There are now 32 breweries operating in Kent, and several more are reported as being on the way. All 32 currently operating breweries were represented at this year’s Kent Beer Festival; the 41st to be precise, and last Friday I made the journey to Merton Farm, just outside Canterbury, where the festival takes place.
This Friday lunchtime visit has become an annual event for my local West Kent CAMRA branch, so in the company of five friends we caught the 10.51 train to the cathedral city and then, by means of a pre-booked taxi, travelled out to the rural delights of Merton Farm and its famous cowshed. The weather this year was quite a contrast to 2014’s searing heat. Heavy rain was forecast for later in the day, and whilst it didn’t materialise as early as forecast, it still made for a very wet end to our time in the city and for the walk home from the station.
This year the bars had been divided up into three, with one specifically for "Kent Breweries", one entitled “Dark & Fruity”, with the third reserved for “National Brewers”. The latter was perhaps an unfortunate term to use, as it brought back memories (bad ones), of the former “Big Six” national brewers; a more accurate heading would have been “Brewers from the rest of the UK”. Anyway, that’s just me being pedantic, as it was pretty obvious from looking at the programme what was meant by the term.
|General view inside the cowshed|
There was already quite a queue for glasses and tokens when we arrived; and that was before the first “free” shuttle bus had arrived from the city centre and disgorged its horde of thirsty punters. Fortunately, two friends had managed to arrive early, and had grabbed a table, plus eight chairs. We therefore had a base at which to park ourselves as we got down to the business of some serious supping.
I had downloaded a list of beers available on all three bars and, as in previous years, had made a decision to stick mainly to the Kentish ones. There were several new kids on the block, including Attwell’s (cloudy), G2 (very astringent), and Romney Marsh (rather good).Also new on the Kentish scene were Isla Vale and Gemstone, but I didn’t get to sample either of these.
My trip across to the Dark & Fruity Bar turned up the excellent Black Prince Porter from Bexley Brewery, the equally good Marmalady Orange from Grafton Brewery (the only non-Kentish ale I drank), plus a real turn up forth books from Shepherd Neame, in the form of Red Sails Cherry Porter. Although only 4% ABV, this dark beer was packed full of Kent Morello Cherries, making a good combination with the porter, and proving that Shep’s can make a decent beer if they want to.
Beer of the Festival, for me, was Cattle Shed 4.5% ABV. This is a new beer, launched at the festival, from Old Dairy. It was a classic combination of biscuity English barley malt and citrus American hops; another winner from this Tenterden-based company. My only regret was their Dark Side of the Moo – a 7.0% Imperial Stout had sold out the night before.
|The bar section of the cowshed|
The festival was noticeably busier than last year; in fact attendances seem to be up year on year. This did mean the rows of tables were packed quite tightly together, making it difficult for anyone without a sylph-like figure to squeeze between the rows.We left the festival just after 4pm, when it closes in preparation for the manically-busy, ticket-only, evening session.
Before leaving though I bumped into Erlangernick, who I had met in Nuremberg six weeks previously, and who very kindly took me on guided tour of some of Franconia’s best Bierkellers. It was one of those strange moments as we were literally standing next to each other at the bar, when we both turned round in recognition.
I quickly introduced him to my friends and he accompanied us back into Canterbury. Our first stop was the excellent New Inn; a Victorian terraced pub, situated down a back-street close to the city walls. This was my first visit to this excellent pub, although Erlangernick had been there before. A couple of my friends had as well, and as we gathered in the cosy front part of the pub, watching the rain outside growing heavier and heavier, we enjoyed some friendly banter, and swapped notes, with a drinker who had travelled down from Yorkshire specifically to attend the festival.
|The excellent New Inn|
The beer in the New Inn was excellent, and included Adnams Ghost Ship, Fuller’s Seafarer and Kent Beyond the Pale. I went for the latter; probably not the wisest of moves givens its 5.4% ABV. Later I tried a half of a beer whose name I am still trying to remember, but there was a bird depicted on the pumpclip.
The main part of our group departed for the Foundry, but I had visions of it being very crowded (it was apparently). Erlangernick and I decided to head for the Bell & Crown; a former Truman pub I have walked past on numerous occasions, but have never ventured inside. My companion recommended it, as he had been there the night before. It turned out to be a wise choice, with a good mixed crowd of people and a decent range of beers. Unfortunately, the drink had caught up with me by this point, and apart from the well-hopped and refreshing 3.8 % Gadd’s Festivale which I enjoyed, I cannot recollect any of the other beers.
Eventually, the time came for my departure; probably not a bad thing in view of the amount of beer I’d consumed, but a shame in another as I had been enjoying my conversation with Erlangernick. I said farewell, and left him to find the way back to his hotel, before trudging off through the rain to rejoin my companions and take the train home. It had certainly been a good day out as well as one with a surprise and totally unexpected meeting; confirmation, as if it was needed, of the saying about it being “A small world.”