Thursday, 2 July 2015

Keeping It Local

What with two foreign trips in as many months, I haven’t done that much drinking on home turf. I’ve enjoyed numerous bottles of Pilsner Urquell in the comfort of my own home, especially as the beer is invariably on offer at one supermarket chain or another, but actual drinking in local pubs has been a little thin on the ground. However, the few trips I have made to the pub recently have been enjoyable, due largely, but not exclusively to the company  I have been with; but there have also been some good beers along the way.

A fortnight ago, my local CAMRA Branch held a social in nearby Sevenoaks, which took in three closely grouped together pubs. I arrived slightly late for the event, as a presentation I attended after work ran over time. This led to me missing the middle pub, the Black Boy, but as the latter is a Shepherd Neame pub, this was not a great loss as far as I was concerned!  On the plus side, I got to have a meal in the Sennockian; Sevenoaks’ JDW outlet, and the one which is reported as being up for sale, (see previous post).

As many Spoon’s aficionados will confirm, Thursday is Curry Night and my Chicken Balti tasted all the better for being washed down with a pint of Golden Perch; a 4.4% Golden Ale, brewed at Wadworth’s in Devizes, Wiltshire. This was my first pint of cask ale since returning from Germany, and very nice it was too.
Oak Tree, Sevenoaks
I caught up with my CAMRA colleagues at the Oak Tree; a large pub close to the Bligh’s Meadow shopping area. The Oak Tree underwent a change of ownership in February 2014, following its former owners, Bramwell Pubs & Bars going into administration. The pub is now owned by a company called Faucet Inns; a small chain of around 20 outlets, mainly in the London area. Although dating back to Tudor times, the Oak Tree now describes itself as “A contemporary take on the British Chop House, offering fresh British food and an extensive collection of beer and ales.”

The contemporary take was fine, as the pub had been given an extensive makeover, with a bright and airy feel which provided a very pleasant drinking environment. The staff were friendly and helpful, and the extensive collection of beer and ales did include some unusual (for the UK) foreign beers, such as Kozel and Palm. Cask-wise they appeared to be just two on offer, and following my colleagues’ recommendations, I opted for the Market Porter from Portobello Brewing of West London. The beer was in fine form, but at a jaw-dropping £4.10 a pint I just had the one!

Most of the group moved on whilst I was enjoying my beer, but a friend gallantly squeezed in an additional half whilst keeping me company. We decided to catch up with the others at the Black Boy, but by the time we arrived, they were just leaving. I didn’t mind that, given the beer in sale there, although I have to report the pub itself has been fitted out very nicely and is obviously doing something right given that it was pretty busy for a weekday evening.

Anchor,  Sevenoaks
The next, and final port of call was the aptly named Anchor; one of the vanishing breed of traditional town boozers. Ably run by Barry Dennis, Sevenoaks’ longest serving, and most jovial licensee with over 30 years behind the bar, the Anchor has Doom Bar and Harvey’s Sussex as its regular beers, plus an ever-changing guest ale. On the night of our visit this was Old Dairy Blue Top, one of my favourite beers from this small Kentish brewery, based in the pretty Wealden town of Tenterden, close to Romney Marsh. At 4.8% ABV, Blue Top is a satisfying and well-hopped India Pale Ale, which slipped down a treat.

We met up with a couple of other CAMRA members at the Anchor; both of whom treat the pub as their local. The pub was very busy, and most evenings Barry lays on a variety of different themed evenings, such as quiz nights, poker evenings and live music. Barry is also very generous with his food, and brought out a selection of sandwiches and pizza slices for us to enjoy.

Just over a week later, I met up with my old friend and former walking partner, Eric for a trip out to the Brecknock Arms at Bells Yew Green, just over the border into Sussex, and a short train ride from where we both live in Tonbridge.

We were both aware that this small, Victorian village local had been through a bit of a rough patch during the last few years, with a succession of different licensees. The concern was that the pub’s owning brewery, Harvey’s of Lewes, might have even put the place on the market.

Brecknock Arms, Bells Yew Green
Fortunately the Brecknock’s new licensees, Sally and David Fawcett, appear to have made their mark on the pub, and it is definitely now on its uppers. The former public bar, which was always the larger of the two bars, has been tastefully decorated and furnished with a number of large and comfortable leather sofas. We grabbed the one nearest the bar, and settled in for the evening; determined to enjoy a few pints of Sussex’s finest and to catch up with what we had both been doing.

I was slightly disappointed to find no seasonal ale on offer, but the classic and traditional combination of XX Dark Mild, IPA and Sussex Best was as good an offering as one is likely to find locally, and the Sussex especially was in really good form. There was a steady stream of customers coming into the pub, whilst we were there. Some, like us, were just there for the beer, but there were quite a few diners as well. The food looked plentiful and well presented, so an earlier visit with time for a bite to eat, would be a good option for future visits. It is good to see the Brecknock in good hands again, and it was obvious from our visit that the new tenants are doing something right.

Bedford, Tunbridge Wells
We left the Brecknock in time to catch the 21.33 train, but we broke our journey at Tunbridge Wells in order to grab a beer or two there. The Bedford, right opposite the station, was the obvious choice, and we were pleased to find the pub pleasantly busy, but not heaving. Also, the music which is sometimes played rather loud was at a much more civilised level. As expected, there was a good range of beers on, but being a warm evening we opted for something refreshing and light. Daytripper, a 4.2% Pale Ale from Downlands Brewery fitted the bill, being just the right strength and with oodles of flavour.

One of many things I really like about the Bedford is that beers are priced according to strength, and with three different pricing bands you can also choose a beer to suit both your taste and your pocket. We sat at the bar, chatting and enjoying our beer and whilst I was offered a taste of the new “Summer Porter” from local artisan brewers, Pig& Porter, I stuck with the Daytripper for my second pint; as did my companion. We left shortly before 11pm and caught the train back to Tonbridge. 

I enjoyed these two excursions to a couple of our neighbouring towns; with both reminding me that I really do need to get out more. So here’s to the next trip.


Ed said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed the Blue Top!

Paul Bailey said...

I couldn’t not enjoy the Blue Top, Ed. It is one of my favourite Kentish beers and was in excellent condition.