Thursday, 31 December 2020

2020 - The Year in Beer

In normal times I would be putting together my annual review of what I describe as, “The year in beer and travel.” Unfortunately, with you know what about, there’s been precious little travel and, apart from the honourable exception of the first quarter of 2020, most of the encounters I’ve had that involve beer, have been those that have taken place within the confines of my own house or garden.

I covered the rather limited amount of travel I undertook, in my previous post, and looking back at some of the headings I’ve used in past reviews, there’s inevitably going to be a lot of blanks.

So, no brewery visits and no best beers abroad – unless Scotland and Wales qualify in this category, but there were still some much-treasured highlights that brightened up an otherwise dull year. A year which saw the British people subjected to some of the most draconian restrictions ever imposed by their own government; restrictions that surpassed and continue to surpass those passed during times of war.

Best Beer on Home Turf

This has to be the first pint of Harvey’s Sussex Best, enjoyed in a pub, shortly after they were allowed to reopen, back in July. The pub where this joyous reunion took place, was the White Hart at Newenden; a village with the River Rother running through its heart, so that it straddles the border between Kent and Sussex. The White Hart is a lovely old, white-painted and part weather-board clad pub, virtually opposite the village church and at the bottom of the hill, just before the ancient stone bridge across the Rother.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, I stopped off there with son Matthew, for a pre-booked meal. As we sat in the garden at the rear of the pub, waiting for our cod and chips to arrive, I took a few mouthfuls of the delectable pint of Harvey’s in front of me.It was pure nectar, and almost worth the four month’s wait. Cool, refreshing and well-conditioned it was everything I’d expected, and more! As I was driving, I was unable to have another, and had I been scoring it would have come out as a 3.0 – 3.5 NBSS. 

Best Beer Abroad

I’m not sure whether Scotland counts as “abroad,” although if the nation’s First Minister has her way, it might eventually become an independent country. Two things though, Brew Dog is a Scottish brewer, and their bar at Edinburgh is definitely on Scottish soil, so the pint of the brewery’s Indie Pale Ale I enjoyed with my work colleague, whilst waiting for our flight back to Gatwick can count as my best, and only, beer abroad during 2020.

Best Beer Festivals

I didn’t think I’d been to any beer festivals during 2020 but looking back I attended the Winter Beer Festival held at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club, at the beginning of February. In normal times it wouldn’t have featured that highly, but as it was the only event of its kind I experienced, it’s worthy of a mention.

Looking back there were 24 beers on sale, the stand-out ones for me being:  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 360Âș 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).

A comment  posted at the time, sums up the event quite nicely, especially the last sentence. "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!"

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer

Worms Head Hotel - Rhossili. In the absence of anywhere more exotic and given the paucity in the number of places visited, I can think of few better, or indeed more appropriate places than the Worms Head Hotel, at the westernmost end of the Gower Peninsula.

Perched at the landward end of the Worms Head; a rocky promontory shaped like a giant sea-serpent that juts out into the Bristol Channel, overlooking the sweep of Rhossili Bay, the hotel is the ideal location to watch the waves come crashing in on the magnificent sandy beach, far below.

When it’s blowing a gale, as it was when Mrs PBT’s and I visited in early February, sitting behind one of the hotel’s large picture-windows, enjoying a pint of locally brewed, Gower Gold, whilst protected from the elements, has to qualify for one of my best locations this year, or any one for that matter..

Elms Inn – Burton-on-Trent. The other location was a difficult choice but, I settled on this one during our Proper Day Out in Burton-on-Trent, at the beginning of March. In a town blessed with a preponderance of excellent pubs, the location of one of them stood out above the others. The pub in question was the Elms Inn, an attractive Victorian establishment in a semi-rural setting, on the opposite bank of the River Trent, from the main part of Burton.

The Elms was packed when we visited, but we still managed to get a seat in front of one of the large bay windows, overlooking the river. With an excellent pint of Draught Bass, a friendly and mixed clientele, plus the company of some fine fellows, what was there not to like?

Bucket List

Looking back at last year’s post, I mentioned a desire I had to visit every European country. In 2019 I crossed Poland off the list, and had been looking at Norway and/or Sweden for later in 2020.

Those trips didn’t come off for obvious reasons, so my total still stands at 17 countries from an official list of 51. I dispute this figure, as it includes countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Russia. The first three are technically in Asia, as is the bulk of Russia, even though it is considered a European state. (Andora, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are also included amongst the list of European states, but in all honesty, they are too small to make a special visit.)

There was, however, an item I could cross off my list and that was enjoying a pint of Draught Bass at the Coopers Tavern in Burton-on-Trent. This classic, unspoilt, 19th-century ale house dating from the early 1800’s, was originally used as a store, before becoming a sampling room and then the unofficial brewery tap. It was licensed as a public house in 1858, and remained as the Bass Brewery tap until 1991, when it was sold and passed through a succession of owners, until its acquisition by Joule's Brewery in 2008.

The Cooper’s had long been on my list, but despite several previous trips to Burton-on-Trent, I’d never managed a visit. I finally stepped inside this legendary pub back in March, when it was the penultimate stop on the “Proper Day Out” in the town and was not disappointed.

Best Days Out

Burton-on-Trent. No surprises that the “Proper Day Out”  in Britain's premier brewing town,  with a group of excellent fellows from the Beer & Pubs’ Forum, should feature as THE best day out I experienced in 2020.  Around half a dozen of us, drawn from various parts of the country, spent an enjoyable day visiting some of the Burton’s top pubs. I wrote about this memorable meet-up in the previous post, so won’t repeat myself here, but with a scarcity of other material, it’s difficult not to. 

Minnis Bay. A scorching hot, mid-September day without a cloud in the sky, wasn’t the best day to be travelling on Kent’s overcrowded roads, especially towards Thanet, but we received an invitation from Mrs PBT's brother and his girlfriend to join them for a few drinks and a meal, at a place called Minnis Bay; a sandy beach a short distance along the coast from Birchington,

We had a pre-booked table, on the front terrace of the Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie, a large box-like Shepherd Neame pub, overlooking the beach. We enjoyed a nice meal, which included homemade beer and onion pie for me, a decent pint of Whitstable Bay Pale, plus a good catch up with family. For a while, all was fine with the world and things seemed to be getting back to normal. Little did we know!

North Downs Way

Over the course of late spring and early summer, I spent several days filling in the some of the sections I’d missed along the North Downs Way.  These included walking from Wrotham to the Vigo Inn, and then onto Cuxton, followed by a further day’s walking from Blue Bell Hill to Cuxton. 

Finally, in mid-October, I spent two glorious days walking from Charing to Blue Bell Hill; a journey that included an overnight stop at the  Black Horse pub at Thurnham.

Between Christmas and New Year, I’d planned to walk the seven mile stretch from Wye to Charing, which would have virtually completed the Kentish section of this long-distance footpath. Unfortunately, poor weather, and the fact I haven’t yet replaced my worn out and knackered walking boots, has rather hampered this plan.


A few last thoughts, before finishing. The additional time afforded by the first lockdown, allowed the chance to reflect and perhaps even re-evaluate

one’s life. Being away from the nine to five treadmill gave people time to ponder on what’s important in their lives. Was it the relentless pursuit of money and material wealth, or are things like health, happiness and general well-being of far greater value?

I wrote the following words back in April, but only stumbled upon them again the other day. To me, they sum up some of the positives from that strange period in all our lives. For what they’re worth, I’ve reproduced them here.

“There was blue sky aplenty and the sun was shining down as we sat looking out over the garden. “Isn’t it quiet?” remarked my wife. I agreed, the background roar of traffic on the nearby A21 was absent, there wasn’t the usual regular whine of jet engines overhead, from planes bound for Gatwick. Instead, there was nothing apart from birdsong and the sound of the odd fastidious gardener mowing the grass.”

“Our garden has been our salvation; our quiet oasis at the back of the house, our sanctuary, respite and escape from the madness occurring in the outside world. It might need a little tender loving care, including a new fence, that’s being dealt with at present, but we’re so lucky to have somewhere to enjoy the natural world, without setting foot outside of the house.”

On that note, let’s see what 2021 brings. Happy New Year everyone!


Dave said...

A tough year, but like you said it had some good moments. All the blogs are are in the good points. Thx.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Dave, much appreciated!

retiredmartin said...

Lovely post. Quite a lot of shared experience there, Paul.

Those first pints back in the pub in July were indeed nectar (the beer was actually good at the start of December but the pub experience was wretched.

I agree about Rhossili and Minnis Bay. Both gorgeous in their way.

Best wishes for an early jab 😉

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