Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Kent Beer Festival plus a Surprise Meeting

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.”


RedNev said...

Sounds like a really nice day.

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Paul,I wonder if I might pick your brains. Heading to Ightham next week to meet up with an old chum for a spot of rambling and real ale drinking. I don't suppose you could recommend a couple of circular routes for three fellers in their early sixties to do each one comfortably in a day.
Many thanks.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Stanley. I need to study the map, and the local pub guide, a bit closer, so will get back to you in the next day or so with some ideas. Are you planning a mid-week ramble, or a weekend one? I ask because the best pub in the area (the Old House at Ightham Common), does not open weekday lunchtimes.

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Hi Paul,
It's next Saturday and Sunday.I've a feeling my chum who lives in Ightham will know the Old House ( knowing his fondness for a decent pint anyway ) so this would be a good final stopping point.
Knees are a bit ropey at our age so nothing to strenuous.
Thanks for taking the time.

Paul Bailey said...

Stanley, I’ve been thinking long and hard about this, and I’m not sure where to begin. Most of the walks I have undertaken in the Ightham area have been linear, rather than circular, and most have involved arriving and leaving by bus.

As you will be walking at the weekend, a visit to the Old House is an absolute must. I’m sure your friend will know how to get there, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

In the past we have walked from the Old House to the Golding Hop, at Sheet Hill, to the north of Plaxtol. This is another superb country pub, although the beer can be a little variable at times. Its picturesque setting, in a wooded valley, complete with tumbling stream, takes some beating. From the Golding Hop, you can descend into the Bourne Valley and walk roughly due south towards Dunk’sGreen, where another fine pub, in the form of the Kentish Rifleman awaits.

Then head due west towards Shipbourne. If you are thirsty, a pint in the rather upmarket Chaser might be a good idea, but if not there is a path leading roughly north-north west, towards Ightham Mote. From there you can make your way back towards Ightham Village, perhaps calling in at the Plough at Ivy Hatch.

The above might be too lengthy to achieve in a single day, so you could cut out Dunks Green and Shipbourne, and do that loop separately. We have also, in the past, walked north along the Bourne valley, in the direction of Borough Green; stopping for refreshment at the Plough at Basted. However, I’ve a feeling that this pub may have recently closed.

West from Ightham, towards the two pubs at Stone Street (Padwell Arms and the Snail), is unknown territory for me, as I have not been in either pub for many years. Going in that direction though might make a good circular walk if you want to end up at the Old House, but you may need to watch your timings as I don’t think landlord, Nick stays open all day.

OS Explorer Map 147, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, shows details of all the local footpaths. Have fun and enjoy exploring this picturesque corner of Kent.

ps. The Ightham-Plaxtol area is quite hilly, so I’m not sure what effect it will have on your knees!

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Hi Paul,
Many thanks for your research,I really do appreciate it.I'm going to print off your ideas and use them to form the basis of our weekend rambling and drinking next weekend and I'll let you know how we got on.
Thanks once again.

Paul Bailey said...

My pleasure, Stanley. Enjoy your rambling and drinking next weekend. I look forward to hearing how you get on.


Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Hi Paul,
Just heading out on our first walk - after a great night in the Old House.What a fabulous,eccentric pub with three country ciders on draft and everything poured straight from the barrel.
An excellent start to the weekend.

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Back from the first ramble - Ightham to the Kentish Rifleman( lovely pub)then to the White Swan in West Peckham ( nice pint of Golden Swan) with unfriendly bar staff,then a slightly different route back to The Chaser Inn for a pit stop and back to Ightham.Tonight it's back to the Old House and dinner at the Plough.Superb walking country,glorious weather and a Spitfire flying overhead as an added bonus.
What a day.

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

And we got the Ashes back.
It doesn't get much better than this for a couple of old soaks !

Paul Bailey said...

The walks (and the pubs), sound excellent Stanley. Pleased to hear you enjoyed the Old House and the Rifleman. It’s a while since I last visited the Swan at West Peckham; lovely setting and some great house-brewed beers, but it’s always struck me as more of a food-oriented pub. Even so there’s no need for attitude from the staff. Perhaps you just caught someone on an off-day.

Have to agree about the walking being good. You don’t always appreciate it when it’s right on your doorstep. I must dust off my boots and head for the great outdoors.

Enjoy your walk tomorrow. Paul.

ps. I too saw the Spitfire, whilst out in the garden; and a fantastic win for England in the Ashes series, of course!

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Walked from Igham to Underriver and the White Rock for three excellent pints of Dairy Top (?) Red and a Sunday roast then back to the Plough for a couple of pints then returned to the Old House where I discovered there are actually 7 different ciders on draught.
So had a pint each of all 7 and then back to my chum's house for two bottles of red wine and a couple of whiskey nightcaps.
Not bad for three 60-year-olds.Even hotter than yesterday but agrand day supping.

Paul Bailey said...

I’m impressed, Stanley. You certainly covered some ground, and sank more than a few pints! Glad you enjoyed your visit to this lovely part of Kent.

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