Monday, 29 August 2016

Kentish Rifleman - Beer Festival

For a brief interlude I return to native soil for this post, but with quite a lot more to write about, I shall no doubt be spouting on about my experiences in the Netherlands for some while yet.

Anyway, it’s always good to be back home after time away, however briefly that might be, and the prospect of a long weekend ahead, only mitigated by the fact it’s the last Bank Holiday before Christmas, meant there were a number of beer festivals, and other beer-related events going on to tempt me away from house, garden and family.

There were at least three such events taking place within a ten mile radius of my house, and probably quite a few others which I was unaware of, so with this in mind, it was a choice between the long established beer festival at the Halfway House, near Brenchley with its 60+ beers, or the much smaller scale event at the Kentish Rifleman at Dunk’s Green. The Bank Holiday Weekend represented the first ever beer festival for the latter pub, so with the prospect of combining a walk with a visit to the Rifleman, the latter pub was the one which received my patronage.

Hadlow Tower
My friend Don, who is a keen rambler, had organised a walk to Dunk’s Green as part of West Kent CAMRA’s social programme for the weekend. The other event was a trip by bus to the Halfway House for their beer festival. With the latter event taking place on the Saturday, when buses are far more frequent, and the walk to the Kentish Rifleman scheduled for Sunday, it meant that keen devotees of the juice of the barley could, if they so wished, attend both festivals.

One brave soul did exactly that, and it was good to see Clive sitting there, on the bus from Tunbridge Wells, when the remaining three of us alighted at Tonbridge. We journeyed as far as Hadlow, alighting at the far end of the village, and then followed a series of footpaths that led us slowly up towards the Greensand Ridge. After walking through several fields of cows we paused to take in the view back towards Tonbridge and across the to High Weald in the far distance.

The now sadly closed, Artichoke
The view was partly occluded by ominous looking dark clouds, but fortunately, apart from a few spots of rain, we managed to stay dry for the entire day. Temperatures were considerably down on what they had been for the past week, and there was a welcoming breeze blowing which had dispelled the strength-sapping high humidity associated with the heat-wave. Walking was therefore much more pleasant than it might otherwise have been.

We turned due west, skirting the Victorian mansion of Oxen Hoath House before coming across the sadly closed Artichoke pub at Hamptons. We paused to take a few photos, whilst reflecting on the loss of this attractive old inn. I’m not quite certain of the reasons for its closure; or exactly when it closed its doors for the last time but I remember being surprised when I heard the news, as it always seemed a really popular venue. The Artichoke has now been converted into a private dwelling

Crossing the lane in front of the pub, and skirting the grounds of a very attractive property, we continued across a ploughed field, in a roughly north-westerly direction, eventually arriving at our destination around 2.15 pm. It wasn't a long walk, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was sufficient to work up a decent thirst.

Dunk’s Green is little more than a hamlet, but it is fortunate in still having its own pub; and a fine one at that. Dating in part from the 16th Century, the Kentish Rifleman survived a serious fire back in 2007, which necessitated some major restoration work, especially to the roof. Looking at the pub today it’s difficult to imagine just how bad the damage was at the time. The front entrance leads straight into the main bar, which is long and low. Leading off from this is another long and quite narrow room, which is slightly more upmarket, and is mainly used by diners. At the rear of the pub is an attractive and secluded garden and this was where the beer festival was taking place.

Garden at the Rifleman
The beers were racked in a barn, facing the garden and the landlord, whose name escapes me, but I think it’s John, was the person doing the serving. There were 10 ales in total from the following breweries: Arundel, Brentwood, Skinners, Tonbridge, Triple fff, Whitstable and Yeovil. There was also a range of traditional ciders. All beers were very reasonably priced at just £3 a pint, “To keep things simple”, as the landlord said.

Feeling rather thirsty after my exertions, I went straight in on the pints, rather than my usual practice at beer festivals of drinking halves. I particularly enjoyed both the Betty Stoggs, from Skinners and the Kent Coast from Whitstable Brewery, but the best beer I had was the 4.0% Golden Galaxy from the Brentwood Brewing Company.

One of my companions was less impressed with the Yeovil’s Glory, from Yeovil Brewery, and I have to report the Arundel Castle, from Arundel Brewery was distinctly cloudy.

So what about the temperature and condition of the beers?  In a recent post, Tandelman, with some prompting from correspondent py, quite rightly drew attention to the often poor quality of the beer served at CAMRA festivals during the summer months. The main problem being a lack of suitable cooling leading to beer being served at temperatures far in excess of ideal during hot weather; or to paraphrase py, “beer served as warm as day old piss.”

Fortunately, the white painted barn, with its thick solid walls, proved the ideal place in which to keep the beer, and I noticed packs of ice as well as bar towels, draped over the casks. The beer was consequently just about the right temperature, and there as certainly plenty of condition in the beer.

Beer List
The only thing missing was people, as apart from ourselves, there were only two other tables occupied in the garden. Many of the pub regulars were sitting just outside the public bar; somewhere I have seen people gathering on previous visits to the Rifleman. I don’t know if they were aware the beer was just £3 a pint at the festival, or perhaps they weren’t too bothered, but it did seem strange them not taking part.

Later on several other people did turn up, and they included Bill, who runs the cider bar at the Tonbridge Juddians Beer Festival, plus some neighbours of mine from just down the road. Like us, this group of four had also walked, but they had followed a different route from north Tonbridge.

Shortly after the newcomers arrived, the pub chef appeared to light the barbecue, and start preparing some food. Unfortunately we had to depart at 3.45pm, in order to catch the penultimate bus back to Tonbridge. We headed back towards Hadlow, following a slightly different route through the delightful, and virtually hidden, Bourne Valley.

Hops growing wild in the Bourne Valley
It’s difficult to believe that a century or two ago this area was home to a thriving paper-making industry; the fast flowing River Bourne having provided a source of power for the mills which one populated this valley. Nowadays, apart from the odd farm on the tops of the hills, the Bourne Valley is practically deserted.

We arrived back in Hadlow in sufficient time for the bus, but with not quite enough time for a pint in the Two Brewers. This two-bar Harvey’s pub, is now the sole remaining pub in Hadlow; a village which even within my memory could boast five public houses.

Instead of a pint of Harvey’s, we waited until we arrived back in Tonbridge, and called in at the Humphrey Bean; the town’s JDW outlet. Thornbridge Jaipur had been spotted on sale there, over the Bank Holiday Weekend, so we were keen to catch a pint, if the beer was still on. Fortunately it was, and a pint of this strong, 5.9% IPA, was just the right beer to finish on, after what had been a most enjoyable day out in the Kent countryside.

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