Saturday 27 February 2010

Dorking Brewery

A handful of West Kent CAMRA members braved a very wet and windy Thursday evening to attend an event showcasing beers from the up and coming Dorking Brewery. The event took place at the Sennockian - Wetherspoons outlet in Sevenoaks.

In a relaxed and informal setting we chatted with the three directors of the brewery - Mark, Graham and I think Terry. The trio told us a bit about the company's history, their plant, the outlets they supply and, most importantly, their beers.

We were able to sample some of these for ourselves, as the Sennockian had three Dorking beers on tap: DB Number One 4.2%; Red Indian 5.0% and Winter Ruby 5.2%. All were good, but the well-hopped, pale Number One was my personal favourite that night. They also produce a small range of seasonal ales, of which the Winter Ruby is obviously one. Dorking's long, tall pump clips are especially striking with a very modern look to them. I'm certain they'll stand out on a crowded bar.

Dorking Brewery only commenced production in July 2008, but have already won several awards for the quality of their beers. At present the beers can mainly be found within a fairly restricted area of mid-Surrey, as the directors are keen not to over-stretch themselves by expanding too rapidly. Wetherspoons have been particularly helpful to them, which is good news for drinkers in the company's Surrey pubs. The Sennockian has been prominent in promoting local micro's, and this recent evening is the second such event they have hosted; the first being a similar evening featuring Hog's Back beers. On behalf of the local branch I would like to thank them for hosting the evening, and also the three directors from Dorking Brewery who turned out on such an atrocious night to talk to us.

Monday 22 February 2010

And the Winner Is?

Although I unfortunately missed it, having been up in Norfolk, Saturday just gone saw the annual West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year Tour. I hate to use the acronym POTY, but I suppose it saves having to type out "Pub of the Year" each time. CAMRA, like many organisations seems to love silly acronyms like this; for example they also have COTY (Club of the Year) and my own two pet hates LADS (Light And Dark Supporters - a sub-committee formed to fight mild's corner, and previously known as the Mild Marketing Board) and LAGRAD (Lesbian And Gay Real Ale Drinkers - CAMRA is supposed to be a broad church, welcoming people from all walks of life, so why it needs a separate sub group catering to a minority group is beyond me.)

Anyway, I digress and before I go off at a complete tangent about the internal workings and politics of CAMRA I would like to announce that the worthy winner of Pub of the Year 2010 for West Kent CAMRA, is the Halfway House, Brenchley. For those not in the know, this excellent country alehouse has up to a dozen cask beers on tap, all served by a clever gravity-fed arrangement from a temperature-controlled room. Virtually all the beers are from micro-brewers, and usually include a mild, as well as porter or old ale in winter. A local Kentish cider is normally available as well.

If all this wasn't enough, the pub itself is a characterful former coaching inn, that dates back to 1740. There are a series of inter-connecting rooms that lead up to the main bar area, with the aforementioned gravity-served beers. The Halfway House lies n a dip in the road and has extensive gardens to the side and rear. It also holds regular beer festivals, over the Whitsun and August Bank Holidays. featuring around 50 beers. The pub can be reached by means of the 297 bus, which runs from Tunbridge Wells through to Tenterden up until about six o'clock in the evening. I have also walked there across country from Paddock Wood station and, on one famous occasion, even cycled there!

The Halfway House doesn't have its own website, which is more the pity as I would love to post a link to it. You'll just have to take my word therefore (plus that of the dozen or so local members who attended the trip and voted for the pub), that it's the best pub in the West Kent CAMRA area, and a worthy winner of our Pub of the Year.

Sunday 21 February 2010

A Brief Halt in Norfolk

I returned home from Norfolk yesterday, after a couple of days visiting the family. I didn't get to drink as much beer as I would have liked, but had some excellent Woodforde's (Sundew + Nelson's Revenge) in the George Hotel in Dereham on Friday night. The hotel we were staying in (The Hill House in the centre of Dereham), also sold a few bottle-conditioned beers. I tried one called EAPA (East Anglia Pale Ale) from Humpty Dumpty Brewery, which was rather nice.

I picked up some unusual bottles in the local Morrisons as well, including GK Abbot Reserve, plus another strong GK beer I'd not seen before called Suffolk Springer. I also grabbed a couple of bottles of Lee's Moonraker, plus some La Trappe Dubbel. The local Tesco's came up trumps in the shape of Bernard Dark - worth every penny of the £2.09 price tag!

However, although it was good to acquire these beers, I had come to Norfolk to spend a bit of time with my parents. It had been nearly a year since my last visit, so we had plenty of things to catch up on. I also called in to see my younger sister, along with my nephew and two nieces, who live nearby.

Next time I hope to spend a bit more time up there. That way I can hopefully visit a few more local pubs, and sample a few more local ales as well!

Saturday 13 February 2010

What's Up With Taylor's Landlord?

Timothy Taylors Landlord has always been one of my favourite beers, ever since I first tried it back in the mid 1970's in its Yorkshire home. I don't know whether this was a bit of a myth, but I do remember at the time, Landlord was primarily a bottled beer, and that allegedly only one of the company's pubs sold it on draught. It seems unlikely that the brewery would go to the bother of casking a beer for just one pub, and the only explanation I can offer as to how this story came about, is that there was a comment published to this effect in the 1975 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Whatever the truth of this tale though, I do distinctly remember visiting the Hare & Hounds, at Lane Ends- high in the Pennines above the town of Hebden Bridge, the pub that was said to be the sole outlet for Landlord in draught form.

I was studying at Salford University at the time, and a group of us had borrowed the Student Union van for the evening. We had persuaded a non-beer drinking fellow student to be our driver for the evening, and armed with a map, set off for the Hare & Hounds. It was quite a long drive across the Pennines from Greater Manchester, but as it was a June evening we managed to arrive whilst it was still light. The beer was good, although at the time it didn't strike me as the best I'd ever tasted. The unspoilt, stone-built pub though, together with its rural location and striking scenery, were something different, and to a country boy like myself, stuck amongst the grime of urban Manchester, were heaven sent . What's more, the licensee didn't seem that bothered about closing time and it was very late, and we were all a little bit the worse for drink by the time we left!

I don't think I got the chance to taste Timothy Taylor's beers again until the early 1980's. The occasion this time was CAMRA's national AGM, held in Bradford. Even there it was necessary to travel out to Taylor's home town of Keighley in order to sample the beers. However, the fame of the company's beers was obviously spreading, helped in no small part by their winning several awards, including Champion Beer of Britain.

Slowly, Timothy Taylor's beers found their way down to the South East, and for a while it seemed that just about every free-house locally could boast a pump selling Landlord. This was good news, and a most welcome addition to the local beer scene. By this time I could definitely count Landlord amongst my all time favourite beers. When I had my real-ale off-licence, Landlord made regular appearances on the bar, and was a firm favourite with customers. It was always a very lively beer, and it was necessary to stand well back when spiling a cask of it.

Recently, (the last couple of years), Landlord seems to have been knocked off its Number One spot on the bar by an interloper in the shape of Sharps Doom Bar. This isn't a bad beer; in fact it's rather good, but it does seem to be everywhere at the moment. A friend who is a regular visitor to the West Country has remarked that Doom Bar is virtually unobtainable in Cornwall, as most of it is shipped up here!

Fast forward to yesterday. My son and I called in at the Punch & Judy, still the best bet in south Tonbridge for a decent pint. We had arranged to meet a friend there, catch up on the gossip and watch a bit of the Wales v Scotland rugby game. The pub was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon, due in no small part to the freezing cold weather outside. Alongside regular beer Harvey's Best, was a pump advertising Taylor's Landlord. I ordered a couple of pints and we sat down to enjoy the beer.

I have to say I was slightly disappointed. There was nothing wrong with the beer; it was in good condition and well-kept. It just seemed to be lacking that certain something. Landlord was always a complex, multi-layered beer, with a delightful hop bitterness present throughout. The beer we sampled yesterday was very one-dimensional, and was definitely lacking the complexity I had always associated with Landlord. I was left wondering as to whether this is the price of fame? It has happened many times before, as once classic beers end up becoming victims of their own success. I hope that this is just a temporary blip, but I will be keeping a close eye on what, for the moment at least, is still one of my favourite beers.

Friday 12 February 2010

Brains Dark

Brains Dark, 4.1% abv, and only £1.36 a bottle in Waitrose at the moment. Just the job for a cold winter's night at home in front of the telly.

Get down to Waitrose and grab some before it's all gone!

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Good Night in Spoons Yesterday

We held our bi-monthly CAMRA committee meeting in the Sevenoaks Wetherspoons last night. We braved arctic winds walking up the hill from the station, but it was worth it as the Sennockian had some excellent beers on tap.

My favourite of the evening was Ammonite from Dorset Brewing Company, a well-hopped, pale 4.5% bitter, in which the flavour of the American Chinook hops were well to the fore. Also on tap was Churchyard Bob, a darkish, 4.9% bitter from The Warwickshire Beer Company. Although good, I preferred the Ammonite. Rounding off the trio of guest ales was Hog's Back Winter Ale. This fine example of a dark old ale was just the thing to round the evening off with. It made the walk back to the station just that little bit less cold!

The meeting itself went ok, but was perhaps a shade too long. However, we had a considerable amount of business to get through, so this was hardly surprising. The staff of the Sennockian had laid on some nibbles for us (sausage rolls, party eggs, cheese straws, plus some very tasty cubes of mature cheddar). This was a most welcome, yet totally unexpected gesture on their part, and combined with the excellent beer made the proceedings pass just that little bit quicker.

Saturday 6 February 2010

When is an Old Ale not an Old Ale?

Question: When is an old ale not an old ale? Answer: When it's a sickly, yucky reddish- brown ale, rather than a rich, dark, full-bodied warming ale.

I had the unfortunate experience of enduring some yucky reddish- brown ale earlier today. I popped in to our local Wetherspoons, but only had time for just the one pint. Lined up on the bar I noticed Marstons Old Empire, a fine re-creation of an authentic IPA. I was sorely tempted, but next to it I spied a clip for Welton's Old Harry, abv. 5.2%. Being a fan of dark ales I went for the later - big mistake! The alarm bells were already ringing when the barmaid handed over a pint of auburn coloured liquid, devoid of even the slight semblance of a head. I handed over my money, silently cursing myself for not having asked whether this was a dark beer or not, (the young barmaid probably wouldn't have know, but she could have pulled a bit off to see first), before slinking off to a vacant table to consume said liquid.

My worst suspicions were confirmed on tasting the beer. Cloyingly sweet, totally devoid of balance and with an unpleasant, harsh bitter aftertaste. Unfortunately I've had beers like this before AND I HATE THEM! High gravity beers need plenty of good quality hops to counter the sweetness from the malt. Beers like Adnams Broadside, Batemans XXXB, Fullers ESB and even Greene King Abbot suceed in this respect. Likewise the reddish-brown hue of a beer needn't signify disaster; local brewer Larkins produce an excellent 4.4% Best Bitter, brewed from a grist that includes a high proportion of crystal malt (10%), but balanced out with just the right amount of hop bitterness to create the classic pint of Kentish bitter.

Welton's Old Harry has none of these virtues. As I sat there drinking this pint under protest, I kept thinking of the pale, hoppy, high-gravity Old Empire that I could have been enjoying. I was going to ask for brewers to stop prefixing beers with the word "Old" when they clearly aren't brewed in the style of an old ale, but the mention of Old Empire in the previous sentence defeats that argument. Perhaps it would just be better to ask that they stop producing sickly-sweet, under-hopped, reddish-brown ales, or where they do, could they please label them in such a way that I don't have the misfortune of drinking them!