therefore something of a fool’s errand to drive over to Majestic, in expectation of them stocking it, but it was an excuse for a drive out, and it gave me a break from digging over our rather weed-infested borders.

Well Majestic was a nicely laid-out store, with friendly and helpful staff, but it is much more of a wine merchant’s than a beer stockist. So needless to say, Hofmeister was nowhere to be seen, although Matt did pick up a case of Radeburger, and I acquired a pack of "King Hop Lager", brewed specially for the chain by Meantime Brewery.

So what to do after was the question? I wasn’t in a hurry to return to my digging, and Matthew fancied a slightly longer drive. We decided to  carry on towards the village of Speldhurst and take a look at the George & Dragon, a rather splendid looking half-timbered building which can trace its origins back to the 13th Century.

The G&D is situated opposite the village church, towards the top of a rather steep hill. Going back to when I worked in the High Brooms area of Tunbridge Wells, it was one of my favourite pubs for a lunchtime drink, even though it was a bit of a drive. Lunchtimes in those days, were slightly more flexible,  so arriving back late on the odd occasion, didn’t raise too many eyebrows.

Matthew wasn’t born in those days and has never set foot in the G&D,  and since work had taken me in other directions, it was quite a few years since last visit. I was aware that, for a while, it had been acquired by a company from Tunbridge Wells, who attempted to turn it into an upmarket eatery, but thankfully in more recent  times it has reverted to much more a traditional village.

According to the website, in May 2017 the pub was acquired by Silverlake Leisure, with the aim of providing  local bitters,  good wines, simply cooked  local and seasonal food using the bountiful produce from the surrounding heart of Kent. 

We pulled into the car park, which was around two thirds full, and headed for the bar. Before entering, I stopped to take some photos and noticed the pub sign which indicates the establishment as a Brakspear’s house. After entering, via a lobby, we went through the right hand door which has always led to the Public Bar. 

Nothing much seemed to have changed, which was re-assuring, with the same old flagstone floor, worn smooth over the course of the centuries by the passage of many feet, and the massive inglenook fireplace opposite the bar. There were three cask ales on tap; Harvey’s Sussex, Larkin’s Traditional and Brakspear’s Oxford Gold. I went for the Harvey’s and was glad I did, as it was in fine form, scoring 4.0 on the NBSS.

The bar was virtually empty, as most people were sitting outside enjoying the fine weather. There are areas both in front of the pub, as well as behind, where customers can enjoy their drink or their meal out in the fresh air. Matthew and I opted for the former, and from our table in the shade of the front of the pub, we could see across to the Parish Church of St Mary's. 

Despite having known the pub on and off for the past 40 years, I have never been upstairs, but the upper floor is home to a 70 seater restaurant, set beneath the ancient oak beams of the rafters. There is also a much smaller private dining room, which can hold up to 14  people.

Obviously a building of this age is full of character, so it is pleasing to see that many of the ancient features have been retained. The beer range is not as extensive as it was in the early 1980's, when I first became acquainted with the pub, but given the known quality issues associated with stocking too many casks, this is no bad thing.

So if you fancy a trip back in time, then do yourselves a favour and pop in. You won't find food at "Pub Grub" prices, but if you do feel like pushing the boat out, then the George & Dragon looks like the ideal place to do so.


Russtovich said...

"and still a little lacking in confidence, so I’ve been accompanying him on some of his drives out."

Very sensible. Did the same with our youngest whilst getting ready to take his test. By that time we were living in BC while he was in Alberta where we'd left him. When he came for a visit we made him drive from our place to Port Alberni, about a 90 minute drive which was part main divided highway and part narrow, winding highway. :)

"I stopped to take some photos and noticed the pub sign which indicates the establishment as a Brakspear’s house."

Google Streetview must be fairly recent as it shows the same.
(looks nice from the photo)

"I went for the Harvey’s and was glad I did"

I think that's your go-to beer, is it not? ;)

"but given the known quality issues associated with stocking too many casks, this is no bad thing."

From the sounds of it most over there agree (especially Martin). Unless you're in a very touristy area no more than three sounds about right.

"You won't find food at "Pub Grub" prices,"

After looking at their menu... yep. But then it's not a back street boozer. And you can just go for a pint if you so choose. So not too bad in my books. :)


Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, yes Harvey’s is definitely my “go-to” beer. It’s also a “must stock” beer for many pubs in this part of the country. (Harvey’s have, quite rightly, resisted the temptation to make their iconic Best Bitter a national brand).

With this in mind, the chances of getting a duff pint, in an unfamiliar pub, are minimised, as you know that by ordering Harvey’s the beer will be turning over well; unlike some of the lesser known and more obscure beers. The fact that Sussex Best is one of the tastiest and well-balanced pints in the country, also plays a significant role in the decision process.

With regard to over-stocking, there is definitely a feeing that pubs which keep too many cask ales on the bar are asking for trouble. This is for obvious reasons of turnover and quality. The message doesn’t seem to have got through to CAMRA at large (certainly not at branch committee level), but people who take their beer seriously know that two or three well-kept ales is an infinitely better scenario to one really good one, three mediocre and four bordering on undrinkable.

Finally, it’s good to know we’re on the same track with regard to youngsters gaining valuable driving experience.

RedNev said...

The message [about overstocking] doesn’t seem to have got through to CAMRA at large (certainly not at branch committee level).

That's not entirely my experience with CAMRA around here, and in the CAMRA column I write in the local papers I've made the point (in the hope that some licensees will see it) that 2 or 3 beers in good nick are better than 5 or 6 that are past their best. It's unfortunate that we have to reiterate this point, one that I'd have thought was fairly obvious.