Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Other Weekend's Bus Trip

Our bus trip the other weekend, out to a few of the more outlying pubs in our area, proved to be something of a mixed bag. I am referring to the social organised by West Kent CAMRA to Edenbridge; a small town situated at the far western extreme of Kent and close to the border with Surrey.

The first pub on our itinerary was the GBG listed Old Eden; an attractive 16th Century building sited right on the banks of the River Eden. For reasons I've never been able to put my finger on, the Old Eden has never been a "destination pub" as far as I am concerned, despite the pub ticking all the right boxes,. And so it proved thus the other Saturday.

Our party of nine had been split into two, due to a mix up with the buses. I was in the advanced group. The Old Eden is a long, narrow building; having been converted from a number of former cottages knocked through into one. There were a couple of open log fires which were a welcome sight on a cold January day. We grabbed a table close to one and then proceeded to see which beers were on offer. This was probably the first indication that things had changed at the pub. The usual two Westerham beers were still on, but the Taylor's Landlord and the Whitstable Brewery beer had disappeared.  In their place was Otter Bitter, from the West Country.

Most of us went for the Otter, which was in good condition, tasty and, at just £3.40 a pint, was excellent value as well.  The same could not be said about the next beer I went for; Westerham 1965. Not only was the beer hazy, it was also expensive - a shocking £4.00 a pint! To be fair to the pub, Westerham beers are notoriously expensive; a fact I know only too well, having been the beer buyer for last year's Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival.

Lunch - not as good as it looks!
Shortly after ordering my second pint, the other members of our party arrived. Having missed the bus in Tunbridge Wells, they had adjourned to the nearby Bedford where, as usual, there was a choice of 10 beers. I was getting peckish, so ordered myself a spot of lunch. Unfortunately it wasn't just the beer which let the Old Eden down, the liver and bacon I ordered was definitely not up to scratch, with undercooked liver, and chewy, tough and rather fatty bacon. Most disappointing!

Before catching the bus to our next scheduled stop, we walked the short distance up the road to the King & Queen; a Shepherd Neame pub, but one which we had heard some good reports about. Regular readers of this blog will know I am no fan of Shep’s beers, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a pump-clip advertising Otter Ale – the stronger 4.5% counterpart to the 3.6% bitter we had enjoyed earlier. The beer was in fine form; a sharp contrast to the visit the same group of us made a few years previously, when all the cask beers (all Shep’s), were undrinkable and we ended up walking out.

The pub is under new owners, and it seems they have made a pretty good job of turning the place round. In common with several other pubs in Edenbridge the King & Queen is an old pub with the associated beams and wooden floorboards. There are some comfortable leather sofas in front of a roaring log fire, and a raised area where pool and darts can be played. It was good to see the pub on the up.

Four Elms Inn at Four Elms
Our last port of call was on the bus route home. The Four Elms, in the village of the same name, is another pub with a recent chequered history. It is also a pub which has been rescued by new and sympathetic owners, and is in the process of being turned round. The Four Elms dates back to the 16th Century, and is deceptively roomy inside. Inside there is a main bar, a snug, a saloon, plus a restaurant and family room. Outside there is a large garden with a stream, but being a freezing cold  January day we didn’t hang around long to investigate.

As in the previous two pubs, there was a nice warming and welcoming log fire to greet us as we entered the main bar. The place had befitted from a recent redecoration, giving a bright and airy feel to the place. There were two beers on sale; local favourite Harvey’s Sussex Best and Wadworth Henry’s IPA. Not being a huge fan of Wadworth’s beers I plumped for the Harvey’s and was glad I did for two reasons. The first was the Wadworth IPA was coming to an end; a fact realised by the landlord, and the cask was promptly changed for Larkin’s Traditional (an even more local favourite). The second was the Harvey’s was in excellent form and turned out to be one of the best pints of Sussex I have had in a long time.

I had a brief look around the rest of the pub, before joining my fiends at a table close to the fire. I was racking my brains to try and remember whether I had been in the Four Elms before. If I had it must have been over 30 years ago, so it was small wonder that not much looked familiar. Our branch chairman and social secretary stood at the bar, chatting to the landlord, who was undoubtedly pleased to see us. Eight thirsty CAMRA members must be a welcome sight to a hard-pressed publican on a cold January afternoon! Mine host is a trained chef, who has major plans for the pub. It is good to see a formerly closed hostelry being brought back to life and we all wish him and his team every success with this.

We had to leave shortly before 5pm to catch the last bus back, but a brisk walk along to the bus stop saw us there in plenty of time. My colleagues continued into Tunbridge Wells, but I alighted at Bidborough in order to catch a bus back to Tonbridge. I had just received a phone call from my sister, informing me of my mother’s fall, so I needed to get home and get a bag packed ready for the trip up to Norfolk the following morning.


Curmudgeon said...

Interesting to hear of Otter beers getting in to your neck of the woods. I've always found them to be tasty, well-made beers, but perhaps because they're very much in the "traditional" English style they don't get the recognition they deserve. The pumpclip designs are smart, too.

Paul Bailey said...

Otter beers crop up in several other pubs, all roughly within the same area; that is the far south-western corner of the county.

I agree Mudge, they are pleasant quaffing beers that are more likely to appeal to the mature drinker rather than to the craft glitterati.

I certainly enjoyed the two I drank a fortnight ago.

Citra said...

Hmm , I don't consider myself as craft glitterati and at 54 I may well be approaching being a mature drinker but I find the Otter beers mentioned to be rather ordinary and uninteresting,of course this is only my opinion and thankfully we are all different.

Paul Bailey said...

Citra, I don't consider myself as craft glitterati either. (My age is possibly against me here!). I was just trying to make a point that whilst Otter beers might be considered as “mainstream”, they are, in my book, pleasant quaffing ales.

As you rightly point out though, we’re all different; a point borne out tonight when a group of us met in our local Wetherspoons. The pub had three beers from Rockin’ Robin Brewery on. I find them very mainstream and boring, yet several friends rave over them. Definitely a case of “horses for courses”.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Otter seems to pop up in unexpected places, including the North (of Cambridge) and I've yet to have a memorable pint. A bit like 6x, certainly not a beer to savour in halves anyway.

Enjoyed reading about Edenbridge pubs. I did find good Westerham (and a German draft beer) in the nearby and gorgeously situated Royal Oak at Crockham Hill.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Martin. The Royal Oak at Crockham Hill is a Westerham tied pub. As you say, it's an attractive location. I am wondering what the draught German beer was.

Westerham are in the process of building a new brewery, complete with brewery shop, on the outskirts of Westerham town. Keep a look out on the brewery website for news of its opening.