Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The Queen's Head, Icklesham for Harvey's Old Ale

So now, without further ado, it’s time to reveal the mystery pub the Bailey family visited last Sunday, which provided me with my only pint of Harvey’s Old, so far this winter. The pub in question was the legendary Queen’s Head, at Icklesham, near Rye; a pub I have wanted to visit for many years.

I’m not sure why I never managed to call in there, as we’ve been regular visitors to Rye for the past 30 years or more and, like I said, the Queen’s Head has long been on my radar, but as I hinted at when I described my visit to that part of Sussex with Retired Martin, the local geography may have played a role in this.

To clarify, the village of Icklesham is situated on high ground, and looks out across the broad flat valley, known as the Brede Levels,  formed by the River Brede to the west of Rye. The Brede is one of three rivers which converge around Rye, the others being the Rother and the Tillingham. Our route to Rye has always been via the A268, which follows a broad ridge between the latter two waterways, which is why the Brede Levels are largely unknown to me.

This was set to change last Sunday, as I was determined to cross the Queen’s Head off my list of “must visit” pubs. Mrs PBT’s had other ideas though, as her mind was fixed firmly on the Pilot Inn at Lydd-on-Sea, for fish and chips. I managed to persuade her to try somewhere different, saying that, “If you never listen to new songs you will only know old music,” but on reflection that didn’t go down quite as well as I intended. Never mind, I would be doing the driving, so I had the final say.

My powers of persuasion obviously hadn’t fully succeeded, as my suggestion, the previous day, that we ought to phone and book a table met with more than a hint of indifference. The lady of the house countered my idea by claiming this would tie us down to a specific time which, given the  relatively isolated setting of the Queen’s Head, might not be such a good move.

Sunday morning then saw us heading down towards Icklesham, armed with map plus sat-nav, to take pot luck at finding a free table for lunch at the Queen’s Head. With the weather bright, sunny and unseasonably warm, things were very much not in our favour, as the high temperatures we were experiencing was bound to draw every Tom, Dick and Harry towards the coast. Many of them would no doubt, have the foresight to book a place for Sunday lunch.

I’d taken the time the time to study the map, so more or less knew the route we needed to take, but I still took the precaution of tapping the final destination into the sat-nav before we set off. The traffic was quite heavy, but it thinned out once we turned off the A21 at Flimwell crossroads. The sat-nav instructed us to turn south at Hawkhurst, rather than further on, at Northiam, as I’d planned, but I was pleased to note that the route took us through Broad Oak, and close to the Three Legs Brewery, which Martin and I had visited at the end of the previous week.

Turning south again, we descended down onto the Brede Levels, and after crossing the river, we turned off along one of the narrowest roads I have been on for along time. It was more like cart track, as it slowly climbed up the other side of the valley, past Doleham station; surely one of the most isolated halts on this part of the rail network.

Fortunately, the only time we met a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction, was just before a junction, where there was sufficient space for us both to pass, but looking in the mirror I noticed we were being shadowed by an Ocado delivery van. There’s obviously a lot of moneyed folk living around Doleham and Guestling!

After turning onto the busy A259, we found the Queen’s Arms, tucked away down a narrow side road at the far end of  Icklesham, close to a number of houses. There were several cars parked at the front of the pub, but fortunately there was a much larger parking area at the rear. Even so we had difficulty finding a space, which didn’t bode well so far as lunch was concerned. 

We passed the garden on the way to the entrance, and even there the majority of the table were occupied. Undeterred, we stepped inside to find the place packed; as feared. The only unoccupied tables were displaying “Reserved” signs – quelle surprise! We managed to find some space close to the bar and it was then that I spotted the Harvey’s Old. As I reported in the previous post, the beer was on top form; a situation which often arises when you’re limited to just one pint!

It was obvious that we weren’t going to get a table, and as Mrs PBT’s didn’t fancy sitting outside (there was still quite a chill in the air, despite the sunshine), we decided on  the good old British compromise. As we were there, we would have a quick drink at the Queen’s Head, and then head off towards Rye, Dungeness and Lydd-on-Sea.

The family settled on this, so I got to enjoy my first and, so far, only pint of Old of the season, and my good lady wife got her wish of fish and chips at the Pilot. In the meantime we were able to enjoy the atmosphere of  a classic and unspoilt country pub that has been in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for over 30 years.

Being so full of people, it was difficult to get a proper handle on the place, but according to WhatPub the Queen’s Head was built in 1632 as two dwellings, and has been a pub since 1831. On Sunday it was serving Old Dairy Über Brew and GK IPA, alongside the Harvey’s XXXX Old Ale. The Queen’s Head also has a reputation for serving good-value and high-quality, home-made food on a daily basis – hence it being packed.

I noticed two or possibly three inter-connected rooms, plus another section set at a slightly lower level, and close to where we were standing was a large wood-burning stove. The pub’s crowing glory is its beer garden with its far-reaching views over the Brede Valley, and beyond to the massive wind-farm on Walland Marsh, to the east of Rye.

It was here that it all went a little wrong, as after convincing myself that the view from the pub garden was to the south (it actually looks north), I turned the wrong way onto the A259, and instead of skirting Winchelsea, we found ourselves heading into Hastings. It wasn’t until I looked at the map again, later that evening, that I discovered how this elementary error had occurred.
Hastings afforded the opportunity to fill up with diesel, as a price significantly lower than in Tonbridge. We  then re-traced our route along other side of Brede Levels to Rye and then onto the Pilot, via Camber. Fortunately, there were several spare tables at the Pilot Inn, resulting in one happy wife and, after treating the family to lunch, one slightly poorer husband.

I thought it wise not to partake of any more beer, which was a shame as the house beer from New Romney Brewery, had been good on previous occasions, and I am pleased to report that the cod and chips  were  in fine condition this time around. As for the Queen’s Head, I will definitely be making a return visit, especially as a cross country walk from either Doleham, or Three Oaks stations, looks eminently doable.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Some Harvey's XXXX Old Ale at last

Just a quick post, but a prelude to a much longer one which will follow this short effort. The good news is that at long last, and towards the end of the particular “season”, I finally managed to track down some Harvey’s Old Ale, and mighty fine it was too.

The location was somewhere totally unexpected, and a new one for me as well, but I’ll keep you guessing a little longer, just to keep the suspense going. The beer was in peak condition, served cool and looking attractive in the glass, the dark, slightly sweet ale being topped with a thick, creamy head. I scored it at 4.0 NBSS.

It was rather ironic to come across this classic example of a southern, "old ale", on what was the warmest February day since records began, but the exposed location of the pub where I enjoyed the beer, meant there was still a bit of a chill in the air.

I was a happy man, even though wife and son couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and like the beer, the pub too was a real classic and one I had wanted to visit for a long time. My only regret was that, as I was driving, I had to limit myself to just the one pint.

All will be revealed next time, but what I will say is that unfortunately, the pub wasn’t exactly on my doorstep!

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Eight days a week

It’s been a rather strange fortnight, one of swiftly moving events and rapidly changing plans. The weather has also been extremely strange and after a morning walking round Tonbridge in my shirt-sleeves and the afternoon in the garden with just a rugby shirt to keep my top half warm, it’s hard to believe that a year ago, the country was being blasted by freezing cold air from Siberia – the so-called “Beast from the east”.

It was some of the coldest weather I can remember experiencing, and one morning driving into work, my dashboard display was indicating an outside temperatures of  minus 11ºC. I didn’t check the mercury today, but temperatures must have been in the high teens. Visitors from overseas sometimes wonder why the weather is so often the topic of conversation in the UK; with contrasts such as this, it’s hardly surprising.

Back to the main topic, which wasn’t actually climate-related, but instead was about beer, and an event I was supposed to be attending. Just over a fortnight ago, I received an email asking me if I would be attending the Craft Beer Rising Festival in London. The request came from a young (presumably) lady representing a PR company who were promoting a particular brewer’s beer.

Now I can’t be bothered to trawl back through an in-box which is stuffed full of unread or unopened emails, but the request caught my attention and, as I’ve never been to CBR, I turned the whole thing on its head. My reply was along the lines of what I’ve just written, and because I’ve never been to said event, I somewhat cheekily said that if the young lady could forward me a ticket, I would go along, sample her client’s beer (amongst several others), and then post a write-up of my impressions of the beer and CBR, on the blog.

No problem said the nice (young?) lady, she would sort out admission for me on the Friday (22nd).  Well, until that Friday, that was the last I heard from the PR lady; more about that shortly. In the meantime I discovered that our directors were coming over from Japan, for board meeting, postponed by the delay in appointing a replacement General Manager to run our company.

In accordance with usual practice, they were inviting management out for a meal, ostensibly on the Friday evening. There was also a personal request for me to pick them up from their hotel in Tonbridge, on both Thursday and Friday mornings, and then drop them back after work. I am quite used to these chauffeuring duties, because I am the only member of management who lives in Tonbridge, and whilst I could have declined, the opportunity of a meal, plus a few drinks, was not one to be missed.

I put off booking a day’s leave for the end of the week until later; especially as hadn’t heard from the PR lady. It was then that events moved quickly. I’d taken the previous Friday off, to accompany Retired Martin on his drive down to Rye and Crowhurst, but when I returned to work on the Monday, I discovered the meal had been brought forward a day. This was because we were due to be audited by our potential new, Notified Body (NB).

Now I won’t go into too much detail here, as I don’t want to bore you, but because of an event which may, or perhaps may not take place on 29th March, my company needs to be registered with a European based NB in order to ensure the continuation of our CE certificate. We also have to find an “EC Representative”, who is  based in the European Union.

We obviously have to continue demonstrating the same sort of compliance with the international standard for the type of products we manufacture and sell, so in our case this is ISO 13485 – Medical Devices. Now I don’t know yet know the end result of the audit, as it was still going on when I left at 6pm on Friday, but irrespective of whether we pass first time, or require a further visit from the auditor, we will need to amend all our packaging to indicate our revised CE Number, and to show the name and address of our “EC Representative”.

This will affect all packaging items, such as labels, cartons and Instructions For Use (IFU’s). So lots of changes to work through by our artwork people, and lots of business going the way of our printers. There will be lots of stock write-offs too, as whilst in the event of a managed exit from the EU, we have a period of grace to see these changes through, thereby using up as much old stock as possible, in the event of the UK crashing out with a “no-deal” Brexit, no such period exists.

Perhaps you can understand now why I am so angry at the behaviour of people like Tim Martin and members of the Conservative European Research Group, who are advocating such a damaging scenario. These reckless individuals cannot see beyond the end of their own noses, because they are so obsessed by achieving the end result and being carried along by their own arrogance, they are totally oblivious of the very real consequences that “no-deal” would mean for many businesses. "Dim Tim's", role in this is perhaps little more than that of a useful idiot,as it is the ERG, who are driving this and dictating government policy, but his magazine articles and beer mats, haven't exactly been helpful either.

Rant over, but since returning to work in January, my colleagues and I have been involved in little else apart from attempting to manage these changes and mitigate their effects on our business. Basically we are doing all this work, just to stand still. The next time a politician decides to call a plebiscite on such an important constitutional issue, perhaps they will do their homework first, because trying to unravel over 40 years of trading agreements, when you haven't the first clue what you are doing, was never going to end well.

Back to Friday morning, which was already starting out busy, when I received an email from the (young) PR lady. She had passed my details to the people on the door at CBR, so I would be admitted foc. She would be at the stand of whichever brewery she was representing, so come over and say hello.

That's one rant over, but there is something about PR people in general which means they operate on a totally different timescale, and in a completely different world to the rest of us. Getting back in touch on the morning of the event, after no communication, is demonstration of this.

Did she imagine I would be just waiting around for her invitation? Did she not think I might have other commitments or other plans? I sent her a quick reply, and to be fair she did offer me admission for Saturday, but again this was too late, as whilst Mrs PBT’s is quite understanding and pretty flexible, we’d already made other plans. This is not the first time I’ve come across this sort of last minute invite either.

The long and the short of it is that I still haven’t been to Craft Beer Rising or any of the other similar beer-related events in the capital.  Fortunately, last Friday’s trip with Martin, to East Sussex, broke the fortnight up nicely and helped restore my sanity

I’ve promised Mrs PBT’s a trip to the coast on Sunday, so earlier today we headed off in the same direction as last week's jolly. We even drove passed one of the places where Martin and I stopped, but you'll have to wait until my next post to discover which one.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

A few books I have read recently

I acquired several books over the Christmas period, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to learn they were all beer-related. The books included the latest (8th Edition) of “Good Beer Belgium” and the 7th Edition of the “Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich (BDG2M)”.

The former is excellent, and carries on where previous editions left off. If you are after the definitive guide to Belgian beer and the best places in which to drink it, then this informative, nicely illustrated and well laid out publication from CAMRA Books should definitely be on your shelf.

We then move on to the Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich, published in 2015 and now on its 7th edition. For the uninitiated the book is a well-illustrated, and easy to follow guide to some of the best beer gardens, brew-pubs and beer halls which Munich has to offer.

It is unashamedly a book for the warmer months, concentrating primarily on beer gardens plus those brew-pubs which offer outdoor drinking (virtually all of them), but this is no bad thing. as a few glasses of cool, refreshing beer, enjoyed in an outdoor setting is definitely one of the best ways to enjoy the charms of the Bavarian capital. I for one am a huge fan of the whole beer-garden experience, which is why I made full use of the previous edition of the guide, which was published in 2008, on previous visits to Munich.

An update was long overdue, which is why I was pleased to see the  7th edition appear in print. Whilst the new edition contains many previous entries, these have been revised and updated where necessary. From the perspective of someone who has been a regular visitor to  the Bavarian capital, it is good to see the "retained" entries still offering the same high standards, and it is also encouraging to see some new outlets creeping in. I look forward to trying some of them on my next trip to Munich.

This brings me on to the final book, and the one I have enjoyed most. “20th Century Pub”, by seasoned beer bloggers Jessica Boak & Ray Bailey, is a real labour of love, and a must read for anyone interested in how the English pub has developed over the course of the last 100 years.

The authors take us on a whirlwind ride of how our pubs have changed since the start of the last century, adapting and evolving in response to changes in society, people, culture, morality and cataclysmic events such as two world wars, emerging into the very mixed bag of drinking establishments which constitute the nation’s pub stock today.

The couple must have spent countless hours carrying out their meticulous research to unearth many of the facts, stories and anecdotes which make 20th Century Pub such an interesting and informative read. As someone who thought I knew a lot about pubs, the duo’s book provided a real eye-opener, sometimes on a long vanished, lost world – even though we are talking about relatively recent events.

My only criticism is the paucity of illustrations as, whilst I accept this is a serious work, I am a great believer in a picture telling a thousand words. Given that the authors are looking back over the course of the entire 20th Century, I wouldn’t expect the guide to be crammed full of colour photo’s, but the b&w ones which are included, are printed on standard book paper, rather than the more normal coated gloss substrate. Consequently they do not look their best, and many have rather washed-out appearance. 

It is the content though, which lies at  the heart of the book, and as I said earlier, this really stands out. I’m certain that he coupe have unearthed much information which has lain uncovered for half century or more.

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that the cover of 20th Century Pub bears more than a passing resemblance to a book published 44 years previously. Whether this was intentional, along the lines of imitation being the finest form of flattery, or just pure coincidence, but the bold 3D shadow effect, upper-case typeface, used on the front cover is identical to that of Frank Baillie’s classic, “Beer Drinker’s Companion” which appeared in print back in 1973.

Frank’s book was a similar ground-breaking publication, so in my obtuse way of thinking, I couldn’t help wondering whether this similarity was intentional or not. Whatever the case though, I thoroughly recommend you getting hold of a copy of Jessica and Ray’s labour of love, especially if, like me, you care and enjoy reading about one of England’s greatest contributions to the world.

Disclaimer: Whilst I am not averse to accepting the occasional freebie, I paid in full for all the books reviewed here. My copy of 20th Century Pub was signed by the authors, after I responded to an offer on the couple's website, and yes Ray and Jessica, we must definitely “Share a pint, sometime!”

Monday, 18 February 2019

A pocket full of Rye

You’d have to be a real Philistine to not have a soft spot for a lovely old town like Rye. With its cobbled streets and narrow passages, the town is a treasure trove of  Medieval, Tudor and Georgian buildings, some of which are real architectural treasures, and beautifully preserved.

Often referred to as the “Ancient town of Rye”, this gem of a place is set on a hill overlooking the River Rother; a situation which meant it was an important member of the Cinque Ports confederation, during medieval times. Rye is no longer the port it once was, as the sea retreated from the town centuries ago, leaving it stranded, a couple of miles inland.

Today, Rye relies on its appeal as a tourist attraction and attracts visitors from all over the world The old part of the town, which is contained within the former town walls has numerous shops, art galleries, pubs and restaurants. Apart from its tourist base, Rye continues to operate as a port; albeit on a much reduced scale, with a small fishing fleet berthed at the Strand Quay at the edge of the town, and a larger one at nearby Rye Harbour.

Mrs PBT’s and I spent part of our honeymoon in the town, staying at the historic Mermaid Inn, an historic old inn with a long, turbulent history. The current building dates from 1420 and has 16th-century Tudor style additions. The cellars pre-date this, having been dug out in 1156. The Mermaid was a stronghold of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers, who used it in the 1730s and 1740s. 

Although Mrs PBT’s and I had stopped off in Rye, for fish and chips, back in December, it had been sometime since I had wandered along its ancient streets, so when Retired Martin came up with a plan to visit the town last Friday, I jumped at the chance. Earlier last week, I booked a well deserved and much needed day off from work and eagerly waited for Friday to arrive.

Several months ago, the pair of us had loosely discussed a visit to the Ypres Castle in Rye; a lovely old pub now run by the legendary Jeff Bell. This followed the Ypres being selected for the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. I’d reminded Martin of this plan, only to discover that he’d subsequently visited the pub and “ticked” it, but as he was travelling down to Sussex anyway, to tick off a further two pubs (see previous post), he was happy to re-visit Jeff’s pub before completing the aforementioned GBG ticks.

As RM’s route passed close to my house, he kindly picked me up on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day, once we had left the thick fog which had enveloped Tonbridge, behind us. We arrived at Rye at around 11.30am , and after Martin had parked the car in a quiet side-street, we walked up into the town, entering through the historic Land Gate. We then made our way along to Gun Gardens, below the landmark Ypres Tower, but as we were running early, and the Ypres Castle didn’t open until midday, we took the opportunity to ascend the church tower.

My last ascent was when son Matthew was still at primary school, and before that I recall climbing up the tower with my father, when I was still school boy. This was a first for Martin, although I discovered that he’s the veteran of several arduous church tower ascents, including Cologne cathedral, and Ulm Minster - the tallest church in the world.

Now I too have climbed to the top of Cologne’s massive cathedral, but that was over 40 years ago and today, the church of St Mary the Virgin is quite enough for me. The climb is well worth the £4 fee as the church is situated at the highest point in Rye and the 360 degree view over the ancient rooftops, and out to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, Camber Sands and Winchelsea, is not to be missed. Although it was still somewhat hazy, with the sun shining brightly above us, we were rewarded with a real picture-postcard view of the town and the surrounding area.

After leaving the church, we made our way along to the Ypres Castle, which is built on the side of the town ramparts, and is reached by descending a series of steep stone steps. It is an attractive, white-painted building, decked out in places with the weatherboarding which is traditional in this part of south-east England.

The pub dates back to the 17th Century, and I have known it on and off over the years, from visits to Rye. It has everything you would expect from such a venerable old inn - roaring fires in winter, and plenty of old beams and standing timbers. I’ve always regarded the Ypres Castle as a special sort of pub, given its tucked away location, so last year I was pleased to learn that  it had been bought by Jeffrey Bell, a lawyer turned pub landlord, who established a legendary reputation for running a good pub, during his tenure of the Gunmaker’s in London’s Clerkenwell area.

Jeff also writes his own  blog, under the name of Stonch’s Beer Blog, and that along with the Gunmaker’s and his subsequent pub, the Finborough Arms in West Brompton, is what most people know him for. Given Jeff’s reputation for looking after beer, and running a good pub, it was no surprise to see the Ypres selected for this year’s Good Beer Guide.

The pub was quite quiet at 12.15pm when Martin and I walked through the door, with just a handful of customers, but it didn’t take long for the place to fill up. We did a quick scan of the  pump-clips, both opting for the Über Brew from Old Dairy Brewery – a pale coloured 3.8% hoppy pale ale. Also on tap was Level Best from Rother Valley, Dark from Three Legs Brewery (Martin’s next GBG tick) and from a little further afield, Greensand IPA from Surrey Hills.

As the very pleasant barmaid pulled our pints we enquired after Jeff. She told us that he would be along in about 20 minutes. We sat down, opposite the bar to enjoy our beer, which was full of condition, refreshing to the palate and served  nicely chilled, at perfect cellar temperature.

As we sat there chatting we noticed the influx of customers, and how the barmaid dealt with them all in a pleasant and professional manner. Shortly afterwards, the man himself walked through the door, looking and sounding larger than life. Although neither of us know Jeff that well, he recognised us both and welcomed us to the Ypres.

He was soon flitting between the bar and the kitchen, serving customers and bringing out people’s food orders. The latter looked good, and a look at the menu showed the food offering to be good value. As well as stocking four cask ales, the Ypres offers a traditional cider and a perry from Nightingale, who are based in nearby Tenterden. Lovers of proper lager will not be disappointed either as on tap Jeff offers Röthaus Pils from the Black Forest in Baden-Württemberg and Oechsner Vier from Bavaria.

As I wasn’t driving, I squeezed in a quick half of Greensand IPA. This was a much more malt-driven beer than the Old Dairy offering. The pub was positively buzzing by now, which delighted experienced pub-man, Martin, and for a weekday lunchtime, in the run up to half term, it was a sight to gladden the heart of anyone who cares about pubs.

Jeff came over to say goodbye, as we were making to leave, and said he looked forward to seeing us again. Given the proximity of this lovely old pub to where I live, and the fact Rye can be reached fairly easily by train, I don’t think it will be too long before my next visit.

Footnote: for a more detailed write-up on the Ypres Castle and Jeffrey Bell, please click on this link to Roger Protz’s website.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Bandit Country - 1066 and all that

On Friday I had the pleasure of accompanying Retired Martin on a trip down to deepest Sussex. Martin was visiting the county in order to complete a couple of GBG "ticks" from the south eastern corner of  Sussex. We had previously discussed the possibility of calling in at the “ancient town of Rye”, in order to visit the Ypres Castle; an unspoilt classic pub, now run by the legendary Jeffery Bell (“Stonch”), Martin decided we could combine the Ypres Castle with his ticking expedition, so on a rather foggy Friday morning, the pair of us headed down to Sussex.

Now Rye is a place well worthy of its own post, so I will write about the town in a separate article, but the two locations we headed for, after leaving Rye, were unknown entities, as far as I am concerned. This may sound strange coming from someone who has spent the majority of the past six and a half decades living in the adjoining county of Kent, but there are parts of East Sussex that are still completely unknown to me despite them being just a short drive away.

One such place is Brede, and that is where we headed for upon leaving Rye. Brede is a small village to the east of Rye, and is named after the river on which it is situated. The Brede is one of three rivers which converge around Rye, the others being the Rother and the Tillingham. The River Brede forms a broad flat valley, known as the Brede Levels which runs between high ground to both the north and the south and as this isolates this part of Sussex from both the routes I normally take on trips to the coast, it is the reason why it remains largely unknown to me.

Martin and I were heading for the Three Legs Brewing Company, whose brewery and recently opened taproom, are situated just outside Broad Oak, a small village just to the north of Brede. The brewery is housed in a small industrial unit on Burnt House Farm with the brewery tap at the front of the building. There are normally four cask ales available on hand pump, and sometimes additional ones direct from the cask. A selection of snacks is offered in the form of cheeses, charcuterie (cured meats) and pickles. Beers are also available for take-away, either in re-usable one litre, swing-top bottles, or pre-filled bottles and cans.

We nearly missed the turning, and swung in quite sharply, but after parking the car, we walked over to the bar, and were greeted by the two friendly fellows behind the bar. We were asked if we wanted to open a tab, but I explained that regrettably we were unable to stay long.

The truth was we had perhaps dallied slightly too long in Rye; although I can think of far worse places to dally. Martin had a drive back to Cambridgeshire to contend with once the pub tickings were over, and being a Friday the traffic was bound to be heavy so, much as we would have liked, we were only able to stay for the one beer. I chose the 4.0% Dark, whilst Martin opted for one of the three IPA’s. (If he reads this, I’m sure he’ll confirm which one).

We sat outside on the bench seating, enjoying the late winter sunshine, although having left my coat in the car, I was slightly optimistic in sitting there in my shirt-sleeves. I bought a couple of bottles before we departed; English IPA 4.5% and Imperial Stout 9.1%. I left my card with the chattier of the two staff (I think his name was Dave), before we set off to drive to Crowhurst, and the final watering hole of the trip.

The only fact I know about Crowhurst is that it’s the third stop before Hastings on the rail line down from Tonbridge. Martin’s sat-nav directed us to the Plough Inn, in the centre of this isolated village, whose main claim to fame was the destruction of the local manor house, by Duke William’s forces shortly before the Battle of Hastings. It wasn’t until carrying out a bit of research for this article, that I discovered those pesky Normans were responsible for a quite a bit of damage in the local area, including the burning of a number of local villages. (Nice people!).

What I found surprising about Crowhurst was the hilly and wooded nature of the surrounding countryside. It certainly seems a strange location for a station, and perhaps a pub.  The Plough Inn is set on a hill, overlooking a dip in the road as it winds back up towards the station, and the remains of the ruined manor house. It is an attractive brick-built  building, said to date from 1805.

It is a free-house and was taken over by its current owners in 2016. They have since set about renovating the pub to a high standard, and have managed to turn its fortunes around. The interior has been opened up to create a large open-plan space, which is perhaps not quite in keeping with character of the building. There is a large wood-burning stove at the far end of the bar, adjacent to a set of patio doors, opening onto with what looks like a patio.

There were four cask ales on from Harvey’s, Long Man, Tonbridge and  A another, but the pub has adopted the idea of identical looking, hand-written, white on black pump-clips, designed to resemble small, circular blackboards, but not particularly legible to those whose eye sight isn’t quite 100%. They may look trendy, but a picture tells a thousand words, and I would far rather be confronted with a pictorial clip, instead of what looks like a set hieroglyphics!

Having difficulty reading what is available, whilst being asked what beer I’d like, does not endear me to a place, and I know that Martin felt equally frustrated with this. I tried a couple of halves; a new beer from Tonbridge Brewery, in the style of an old ale, plus the ubiquitous Harvey’s Best. 

We both tried the latter, finding it perfectly drinkable, but not exactly stunning. I also sampled the new Tonbridge offering. There were a handful of other drinkers in the pub, but as Martin observed afterwards, they were sat at the bar, obscuring the view of the hard-to-read pump-clips. I am probably being too hard on the pub, as WhatPub is full of praise for the place, so it obviously finds favour with the local CAMRA branch.

Our route back to Tonbridge, led us up the hill, past the ruins of the former manor and then past the station. We then joined the main road through Battle, which was very busy with Friday afternoon traffic and shoppers. It has always struck me as strange, that a town should have grown up around the site of a battle, but what took place back in 1066 is not only the most memorable date in our history, but it commemorates an event which changed the make-up and destiny of England, and not necessarily for the better.

I arrived back home just before 5pm. My thanks to Martin for a most enjoyable day out in this pleasant corner of Sussex, and for his excellent company.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Jug lands top seafood catch

There’s cause for celebration in the village where I work, as the local pub has recently been named the top food service operator, as part of the 2019 National Fish and Chip Awards. This was a contest organised by Seafish;  a Non-Departmental Public Body set up to support the £10 billion UK seafood industry.

The competition was open to outlets such as pubs, restaurants, leisure outlets, cafés and hotels, where fish and chips is included on the menu but not as the core offering.  As Marcus Coleman, Chief Executive at Seafish, said: "This award celebrates businesses that don’t solely focus on producing fish and chips, but nevertheless go the extra mile to create great quality fish and chips and provide customers with a memorable dining experience.”

He went on to say, “This award is proof that you can eat high quality fish and chips in places other than fish and chip takeaways and restaurants. Well done to The Little Brown Jug.”

The Little Brown Jug is just over five minutes walk from my workplace, and is an attractive late 19th Century building which, despite being enlarged over the years, still retains much of its original character. The pub is situated directly opposite Penshurst station, and started life as the Station Tavern.

It acquired its present name 40 or so years ago, after being bought by a jazz and big-band enthusiast who renamed it as the Little Brown Jug, after the well-known Glen Miller tune. Back then the pub still had two bars, and that is how I remember it when I moved to the local area in the mid 1980’s.

A change of management, at the end of the decade, saw it dramatically increased in size, with new kitchens, a function room and even bed and breakfast accommodation added. The new owner also introduced a wide range of different cask ales to the pub. 

Towards the end of the following decade the owner received an offer he couldn’t refuse, so he sold up and moved on. This was when  Greene King first appeared on the scene. Unfortunately the wide range of interesting beers was replaced by standard GK offerings.

I renewed my acquaintance with the Little Brown Jug in the summer of 2006, when I started work at my present company, but before long the pub closed to allow further alterations to be made to the pub.

The pub reopened in February 2007, and although nominally still tied to Greene King, the Jug is now owned a company called Whiting & Hammond. The latter are a company who operate a small chain of food-oriented pubs in this part of Kent. The beer is still standard GK stuff, but local favourite Larkin’s Traditional is stocked, and is probably the pub’s best selling cask beer – certainly amongst the locals!

I can’t comment on the fish and chips, although I will certainly give them a try next time I’m at the Jug for a meal. My company uses the pub for entertaining customers, from time to time, and I have been fortunate to partake of several excellent lunches there. For the last few years it has also been the venue for several memorable company Christmas meals, and it’s something of a tradition to pop in for a few beers each year, when we close for business at lunchtime on Christmas Eve.

As can be seen from some of the photos, the owners of the Little Brown Jug have splashed out on a series of banners, which have been placed outside the pub and also at the entrance to the village.

So well done to all involved with the award, and to those running the pub on a daily basis; and who knows you may see me popping in for some top notch fish and chips.