Monday, 24 November 2014

New Kid on the Block

The Taps at the Pantiles Tap

Just when we all thought the drinking scene in Tunbridge Wells couldn’t get any better, up pops another outlet offering all sorts of beer-related goodies.,

The outlet in question is the Pantiles Tap which, as its name suggests, is situated in the historic and popular Pantiles area of the town. The “Tap” held a low-key opening last Thursday evening (20th) as proprietor and owner Geoff Wentworth, who I understand used to run a bar in Bexhill, claims to “Have always hated bang flash openings which never work.”

Sited in the former beer cellars of Tunbridge Wells oldest hotel 'The Gloster Tavern', the Grade 2* listed cellars were crying out to be turned into a pub so that's what Geoff and his partner Jo are doing. With 6 cask lines, 6 keg lines and 2 ciders, the pub is going all out to woo local drinkers and beer enthusiasts.

Grade 2 listed buildings come with their own unique list of planning restraints; the main one of which being that should the business close, or decide to move premises, the space it occupies must be restored to its original state. This all seems a bit OTT for some dusty old cellars which had lain un-used for many years. Despite some on-line research, I have been unable to discover anything about the Gloster Hotel; particularly when  it closed and why, but as the buildings above the cellars appear much more modern, I would imagine this subterranean section is all that remains of the original hotel.

I called in on Saturday with some of my West Kent CAMRA colleagues, after the branch AGM. I only had time for a couple of swift beers as I had a ticket to see the multi-talented and incomparable Joan Armatrading at the town’s Assembly Hall later that evening. Joan performed a stunning, solo “Acoustic Set”, which was one of the best concerts I have been to for a long, long time, and it was a privilege to have been there to witness her faultless performance. The following assessment of Tunbridge Wells’ newest watering hole is therefore limited to the hour and a half I spent there on Saturday evening.

Local CAMRA members enjoying their first visit
The Pantiles Tap is partly underground, and with its stripped-back, bare-brick walls, tiled floors and old original fireplaces, reminded a couple of us of an East European bar. I said Prague, even though there are no vaulted ceilings at the “Tap”. A friend said Lithuania, but whatever country one is comparing the place to, there’s no denying the pub has a feel to it which is unique to the area.

As mentioned, the Pantiles Tap has six cask lines and six keg ones, plus two ciders. Geoff was quite happy to show us his cellar, which is behind the bar, at the same level. The cask taps are “gas-assisted”, which presumably is some form of “top-pressure” system. However, the beer didn’t taste gassy, and certainly not how I remember “top-pressure” beer tasting. The majority of the kegs were "Key-Keg", with one or two of the more traditional variety. It is certainly an interesting set-up, with even a specially adapted cellar door, which takes the cellar temperature down to 13˚C and releases the heat into the bar. (Geoff had to fit this ingenious device, as planning regulations did not permit the more usual heat exchangers to be fitted to the outside of the building!).

 During my short visit the two beers I had were Hardknott Colonial Mayhem and Burning Sky Devils Rest. The latter comes in at 7.0%, so I just had a swift half. According to the brewery website, the Hardknott beer is 8.1%, but I’m pretty certain the pint I had was around the 4% mark. I assume that the bottled and draught versions are brewed to different strengths, but would be grateful if someone could enlighten me further.
So here, in a nutshell, are my first, highly favourable impressions of the Pantiles Tap. I know I will be making a return visit in the not too distant future, but in the meantime would like to wish Geoff and Jo every success with their new venture. Apologies for the poor quality photos; they were taken using my phone and the flash tends to bleach out one side of the picture.

The Pantiles Tap doesn’t have a website (yet), so for those who twat, here’s a link to the pub’s Twatter feed.


BryanB said...

I'm guessing that gas-assisted means there are gas-powered peristaltic pumps, where the gas doesn't meet the beer. I think a lot of places without handpumps use these.

Paul Bailey said...

BryanB, although I only had a limited view of the pumps, I would say you are right, and wearing my day-time job hat as Laboratory Manager, the pumps certainly appeared to be peristaltic.

Sounds a good idea if the gas doesn't come into contact with the beer. Wonder what CAMRA's stance is on these devices?

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of spending a few hour in the Pantiles Tap with Geoff and a crowd down from Bexhill yesterday afternoon. A lovely host, clearly passionate about beer, a great bunch of chatty people and a fine selection of very well presented beers. I'll be back next time I'm in Kent. BTW, the beer clip for Colonial Mischief definitely claimed 4.1% which seems right to me!

Stonch said...

The vast majority of handpumps are "gas assisted" in the same way. In fact I've never worked with ones that aren't. You can get an air compressor that does the same job as the gas which works out cheaper in the long run but either way there's no "top pressure" so it isn't an issue for even the fussiest CAMRA man.

Martin, Cambridge said...

That sounds wonderful, and will make my trip to see my in-laws at Christmas bearable, particularly with any of the superb Burning Sky beers on.