Saturday, 29 February 2020

Supping with the devil?

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale has landed itself in a real pickle after rejecting a motion put forward for debate at its forthcoming Annual General Meeting in York. The motion, proposed by Scarborough Branch, would have prevented CAMRA providing or promoting discount schemes, such as the sixty vouchers, sent each year, to all CAMRA members, for use at a selection of large pub and bar chains.

The chains include JD Wetherspoon – the original sponsors of the voucher scheme, Stonegate Inns, Brains, Castle Rock plus Amber Taverns managed pubs.  A total of 1,550 pubs are included in the scheme, and with each voucher worth 50p off a pint of real ale, cider or perry, this amounts to an annual benefit of £30.

Scarborough Branch member Phil Saltonstall, who owns Brass Castle Brewery in Malton, proposed the motion, and is critical of CAMRA’s refusal to debate the issue, but all motions put forward at the Campaign’s AGM  have to be vetted by the Conference Procedures Committee.

So rather than allow this important motion to be scrutinised and debated by the membership, CAMRA have removed it from the order paper.  An appeal has been lodged, but will not be heard until the night before the AGM, a move which many will view as an attempt to stifle debate.

Unfortunately for CAMRA, the issue is not going away, and the Procedures Committee's heavy-handed action has only inflamed passions over what is already an emotive subject. 110 breweries, from all over the UK, have now signed an open letter in support of the motion, and are calling on CAMRA to end its use of discount vouchers and tacit support of large pub chains.  

They say CAMRA’s current policy undermines real ale and pushes drinkers towards corporate chains, to the detriment of smaller pubs and independent free-houses. The brewers argue that the practice sets unrealistic expectations among new real ale drinkers, damages small breweries who cannot produce to the scales the big chains require, and disrespects the craft that goes into producing real ale.

The signatories are from a wide and diverse range of  respected independent breweries, and include many brewers of CAMRA-judged award-winning beers. Several of these companies are past winners of CAMRA’s prestigious National Champion Beer of Britain. More breweries are coming forward in support, making the Campaign’s attempt to shut down the debate on this important issue, before it even started, look all the more foolish.

In the letter, they say: “…it is dangerously inconsistent for CAMRA to promote real ale as the pinnacle of the brewer’s art while simultaneously making it the cheapest beer on the bar. Inevitably, new drinkers will be led to have little regard for the quality of real ale. The policy also undermines CAMRA’s public image, as it promotes that which it was established to overhaul: a limited range of beers from large breweries, served-up cheaply by pub chains.”

The brewers go on to say: “CAMRA will win more support from the wider brewing and pub industries when it stops driving people to chain pubs for cheap beer, and when it instead respects real ale, respect the pubs that showcase it, and respects the brewers who produce it.”

There is much in the motion, and the support letter that I agree with, and I have argued in the past for CAMRA to distance itself from such discount schemes. The predictable response was that Spoons vouchers help people on low incomes, pensioners or the unemployed, but CAMRA should be something more than an organisation that facilitates cheap beer for its members.

Writing on the Brass Castle Brewery website, motion proposer, Phil Saltonstall said, I know not everyone will agree with our motion, but many do and there was an excellent opportunity to have the debate in April at the AGM. It is infuriating that CAMRA has sought to stifle this debate, and in doing so it shows a blindness to the huge impact this has on real ale, breweries and publicans, and CAMRA’s public image.” 

“CAMRA itself cannot be both the champion of good-quality, great tasting cask beer and the promoter of bargain-basement cheap pints; as to accommodate price discounting, some pub companies insist that brewers provide real ale at a crazily low price.”

You can read Phil’s statement in full here, along with the open letter and the current list of signatories, but in the meantime, what are the odds of CAMRA backing down and at lease allowing the issue to be debated in an open and honest manner? The group haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over this matter, and their incoherent policy on discounting undermines its credibility in virtually all other campaigning areas.

CAMRA may fear that, if the motion was approved, they would see a reduction in membership levels, but the organisation cannot exist solely to boost its own numbers, while the fate of real ale is left to its own devices. All indicators suggest that cask is in serious decline, so now more than ever the genre needs a self-respecting and energetic Campaign for Real Ale. 

An organisation that jumps into bed with groups such as Wetherspoon’s and Stonegate cannot claim to be acting in an impartial and independent manner, and lays itself open to the criticism already put forward.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

We're lost in lager

Like most people I can’t resist a bargain, especially when it’s a genuine one. It’s even better when the bargain involves beer and decent beer at that, so what better than to stumble upon a slab of tinnies on sale at Tesco, at a knockdown price.

I chanced upon this bargain last Saturday, at Tesco’s Leybourne superstore, just off the M20 at Junction 4, when I discovered a 12 can pack of Brew Dog Lost Lager, retailing at just £5.85. The pack had been reduced from £9.00, because two cans were missing.

There was no clue as to why the cans weren’t there, but presumably the pack had taken a tumble rendering a couple of cans as unfit for sale. Tesco must have then seen fit to reduce the pack,  just to get it off their shelves.

The strange thing is the slab was already marked at a reduced price, as Brew Dog’s website shows this 12 can pack retailing at £16. Ten cans for just under six quid, certainly was a real bargain.

“Lost Lager” was launched with all the publicity and fanfare we have come to expect from Brew Dog over the years. But putting the hype to one side for a moment, the beer itself is rather good and very drinkable, so much so that I find myself agreeing with the company’s claim that “Lager is one hell of a beer if you make it right.”

Brew Dog’s description of the beer as a dry-hopped Pilsner made with classic German Saphir hops, is spot on; as is the claim that “This is lager like it was, like it should be, like it will be.” They’ve certainly gone to town on the authenticity as, in addition to the Saphir hops, Lost Lager is brewed using a Bavarian yeast, giving the beer a crisp clean taste, balanced against distinctive citrus notes.

So for now, after a rather challenging week at work, I’m going to chill-out, put my feet up and crack open a can or two of this rather good, and amazingly cheap lager.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Tailor Made

Tonbridge’s bid to be the food and drink capital of West Kent has taken another leap forward recently, with the addition of a combined delicatessen and wine merchants. This follows the re-branding of independent off-licence, Tailor Made Wine Library, in Tonbridge High Street, opposite the historic Chequers pub. 

The Wine Library has been around in various guises for the past decade or so, but until quite recently was a fairly standard off-licence. The emphasis had been on wines, spirits and cigars, which reflected the slightly upmarket image the owners wanted to promote. The shop also sold cigarettes, as Mrs PBT’s knew only too well.

Several years ago, when she worked in an office around the corner, the Wine Library was the source of her nicotine fix, whenever she ran out of cheap cigarettes, brought back from trips to Europe by family and friends. That’s all history now; Eileen is a reformed smoker, and  works out of town in a rural location. As for the shop, well I’m not even sure that it still sells cigarettes.

Since then I’d  hardly given the Wine Library a thought, until a fellow CAMRA member put a post up on the local CAMRA WhatsApp Beer Socials Group, to the effect that, along with other exotic beers, the shop was now selling Alt Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg. He also described the shop as a delicatessen, which threw me a bit at first.

Undaunted, I popped in a couple of weekends ago to take a look for myself. There had certainly been some substantial changes since I was last in the shop, and yes there were bottles of Bamberg’s finest Rauchbier on sale (both Märzen and Weizen versions), along with a perfectly respectable selection of bottles Belgian beers. These included Rochefort, Delirium and La Chouffe. Also stocked were canned beers from the likes of Northern Monk, Beavertown, Tiny Rebel and Siren.

As well as the beers, the Wine Library sells freshly baked bread, pastries, cheeses, olives plus a range of produce with a Greco-Turkish theme. Smokers are still catered for, but only high-end tobacco addicts, as Cuban cigars are a speciality. In short, the business has undergone a total transformation, and judging by the number of customers, seems to be doing alright.

I bought their two remaining bottles of Alt Schlenkerla; the girl behind the counter promising to get some more in. I don’t mind paying £3.79 for this quality product, especially as it is difficult to find in the UK.

For a rather more detailed write-up of Tailor Made Wine Library, check out this article from September last year, posted by local food blogger Eat Around Tonbridge.

Footnote: No link yet for the Wine Library, as the website is still under construction.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Steppin' Out

I’m sure I mentioned in an earlier post that I acquired a Sports Watch for Christmas, which synchronises to my new phone. Now I know that the word “sports” and me don’t exactly go together, but the plan is that it will help with increasing my fitness levels  over the coming months. The watch has proved particularly useful for tracking my lunchtime walks, and also as a means of counting the number of steps I undertake each day.

As with the majority of fitness devices the software, which links it to my phone, recommends walking 10,000 steps a day. Over the last few years, this amount of steps has become embedded in people’s minds as a means of not only increasing general fitness levels, but also as a way to prevent weight gain, or even lead to weight loss.

The latter two objectives have proved to be incorrect, but a daily goal of 10,000-steps does offer other significant benefits, not least of which is getting people out of a sedentary lifestyle. In addition, 10,000 steps for most people, adds up to about five miles each day, which goes a long way to meet recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

Now comes the hard bit; 10,000 steps isn’t that easy to achieve - certainly not in the course of a normal working day! I am quite lucky as I can get up, leave my desk and quite legitimately go for a wander. My desk is located on the first floor of an open-plan office, but the QC laboratory that I am responsible for, and which I quite often do a spot of testing in myself, is on the ground floor, so there is a walk, and some stairs, between the two work places.

In addition, I often have to go into the factory to conduct inspections, take samples or just deliver some paperwork, so with the site consisting of three inter-linked units, there can be a reasonable amount of walking over the course of a normal day. Even so, I estimate only clocking up around 2,500 steps whilst going about my daily business, although fortunately I am able to escape at lunchtime and get out into the fresh air.

I am extremely lucky to work in a rural location, so there are some nice walks to be undertaken, especially now we’re heading out of winter and the first signs of spring are starting to appear. My usual circuit, which takes me across the old Penshurst airfield, is around a mile and a quarter, and takes me roughly 35 minutes (I am not the fastest of walkers).

For those still counting, this equates to around 2,250 steps so, as you can see, it still doesn’t approach the magic 10,000 figure, even when added to those clocked up whilst at work. Now I don’t want to come across as too much of an obsessive here, as for me this is just a bit of fun, but what I am attempting to convey is the difficulty of hitting that total, even when you’ve a job like mine which doesn’t tie you to a desk all day.

If you are still determined to achieve those 10,000 steps, it may be necessary to make a few lifestyle changes. On Monday and Tuesday last week, I took the train into work. A combination of flooded roads, and grid-locked local streets, meant it was far easier to let the train take the strain, and guess what, I hit that 10K total with ease.

A twenty minute walk to and from the station in Tonbridge, plus one of seven minutes each way at Chiddingstone Causeway, proved more than sufficient to take me over the 10K barrier, but apart from on the odd occasion,  I am not prepared to swap my car for the train.

As my journey to work, takes place during peak times, cheap day returns are not available. In addition, my Senior Railcard cannot be used until after 9.30am. So, at £4.30 each way, the train is far more expensive than my car. That £43 a week would buy me sufficient diesel for three week’s worth of car journeys, and that’s including using it at weekends and evenings.

The other downside is, at present, trains only run at hourly intervals on the Tonbridge – Redhill line; although that frequency may increase once the collapsed embankment at Godstone is reinstated. I therefore won’t be ditching my car, anytime soon; and certainly not in order just to clock up a few more steps walking!

Before finishing, it’s time to dispel the myth behind the 10,000 steps a day recommendation, by revealing that it started off as a a marketing gimmick for a Japanese pedometer maker. In 1965, the company concerned released an early type of pedometer, which it called the "10,000 steps meter." Over the years, the theory that walking 10,000 steps a day became popularised as the key to health and weight loss. 

Surprisingly, there were never any scientific studies caried out to  back up that theory; not until recently (see above). What’s more, when people asked why that 10K number became standard, the answer was, "It's an easy number to remember!"

Regardless of this, it’s still worth remembering that the benefits of a 30-minute daily stroll are many and varied, from slowing mental decline and lowering blood pressure, to improving sleep and relieving depression. You will definitely meet health guidelines by walking 10,000 steps a day – and it's not bad advice for younger people or those who have more experience with a fitness regimen, but for older people and those who are less fit, the so-called magic number can be demoralizing.

So if you fall into the latter categories, try setting a reasonable goal, such as walking 2,000 more steps than you usually walk every day; especially if you're inactive and your goal is to become more active.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

He likes his "ales"

This article is about pigeon-holing people; stereotyping them if you like. This specific example looks at beer drinkers who, like people from so many other walks of life, are not immune from society's compelling need to categorise them. I want to be a little more specific though and concentrate on beer lovers, connoisseurs, aficionados or even beer geeks, even though I distinctly dislike that last term.

I do not want to come across as a “beer snob” either, even though I’m sure there are people out there who might label me as such, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into the article.

I’ve a glut of beer at home, with quite a stash of numerous bottles and cans waiting to be drunk. I’m partially to blame as I stocked up on various cut-price offers in the run up to Christmas, so I’ve got tins of Pilsner Urquell and Vocation Life & Death coming out my ears. I’ve also got umpteen bottles of Fuller’s excellent London Porter – another beer that was on offer, prior to Christmas.
Now I don’t drink anything near the amount of beer at home than I might in a pub, so you could say I’ve been greedy, and that my eyes are bigger than my belly. You’d be right, although given the reasonably long shelf lives assigned to these beers, they won’t be going off any time soon. But there’s another issue that has exacerbated the situation, as I’m about to relate.

People who know me appreciate that I’m a beer lover, but that’s as far as it goes for most of them. The reason being that once they’ve “pigeon-holed” me as such, that’s me ticked, but if they took the trouble to know me on a slightly deeper level they would realise that being a beer lover, means so much more than major brands, stocked by every supermarket, or gracing the bars of pubs up and down the country. 

Before going any further, my company’s QC department has a tradition of buying Christmas gifts for each other. I’m not sure when tithes  started, but it was in place when I took over as department head and I saw no reason to discontinue it. We don’t go overboard with the spending, but the presents are usually quite carefully targeted to appeal to the person receiving them. This isn’t hard when one is probably spending more time with work colleagues than with members of ones own family.

“Paul is a beer lover, so let’s get him a few special beers for Christmas.” Fair enough, but what exactly is meant by the term “special beers?” “Paul likes his ales,” is another remark I’ve heard, and in the past this has sometimes been misinterpreted. To many people the word “ales” signifies a beer that is a cut above the rest;  the rest of course being mass-marketed international brands of industrial lager.

Consequently I have ended up receiving a motley collection of so-called Premium Bottled Ales (PBA’s), as my Christmas present. It’s the thought that counts and I don’t want to take anything away from the well-meaning, but misguided intentions of colleagues or family members, but my heart has sunk on seeing the likes of Old Speckled Hen, Bombardier, Greene King IPA or even Doom Bar appearing under the Christmas tree.

I completely understand that in the eyes of non-beer drinkers, or even main stream lager lovers, PBA’s are something different, perhaps even mysterious, and therefore special. So with the assurance that Paul will really enjoy these types of beers, that’s me well and truly “pigeon-holed.” 

To be fair, most my departmental colleagues, as well as the majority of family members now know I appreciate something far less main-stream, and with a lot more character and provenance than a few tinnies of Fosters or Carling, but I have had to be very careful so to not appear as ungrateful, or to come across as patronising. Certainly the last thing I want is to come across is as an arrogant beer snob.

What I have tried to do instead, is to drop subtle hints that I really would prefer something a little more out of the ordinary and something rather more off-piste. This has started to pay off, especially at work, as I have been given selections of some quite rare Christmas Ales, some equally interesting bottles from Harvey’s, (including gems such as Bonfire Boy, Porter and Lewes Castle Brown Ale.) Last Christmas I even received an excellent selection of craft cans from Beer Hawk.

So what about those heavily-promoted, ideal for Christmas, bottled selection packs from Badger, Greene King and Marston’s that I received back in December?  Well as it’s the thought that counts, I of course accept these gifts with gratitude and good grace. And although I end up with a stash of beers I will slowly have to drink my way through, it’s not all bad.

Being given beers which I wouldn’t normally buy does allow the opportunity of sampling some of these mainstream brands,  and reminding oneself just how boring many of them are. Occasionally though, I end up eating my words as some of them are surprisingly good.

One example is Badger Tanglefoot; this 5.0% bottled beer not only turning out much better than I thought it would be, but was also superior to the slightly weaker cask version. The same brewery’s Fursty Ferret, also turned out much better than anticipated.

There are other examples as well, but to sum up, a big thank-you to everyone who has ever bought me beer for Christmas, birthday or both. I really appreciate you doing this regardless of the type, brand or provenance of the beer; it is all welcome.
If  I come across as a grumpy, moaning and ungrateful git, this is not deliberate, it’s just that I do have high expectations of what I am looking for in a beer. Despite this streak of elitism though, your bottle of Tanglefoot or London Pride is no less welcome than that special, barrel-aged, smoked, imperial porter, and probably a lot more drinkable, so thank-you once more.

However, if you ever come to visit,  and your not a beer connoisseur, don’t be surprised if I offer you a Doom Bar, an Old Speckled Hen or a Spitfire!

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Stuck inside of Tonbridge with the named storm blues again

Well with much of the south-east hunkered down against the worst that Storm Dennis can throw at us, I have to say this is the second weekend when I know I’ll be going stir-crazy from being confined to quarters. I was up a ladder earlier this morning securing the tarpaulin that is protecting the shed roof, against the forecast heavy winds.

I also picked up some of the remnants of our garden seat/ gazebo; most of which ended up in next door’s garden following last week’s named storm. I’m going to be busy, come the spring, attempting to reassemble said structure, along with replacing half a dozen fence panels which also took a battering.

Mrs PBT’s and I took a drive down into Tonbridge around lunchtime, just before the rain arrived, in order to pick up some shopping. The town wasn’t quite as grid-locked as predicted, but for those not in the know, a section of the A21 trunk road, which by-passes Tonbridge, has been closed in both directions for a week, to allow the re-building of a little-used pedestrian underpass, along with repairs to the viaduct that carries the dual-carriageway across the River Medway.

A footpath runs under the aforementioned underpass, and I used it once whilst walking the Wealdway long distance footpath back in 2010. Like many others I wasn’t aware that this tunnel-like structure was in a poor state of repair, but its condition does explain the speed restrictions due to a “weak bridge,” that have been in place on the A21 for at least a couple of years.

The next week should be interesting, as the traffic which would normally use the A21 is being diverted through Tonbridge and Hildenborough.  In mitigation, the schools are on half-term break next week, so the roads should be largely free of dizzy blonds, ferrying their little darlings to and from school, in massively over-sized 4 x 4’s.

Over-powered “Chelsea tractors” are one of the bug bears of living in the south east, but on the upside, the area is normally amongst the driest regions in the country. Not so this year, as I can’t ever recall having endured such a wet and dismal winter in the sixty years plus that I’ve been conscious of such things.

On my drive into work on Thursday morning, following another night of torrential rain – that I was completely unaware of, having slept right through, the surface water was such that sections of road that I have never known to be affected by flooding in the 14 years I have driven this route, were only “passable with care.” Where’s it all going to end? Or should that be when is it going to end?

The damp weather has scuppered any ideas for cross-country walking, so plans to complete further sections of the North Downs Way have been put on hold until things dry out. The same applies to any outdoor work, including replacing the aforementioned damaged fences.

If it’s any consolation, the weather has been unseasonably mild, and I can probably count on one hand the number of mornings I’ve had to be out early, scraping the ice of the car windscreen. It’s been so mild, in fact, that we haven’t contemplated lighting our log burner. The energy companies will be complaining soon that as customers are not using as much gas and electricity, prices will have to rise. How else will they be able to pay a dividend to their fat cat shareholders?  

The mild weather also seems to have fooled a number of plants into flowering early. The daffodils Mrs PBT’s and I noticed in full bloom, a fortnight ago on the Gower Peninsular, might have seemed down to the area’s very specific micro-climate, but I have now seen similar blooms on my drive in to work. Snow drops, those other heralds of spring,  are also in abundance, and I have come across quite a few during my regular lunchtime walks.

And so to matters beer, where there doesn’t seem to be much happening; certainly not in an organised fashion. There’s a CAMRA social planned before the end of the month, involving a pub crawl around Southborough. This doesn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm, especially as the town has lost quite a few of its pubs over the years, although I might still turn up at the last pub on the list, just to make the point that not all of us are retired and able to make a 7pm start!

So as the winds from Storm Dennis continue to blow outside, I’ll sign off and look for something more interesting and entertaining to write about.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Fighting back against the temperance tide

I get all sorts of interesting links sent to my Smart Phone.  I’m obviously not alone in this, as anyone who regularly uses Google to search for anything will indeed testify. Look for something once, and for the next few days Google will ensure you are bombarded with all sorts of allied links, some of them tenuous in the extreme or even bordering on nebulous.

Being interested in pubs, beer and all things brewing means Google knows pretty much what to send me, and of course I don’t mind, especially as from time to time, some really interesting, or thought-provoking, beer-related story or news item pops up in my feed.

One such item is this article by journalist and beer sommelier Sophie Atherton, which appeared on Monday, in the online edition of the Morning Advertiser. Labouring under the lengthy title of  “The pub is primarily about alcoholic beverages. I’d like it to stay that way,” the piece has a similar message to that put forward by other beer writers and bloggers, especially coming, as it does, at the end of Dry January.

It particularly reminded me of a recent post by Pub Curmudgeon, called “Drinking with the enemy.” Appropriately enough, the article appeared in mid-January, and whilst it is quite lengthy, Curmudgeon, or Mudgie as he is sometimes known, puts forward the notion, that given the greatly improved choice and quality of alcohol-free beers available now, doing without alcohol doesn’t require as much of a sacrifice as it once did.

He then goes on to say that increased availability of no and low-alcohol beers (NALAB’s), misses the point, as the fundamental reason people drink beer is because it contains alcohol. While people may have entirely valid reasons for choosing an alcohol-free beer, it is always to some extent a “distress purchase.” NALAB’s are intended to mimic, as far as possible, the experience of drinking a standard beer, but with that crucial, mild-intoxicating element missing.

Sophie kicks off her article with the surprising news that 25% of pub visits are now alcohol free, but then breathes a sigh of relief, because this means that 75% of pub visits are still about going for a drink. She throws in another statistic which shows that 45% of people are already satisfied with the NALAB offer available in pubs.

With this in mind, she raises her concern that the push to promote and prominently fill fridges and bar space with alcohol-free drinks, is just another way of furthering the anti-alcohol agenda, rather than a response to genuine consumer demand.

A similar analogy can be found in Veganuary, the campaign that encourages non-vegans to adopt a vegan diet during the month of January, and which now seems to have become an annual event. On recent shopping trips, Mrs PBT’s and I have noticed supermarket shelves and fridges, over-flowing with "ersatz meat dishes", and wondered is this down to genuine demand or, more likely, is it a way for food producers and retailers to line their pockets.

Now I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both Sophie Atherton and Pub Curmudgeon, and enjoying a few beers with them; albeit not at the same time.  Despite them probably coming from slightly different ends of the beer appreciation spectrum, they are both putting out the same message, and it is one that is being raised by an increasing number of people.

The combined message from both authors is that without alcoholic drinks, and the people who consume them, there would be no pubs, so watch out for attempts to replace joyful, social pub-going with soulless, booze-free café culture.

The final words should go a pub landlady who runs two pubs on the edge of the Cotswolds. Sophie’s article quotes her at length her piece which starts with the words, “I am so sick of people demonising alcohol,” but her main focus is on promoting the benefits of getting out to the pub in order to meet, talk and interact face to face with other human beings, rather than attempting to do this on a screen, in a virtual and ultimately disconnected world. 

I’m sure these sentiments are something we can all empathise over and totally agree with, and for me, even though I don’t get out to pubs as much as I used to, or indeed would like to, there is still nothing finer than, “A pint amongst friends.”

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Friday evening at TJ's beer bash

As alluded to in the previous post, the lad and I called in at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club on Friday night, to see what was on offer at their Winter Beer Festival. Unlike the main summer event, which is run jointly with SIBA and held under canvas, the winter festival takes place at the clubhouse, and is a much more of a low-key event.

The festival is normally timed to coincide with the Six Nations rugby tournament, and with England playing Scotland this weekend, the clubhouse was likely to have been full to bursting point on the Saturday. So much as I enjoy the game that’s played with an odd-shaped ball, I don’t enjoy being squeezed in so tight that I can hardly move. Therefore, as in previous years, Friday evening is the right time to partake of a few interesting beers.

It also provides a good excuse to catch up with friends and acquaintances you might not have seen for some time. Matthew and I arrived just after 8pm. We’d each brought a TJ’s Festival glass with us, as we’ve several at home from previous events. After purchasing a tenner’s worth of tokens each we headed straight to the bar. There were 24 beers on sale, somewhat disappointingly none of them were head-bangers this year, but all priced at one token per half pint.

We spotted a small group of friends from West Kent CAMRA, who’d managed to grab a table. There were a couple of seats spare, so we sat down to join them. Some had been there since shortly after the 5pm opening, so it was handy to compare notes with them. The majority of the beers were locally sourced, although there were a few from places further afield such as Brighton (Hand Brewery), Bristol (Arbor) and Newport (Tiny Rebel).

Stand-out beers for me were QPA, a very drinkable 4% pale ale from Quantock Brewery (not exactly just down the road), Five C’s APA a 5% American Pale Ale from 360º Brewery of Sheffield Park (much more local) and Goa Express a 5.2% “Chai Baltic Porter” from Dark Revolution of Salisbury (somewhere in-between in terms of local). The latter, with its distinctive Chai spice notes and flavours, was surprisingly drinkable, and whilst not an every day beer, was a good dark beer to finish the evening on, from a festival range that was disappointingly bereft of dark beers.

As well as friends from CAMRA, we bumped into two couples, plus assorted hangers-on who we know from the days when our children all attended the same primary school. Tonbridge is that sort of town.

As the evening progressed the number of people in the clubhouse started to dwindle; noticeably in comparison to previous years. Matthew and I left shortly after last orders had been called and made our way home back along Tonbridge High Street. The town too seemed quite subdued, and even our local Spoons looked half empty as we passed by.

For some years now, I have shied away from beer festivals, although I do like to support a local event wherever possible. Being away the previous week, meant missing Tonbridge’s first Beer Weekend which, from the reports was quite successful. It was a pub-based event, with various outlets in the town putting on something special, such as a meet the brewer evening, or they hosted a “tap-takeover” from a brewery whose beers we don’t often see in the town – the Nelson, for example, featured a range of beers from Fyne Ales in Scotland.

Horses for courses, and whilst I am happy to support both types of event, I really like the concept behind Tonbridge’s Beer Weekend, and will ensure that I am around for next year’s event – assuming there is one!

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Check in at the Chequers for breakfast

Continuing their quest for the perfect breakfast, father and son team, Paul and Matthew ventured along to one of the oldest parts of Tonbridge High Street, this morning and really came up trumps. 

I’m not talking about the orange idiot in the White House, but instead I’m referring to us unearthing one of the best breakfasts, both in terms of quality and value for money, that we’ve had in a long time.

We discovered our breakfast "Shangri-La" at the Chequers, which is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge. Situated near the “Big Bridge” over the River  Medway, in the shadow of Tonbridge’s ancient castle, the Chequers has quite rightly been described as "one of the finest examples of a Kentish timber-framed building that can be found today.”

It is certainly a very attractive building and its photogenic qualities mean that, after the castle, it is one of the most photographed buildings in Tonbridge. I wrote an article here, back in August 2018, so I won’t repeat it all here, but what I will say it was purely by chance that father and son ended up there on Saturday morning.

We’d walked past the Chequers on Friday evening, on our way to Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club, for their annual winter beer and cider festival. We noticed an “A” board on the pavement outside advertising a what looked like a substantial breakfast for the principal sum of £5.95. There was also a large breakfast available for a couple of quid more.

We normally reserve our breakfast outings for Sunday mornings, but with Storm Ciara due to batter the country tomorrow, we decided to bring it forward a day. Matthew was not working this weekend, so a fairly early start saw us walking into the Chequers at around 9.30am.

We were the first people in, but the friendly landlady soon appeared to take our order and to tell us we could sit where we liked. We opted for a table to the far left of the “L” shaped bar, and before long our host re-appeared with a mug of tea for each of us, and some toast. This was Matthew’s first visit to the Chequers, so I told him a little more about the place. See previous post for details.

It wasn’t long before the chef appeared with our food, warning us the plates were very hot – always a good sign as far as I am concerned. So with three rashers of bacon, two tasty farmhouse sausages, a fried egg, tomato, hash browns, toast and black pudding, this was definitely a breakfast to keep me, at least, going until tea time.

While we were getting stuck into our breakfast, several other people came in. We noticed at least four more breakfasts being served; understandable given the keen pricing and the quality of the offering. From the questions being asked and the responses given, I had the distinct impression they were regulars at the pub.

To finish, I’ve included a photo of the pumps – this is a blog about beer after all. I wouldn’t mind betting that three is one pump too many, especially as the Chequers has never struck me as much of an ale drinkers’ pub. If I was in charge, I’d knock the Tribute on the head, leaving just the Harvey’s Best and the Proper Job to satisfy the cask crowd.

Given the pub’s proximity to home I can see the Chequers becoming a regular breakfast haunt amongst the male members of the Bailey household.  And seeing as they’ve got St Austell Proper Job on tap, I might also be tempted to pop in one evening – as long as it’s not karaoke night!