Tuesday 27 February 2024

Dark Beer Weekend at the Dovecote

Last Friday, in the company of a half dozen or so members of West Kent CAMRA branch, plus one small dog, I visited the Dovecote Inn, situated in the tiny hamlet of Capel. Travelling by bus, we took the 205 Autocar service from Tonbridge, and then alighted at Five Oak Green – a small, but rapidly expanding village, close to Paddock Wood. From there, it was a 25-minute walk, along the lanes to the Dovecote, which along with the adjacent row of Victorian houses, forms part of a rather isolated settlement.

This was a repeat of the journey a smaller group of us made a the end of October last year. The occasion back then was the Dovecote’s Green Hop Beer Festival, and this time it was a different festival that the pub was hosting in the form of their Dark Beer Weekend. The even featured 14 different dark beers, from 13 different breweries, all available from Friday onward for the duration of the festival, or until the beers ran out.  

The Dovecote is situated on the back road between Colts Hill and Tudeley which, as we discovered, was surprisingly busy. From the outside it is a typical Victorian building, that has been extended at the front and at the side, whilst to the rear there is a part-covered terrace, along with an extensive garden and large car-park. With very few chimney pots in the immediate vicinity, the Dovecote has always needed something different to offer its customers, and it achieves this by selling a wide range of cask beers (up to six), direct from the cask alongside a selection of what it describes as “good traditional, locally sourced homely food, in a cosy atmosphere”.

Arriving at the pub at around quarter to one, we found the pub already quite busy, with a party of expectant diners occupying the area to the right of the bar. We therefore made a grab for the other main seating area, at the opposite end of the building, but not before purchasing a few tokens. As with the Green Hop event, the Dark Beer Festival was tokens only, priced at £2.50 per half pint, regardless of strength. This seemed a little strange given that the pub was still taking payments (cash and card) behind the bar, although I suppose this policy kept the festival finances separate from the rest of the pubs transactions, including the food.

Several of us had already decided to have something to eat and seeing the number of people already in the pub, and knowing that the kitchen closed at 2pm, we got our orders in quick. My choice was the chicken, ham, and leek pie, served with mashed potato, veg and gravy – a no brainer really, given my love of pies. The food also arrived, whilst I was still on my first beer.

Speaking of which, there were a couple of old favourites featured on the line-up, in the form of Harvey’s XXXX Old Ale plus Larkin’s Porter. I was especially pleased to see the latter on sale, as it represented my first glass of this full-bodied, dark, seasonal ale this winter. Seasonal, is probably the wrong adjective, as I was told by a couple of branch members that Larkin’s now brew Porter all year round. Things have certainly changed since brewery founder Bob Dockerty’s passing, at the end of 2022, although I’d be interested to learn how many casks of Porter are sold during the summer months.

Other beers of note included Coffee & Irish Cream Stout, from North Riding Brewery, plus French Toast Brown Ale from New Bristol Brewery. Both beers tasted as their names suggested, and whilst not exactly mainstream, were interesting in their own right. I ended the session on a strong beer – Westerham’s Audit Ale a 6.2% abv strong ale, brewed to the same strength and using the same ingredients as the pre-war, Audit Ale from the original Westerham Brewery. My tasting notes on Untappd, describe the beer having a vinous taste, and I think this was deliberate, as barrel-aged, or vatted ales from the early part of the last century, would have had this characteristic, which is reminiscent of certain aged, strong Belgian beers.

Our group left the pub just after 3.15pm, allowing sufficient time to walk back to Five Oak Green and then catch the 3.44pm bus back to Tonbridge. I alighted at the Vauxhall Inn, on the edge of Tonbridge and under 10 minutes’ walk from home, but the others stayed onboard, heading, I believe, for Fuggles and no doubt more strong beers, possibly dark, but possibly not.

 A few final words about the Dovecote which is now back in the capable hands of licensees Simon and Lindsey who,
despite their laid-back appearance, run a highly professional and very tight ship, which is reflected in the strong client base they have built up since taking over the reins. Another familiar face from the past at the Dovecote, is the chef Yvonne, who used to run the Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells. She certainly cooks a mean chicken and ham pie, and her culinary skills are also fondly remembered by Mrs PBT’s who, upon knowing Yvonne was back in the kitchen, recalled the excellent Christmas dinner she provided for West Kent CAMRA members, 10 years ago at the Royal Oak.


Anonymous said...

You may remember from some of my posts in the past that I tend to drink mainly in country pubs. The Dovecote has been one of my favourites for many years, since the 60's when it was The Alders. Simon is very knowledgeable and enjoys his pint, which is always a good sign.
For my country pubs at the moment I Prefer to travel East from Tonbridge To The Rifleman, The Dovecote or my favourite The Man of Kent at East Peckham.
My old haunts, The Rock, The Greyhound and the Leicester Arms no longer attract me for various reasons, although The Castle is on the up and the Kentish Horse is as good as ever but a little too far.
Incidentally, the road closure signs on the approach road to The Dovecote are wrong, Linsey tells me the roads are in fact open.

Geengrass said...

Sorry, the above post was from Greengrass.

Paul Bailey said...

I thought the post was from your good self, Greengrass, as the pubs mentioned, more or less give the game away.

I remember the Dovecote as the Alders Inn, even as late at the early 90's, which must have been before Richard Allen bought the place, and installed the "casks through the wall" gravity dispense system. I too have heard good reports about the Castle at Chiddingstone, although sadly those about the Rock are less complimentary - too many beers on, possibly?

I wish I'd ignored those road closure signs yesterday, as the lad and I planned to call in there yesterday, on the way back from B&Q. Strangely enough, I thought of visiting the Man of Kent, at East Peckham instead, and wish that I had now, after seeing your endorsement.