Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club. As part of the deal between TJ's and SIBA, the rugby club provide the premises for the the SIBA South East Region Competition, and once this brewery plus guests, trade event is over, the beers are handed over to the Juddian's so that the festival proper can begin.
The breweries, who are all SIBA members, supply the beer foc, which results in a healthy profit for the club, particularly as the people staffing the festival are all volunteers. The good people of Tonbridge are therefore able to experience and enjoy a festival which is several orders of magnitude above what would otherwise be possible, but before the festival throws its doors open to the public, the beers are judged. This after all is a contest for places in the SIBA South East Region Competition.
I didn't make a note of the number of brewers exhibiting this year, but I do know that around 180 different cask ales are judged across nine separate categories. The SIBA South East Region covers a wide area which encompasses the counties of Berkshire, East and West Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, and Surrey, plus London.
The tasting and judging of the beers takes place earlier on Friday, and I know several people who volunteer as judges each year. I have been asked to judge in previous years, but as it entails taking a day off from work I normally decline. I have taken part in beer judging before, but normally I prefer to drink and enjoy my beer, rather than attempting to pigeon-hole and assess it against others.
day out, going along, armed with folding chairs plus plenty of food. We have then met up with other family members and friends, but this time a certain football match got in the way.
I called in on Friday evening, arriving shortly before 9pm. The crowds in the tent had thinned out, but there were still plenty of people sitting outside on the grass, enjoying the warmth of what had been probably the warmest day so far of this incredibly long hot spell. leaving plenty of space inside the marquee and ample room to move about and peruse the rows of different casks.
As in previous years, all beers were priced at one token per half pint, regardless of strength, which certainly made life easier for the mathematically challenged amongst us. Tokens were priced at £1.80 each. I seriously wish our own beer festival, a joint venture between West Kent CAMRA and the Spa Valley Railway, would adopt this eminently sensible practice, as it would make life so much easier for both staff and customers alike.
Later, on both Friday and Saturday evenings, I got stuck into a few porters, with Bedlam Porter 5.0% from Bedlam Brewery, 1770 London Porter 4.7% from Brumaison and Smokestack Porter 6.0% from Tap East coming out particularly good.
Despite this rather unforeseen setback, the annual TJ's Beer Festival has really come into its own, and has been taken to heart by the good townsfolk of Tonbridge. It remains firmly fixed in the local social calendar, and is talked about long after each event – surely the ultimate accolade!
As ever thanks go to Tonbridge Juddians, and all their hard-working volunteers, for once again, putting on such an excellent and highly enjoyable festival, and to the brewers from SIBA South-East , who provided such a fine range of beers.