Saturday, 9 February 2019

The porter at the Castle gate

I managed to track down some more Larkin’s Porter on Friday lunchtime, a find which represented only my second sampling this season of this excellent beer.

I broke with my usual lunchtime regime of  a brisk walk, and considering the appalling weather which hit the south-east today, I certainly made the right choice. However, Storm Erik was not the reason for my break of routine, as I’d already made my mind up to go off and find some of this difficult to locate seasonal beer from Larkin’s, and my plan was to phone around a few local (to my workplace), pubs where I thought there was a good possibility of them stocking the beer.

I struck gold with my first phone call, when the Castle Inn at Chiddingstone confirmed the availability of the porter. I jokingly asked the recipient of my call to reserve me a pint, and come lunchtime, I jumped into my car and set off to drive the short distance over to Chiddingstone village.

Just leaving the factory, and getting hit by a deluge of rain, was enough to prove I had made the right choice, and just over  five minutes later, I was pulling in to the tiny National Trust-owned village of Chiddingstone. Parking has always been something of an issue in a settlement which has remained largely unchanged since it was sold to the Trust during the 1930’s, but I managed to find a place just past the village church.

I then walked briskly down toward the pub, taking advantage of a brief lull in the rain, to stop and take a few photos. The Castle Inn lies at the far end of Chiddingstone’s main street, adjacent to the entrance to the stately pile which calls itself a castle.

I made for the Public Bar, which is housed in the right-hand portion of the pub. I entered the bar and was immediately struck with the sensation of having travelled back in time. I spotted the pump-clip for Larkin’s Porter, and after breathing a sign of relief, ordered myself a pint.

The barman asked if I was the gentleman who’d phoned earlier. I confirmed that indeed I was before he disappeared into the other bar to pull my pint. He placed it on the bar, jet black in colour and topped with a fluffy, off-white head. It looked delectable, and as I handed over my cash I couldn’t wait to raise it to my lips.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise though was the price, a very reasonable £3.60! Under previous ownership the Castle had a reputation for being an expensive place to drink in; something to do with being an upmarket pub in a National Trust village, so paying under four quid for a 5.2% ABV beer was a real revelation.

I sat down at a table opposite the fireplace, my eye drawn to the log burner which was blazing away nicely. The beer was in fine form and I scored it at 3.0 NBSS. It slipped down a treat, but at that strength, and with a busy afternoon ahead – plus the driving, of course, I sensibly stuck to just the one. I needed to be back by 2 pm anyway, as one thing about my workplace is no-one is ever late back from lunch.

I couldn’t see through to the Saloon, but there were just two other people in the Public, a mature couple, sitting at a high “posing table". From their conversation they were locals from the village and when one of the bar staff brought their food out, I admit to being slightly envious, as the lamb shank in particular looked rather good.

The pub cat who’d been hanging around my table, made a beeline for the couple as soon as their food arrived, but its foray didn’t last long as the barman walked over, picked it up and took it out the back. This may have been because the woman had said she was a dog person, rather than a cat lover.

The barman explained to us that this cat was a roving moggy, probably belonging to someone in the village, before having made itself at home in the Castle. Its favourite place, apparently was a bench, close to a radiator in the other bar.

So for a Friday lunchtime, the pub was pretty quiet, but with Storm Erik raging outside I wasn’t surprised. Having said that, on a wild, wet and windy early February day, tucked up close to the fire, with a pint of Larkin’s Porter in front of me, I can’t really think of a much better place to be.

One final thing I couldn’t help but notice was some snippets of conversation between the two blokes behind the bar. It was evident that at least one of them was from the Castle’s sister pub; the Wheatsheaf at Bough Beech. Both establishments are owned by a local businessman who I understand  has connections with Westerham Brewery. Beers from the latter are on sale at both pubs, and it would appear from what I witnessed that staff also rotate between the two hostelries. 

From a personal point of view, it is good to see the Castle open and trading again, after a prolonged period of closure, and I’m sure that had I visited when the weather was more clement, I would have seen a lot more customers. I fully expect therefore, that come spring, when the coaches and tourists are out in force, the Castle will once again be bustling.


Martin Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Taylor said...

I spelt pint wrong first time round !

Really good to read that someone still takes a lunch hour to visit a pub. Both activities increasingly rare.

Paul Bailey said...

A lunchtime pub visit is not something I do regularly Martin, but just once in a while does make it that little bit special. Fortunately my company are fairly relaxed about it, which isn't always the case these days.

The area around Penshurst certainly has some fine pubs and although most of them, of necessity, are given over to dining, the casual drinker is normally made to feel welcome.

Evan Warren said...

Well done on finding the elusive Larkins Porter this winter - still on the look out!