Saturday, 6 February 2016

TJ's Winter Beer Festival Report

The strong ale end of the bar

I popped along to Tonbridge Juddians’ Winter Beer Festival yesterday evening, and spent a very pleasant two and a half hours sampling some of the excellent ales on sale. I bumped into several neighbours and friends; all like-minded souls out to enjoy something a bit different on the beer front and keen to see what the rugby club had on offer.

Like the much larger summer festival, which the club hold in conjunction with SIBA, the winter event has now become a firm fixture on the Tonbridge calendar, with many of the townsfolk looking forward to an occasion which helps chase the winter blues away. There was just the right amount of people in the clubhouse, with enough tables and chairs for those, like myself, who wanted to sit and chat, but with also ample space for those who prefer to do their drinking standing up.

With 24 beers on the programme there was something to suit everyone, ranging from light pale ales and ordinary bitters around the 3.8% ABV level, up to a couple of strong beers at 6.0% ABV. All beers were priced at £3.20 a pint, with purchase being by means of tokens.

I kicked off in the time honoured fashion of starting with something light and low strength, an the form of Redemption Trinity 3.0%, and worked my way on to the dark stuff, finishing with a couple of excellent porters – Brew Buddies Kent Hop Porter, and Five Points Railway Porter, both 4.8% ABV. In between I enjoyed a couple of stronger pale ales, from the same two breweries.

Some of the beers on sale
All the beers were sourced from London brewers, and a chat with TJ’s bar manager, Chris Hardwick, revealed this was quite deliberate. Chris told me that whilst in recent years he had looked to brewers based either in Kent or Sussex, this year he cast his net slightly further afield, towards the big city which encroaches on Kent’s north-western corner. Tonbridge is actually closer, in terms of mileage, to the metropolis, than it is to brewers in places such as Thanet, the far east of the county. Five Points Brewing came out tops for me, with both their 4.4% Pale and the aforementioned Railway Porter proving excellent examples of their respective styles.

This was a good choice so far as I am concerned, and most of the people I spoke to seemed in agreement. What was interesting was that three of the breweries Big Smoke, Brew Buddies and Five Points), had supplied beer which was unfined and unfiltered. Mention of this was made in the tasting notes, and there were also signs, plus a picture of a cloud, on the front of each unfined cask reiterating this and stating that the beer might be slightly hazy.

I remarked to both Chris and fellow organiser, Gary that this was a good idea, and from what I could see this extra piece of information was well-received, with few, if any complaints about cloudy beer. Both stated that the cloud pictures were there to help the bar staff as well as the punters, so full marks to all concerned. I will say though that there is a world of difference between a beer which is slightly hazy, because it contains no finings, and a pint of cloudy, yeast-laden beer common in many of the capital’s craft-beer bars, and famously described by fellow blogger, Tandleman as “London Murky”!
As mentioned in my previous post I had things to do on the domestic front today, so was unable to get back down to the festival this afternoon. Reports on social media, from friends who did manage to get along, suggest the festival was busy, but with a good selection of beers still left.

This is all very encouraging, as events like these help bring people together and, as I said earlier, give the townsfolk something to look forward to. Roll on July and the big SIBA Festival!

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