Saturday, 10 January 2015

Tunbridge Wells Re-visited

Several weeks ago I published a post about some of the pubs of  Tunbridge Wells. The post was the first in a series of possibly three, but definitely two articles about pubs in this well-known Spa-town, and I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve still to write the follow ups! Last Wednesday though our local CAMRA branch held a post-festive season crawl of the northern part of the town which took in three of the pubs mentioned. As it happened, only a few hardy (fool-hardy?) souls managed all three, as for many of us there was work the following day. This is what we found.

Our group met in dribs and drabs at Sankey’s; a well-known pub and fish restaurant at the top of the town. The pub wasn’t exactly heaving, but there were still a few very mixed groups of people in there. After a bit of shuffling around, we parked ourselves over by the front window, just about close enough to the welcoming log fire. On the cask front there was Long Man American APA, plus Tonbridge Copper Nob. Craft keg offerings included beers from Brew Dog, Flying Dog, Magic Rock, Four Pure and Thornbridge.
Beer List - Sankey's

I started with a pint of Long Man American APA; always a very pleasant and well-hopped American Pale Ale. Later I graduated to the Chipotle Punchline Chocolate Porter from Magic Rock; an interesting beer with a spiciness from the chipotle chillies which was quite subtle at first but which then slowly grew on one and became quite noticeable towards the end.

Hot Chocolate!
I didn’t have any more beers at Sankey's as I was  mindful of work in the morning and that there were two more pubs to visit. One thing I was impressed with about the place, apart from the excellent range of beers, was the knowledge of the barman who not only informed us of the characteristics of the beers we wanted to try, but also gave us a bit of background information about the breweries concerned. Full marks there!

I could quite happily have stayed at Sankey’s for the rest of the evening, but the group wanted to move on, so we walked down the hill to the next pub on the itinerary. Fuggles Beer Café was slightly busier than Sankey’s but was not as rammed as I have seen it at the weekends. We managed to find a seat close to the window and then set about sampling a few of the many excellent beers they had on offer.

I kicked off with a pint of Porter from Burning Sky. Smooth and dark, with a slight hint of smokiness, this was just the right beer for a cold, damp January night. I followed the porter with a glass of Salopian Oracle; a citrussy, light golden pale ale with just the right amount of “bite”. My final beer of the evening was the 6.5% IPA, from Four Pure Brewery of Bermondsey. This big bold IPA is hopped with Chinook and Cascade hops and certainly packs a punch.

Beer  List - Fuggles
This last drink was a craft-keg beer and tasted all the better for being served slightly chilled. Some of our group were tempted by the 5.9% ABV Crème Brulée Stout from Dark Star. With vanilla beans, plus a mix of roasted malts and lactose, this beer was a trifle too sweet for my tastes, although the vanilla did come across well. This beer was on cask and may have been a safer bet than the 10% ABV Cocoa Psycho Stout from Brew Dog! Interestingly, the Magic Rock Chipotle Punchline Chocolate Porter, sampled earlier at Sankey’s, was also on sale at Fuggles.

People started to drift off slowly; some had buses to catch, but a few brave souls nipped along to the Opera House, our local JDW outlet. I later heard reports from a couple of them that the beer quality there wasn’t quite up to scratch. A friend and stayed in the pub until about 10.45pm, before making our way down the hill to the station. It was just as well that we’d gone for the penultimate train as services were being delayed due to a broken down train.

It had been a good evening, with a good attendance. It’s not often West Kent CAMRA sees numbers hitting double figures at branch socials! The event had also demonstrated the varied and thriving beer scene in Tunbridge Wells; something which is sadly lacking nearby Tonbridge where I happen to live.


paul said...

varied and thriving beer scene in Tunbridge Wells - I'd say there's few places in South-East England that can match this sort of variety. I remain astonished by this burgeoning craft beer scene in the town (kinda wish my brother still had a place there!).

One note on that Sankey's board though - are they not obliged to quote an ABV? Knowledgeable barman helps, but one's choice is always assisted by knowing just how strong the beer's going to be.

Paul Bailey said...

Yes Paul, apart from say Brighton, and to a lesser extent Canterbury, there probably are few places in the South-East which rival Tunbridge Wells in terms of beer selection.

Not sure about the legalities, or otherwise, of not declaring ABV’s on chalkboards. As they are declared at point of sale – on the pump clips or on the keg founts, this is probably not a problem. I do agree though it is nice to know beforehand; particularly on a weekday evening when one doesn’t want to be drinking anything too strong.

I seem to recall a legal requirement for pubs to display prices. That certainly seems to have gone by the board!