Tuesday, 18 October 2016

6th CAMRA Real Ale & Cider Festival and Autumn Diesel Gala

With just three days to go, here is a belated plug for my own local CAMRA branch’s Beer Festival. The 6th West Kent CAMRA Real Ale & Cider Festival, held in conjunction with the Spa Valley Railway (SVR), takes place this coming weekend (21st - 23rd October), at the Heritage Railway’s preserved Victorian Engine Shed at Tunbridge Wells West Station.

This year’s event will be bigger than ever, with 130 Real Ales, 27 Green Hop Beers, plus 15 Key-Key/Cask Beers and for the first time the festival will be featuring a number of Belgian Beers. There will also be 30 traditional ciders; most of them locally sourced from within either Kent or Sussex.

As in previous years, the beers and ciders will be spread out between the three stations at Tunbridge Wells, Groombridge & Eridge; although the majority will found at Tunbridge Wells. There will also be bars on two of the SVR’s train sets. To reach all the locations the organisers recommend a day rover ticket, which allows unlimited travel all day, up and down the line between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. For CAMRA members there is a special CAMRA Day Rover ticket available for just £15!

I haven’t been involved with the organisation of this year’s event, but I will be there on Saturday, at one or more of the locations, serving behind the bar. So why not come along and treat yourself to a ride through the Kent and Sussex countryside, and stop and say hello.

Full details of the festival, including a list of all the beers and ciders, can be found by clicking the link here.

Monday, 17 October 2016

The rise of "Craft-Spirits"

Although not beer related, the following post is still about alcoholic liquor, but in this instance we will be looking at a class of alcoholic drink which is considerably stronger than beer. I am referring of course to spirits, and in particular gin; a type of spirit once looked down upon as “mother’s ruin”, but which has now undergone a complete renaissance and spawned a whole new drinks sector in the form of “artisan spirits”.

This post was sparked by an article in the local press which alerted me to the recent opening of a gin distillery at a location just to the north of  my home town of Tonbridge. The Greensand Ridge Distillery, is the brain-child of Sevenoaks entrepreneur Will Edge, and is launching a range of different gins with the theme of “sustainability”. This will be achieved by using quality fruit, which has been rejected by supermarkets owing to issues of size and shape, and this will be enhanced with locally sourced “botanicals”, including such diverse items as cobnuts, gorse flowers and oak moss.

Mr Edge, formerly worked in IT, marketing and finance, took a Masters Degree in Brewing & Distilling, before going ahead with the plans for his gin distillery. Right from the start he was keen to promote the concept of “sustainability”, so much so that the company’s distillation plant is powered by 100% renewable electricity. In addition and the distillery is committed to using no chemicals (hot, recyclable, high-pressure water is used for cleaning), and zero non-recyclable waste. The company is named after the sandstone ridge which lies just north of the village of Shipbourne, where the business is located.

Greensand Ridge Distillery becomes part of a rapidly growing group of companies, as the number of gin distilleries in Britain has doubled in six years. Last year alone saw 49 new plants opening, after a huge growth in demand for “artisan gin”. The increase, up from 116 gin producers in 2010, is said to have been driven by "boutique distilleries" that are making small batches of the spirit.

“Artisan gin” first hit the market back in 2009, with the opening of the Sipsmith Distillery in London. The firm’s traditional copper distillery was the first such example in London for nearly 200 years, and it took a change in the law for HM Revenue and Customs to be able to grant the company their licence. Prior to this, gin tended to be produced on an industrial scale, rather than in small batches. The government said the quantity of gin the company was producing – 300 litres from the original still – was so small it was technically classed as "moonshine". It took two years of lobbying by Sipsmith, for the law to be changed.

It is not just gin which is undergoing a revival; other spirits such as vodka and whisky are also seeing a renaissance. The opening, in late 2006 of the English Whisky Company’s operation at Roudham, in the Breckland area of Norfolk; the first English whisky distillery in over 100 years proved the catalyst for a number of other distillers to set up shop.

Like Sipsmith, the English Whisky Company also fell foul of HMRC, who wouldn’t consider granting a license for anything smaller than an 1800 litre set-up. Unlike their gin compatriots though, the Nelstrop family, who own the business, decided to go for broke, and set up an operation which met the Custom and Excise people’s requirements.

I have driven past the turning to the English Whisky Company’s site many times on my journeys up to Norfolk and back, but as the turn-off is close to the end of my outward journey, and I am usually in a hurry, I have never found the time to stop there. Looking at the company’s website, it seems a visit would be well worth while, as along with a well-stocked shop, daily tours of the distillery and bonded warehouse are also available.

I said at the start of this post that it was not beer related, but in a number of ways it is. The initial stage in the production of malt whisky involves malted barley being mashed in a very similar way to making beer, with the extraction of sugars from the malted barley. Unlike beer there are no hops, or other flavouring ingredients added, and fermentation of the sweet wort is the next stage, followed by distillation and maturation.

In the case of malt whisky, the young raw spirit produced, must undergo maturation in oak casks for a period of at least three years, so setting up a malt whisky business from scratch is both costly and time-consuming.

The raw spirit used for both gin and vodka manufacture, is produced from a number of different and often diverse sources, including barely, wheat, rye and potatoes. There may be a maturation process, particularly if the end products are flavoured, and the production of enhanced gins and vodkas is another strong growth area of the market.

On a more general note, the massive rise in numbers of micro-breweries, followed by that of the craft-beer movement, not only proved the demand for more locally sourced and hand-crafted products, but also provided the perfect role models for distillers of artisan spirits to follow. The world of spirits then, finds itself owing much to the world of beer, and the rise of these distinctive and flavourful drinks is something to be valued and applauded, in the same way that the rise of so many diverse beer styles has.

I obviously welcome this new trend as even though I am not much of a spirits drinker, the increased variety of distilled beverages available is to be applauded. Speaking personally, the occasional glass of single malt whisky, Irish whiskey or Cognac is about my limit, although spirit-based cocktails are also enjoyable.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Regensburger Weissebräuhaus

Most German cities, and indeed many German towns, have a brew-pub; some larger cities will obviously have several. Regensburg is no exception, and on our first day in the city, following a full morning of sight-seeing and shopping, we found ourselves at the Regensburger Weissebräuhaus in search of a spot of lunch.

The sun was shining and the temperature warm, so we grabbed one of the tables on the pavement outside and sat down waiting for the waiter to arrive. Matt and I had been to the Regensburger Weissebräuhaus on our previous visit to Regensburg, back in 2008. 

The bar
On that occasion we had also sat outside, enjoying a couple of late night beers as hordes of crazy cyclists sped by, ringing their bells and shouting in delight at Germany’s win against Turkey that night, in the semi-finals of the Euro 2008 Football Tournament. Their excitement was to be short lived, as a few days later, the home team lost to Spain in the final, but for that night at least, the townsfolk had cause for celebration.

Returning to the present, we had a typical Bavarian lunch of Schnitzel with potato salad for Eileen and Matt, whilst I had Leberkaas (meat loaf) with Spiegelei (fried egg) and roast potatoes. Matt and I had a couple of half litres each of the house-brewed Helles, which was very good. It is worth mentioning here that most German brew-pubs follow a relatively “safe” formula of brewing a Helles, a Dunkles plus a Wheat beer, with perhaps the odd seasonal at certain times of the year.
Leberkaas & Spiegelei (the gravy's an unusual addition)

The Regensburger Weissebräuhaus is no exception, although as might be guessed at from the name, Wheat beer is the speciality of the house, with both light and dark versions offered, but as I am not a fan of German wheat beers, I stuck with the Helles. Using the excuse of needing a pee, I took the opportunity of a look inside. The attractive, polished copper brewing kit dominates the corner of the pub nearest the entrance, and extends up to the next floor, which coincidentally is where the toilets are situated.

The brewer had just finished the days brew, and was clearing up, but the delicious smells left over from mashing and boiling still permeated the building. For some strange reason, the upper floor was busier than the ground – perhaps people didn’t want their leisurely lunch being disturbed by the brewing activities taking place below, but I thought it was good to see the plant being used for its intended purpose.

We didn’t return to the Regensburger Weissebräuhaus, as there were just too many other places to eat and drink in the city, but if you ever find yourself at a loose end in Regensburg, you could do a lot worse than call in there.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Greyhound Charcott - Update

It’s been several weeks now since I wrote about the Greyhound at Charcott, and the lifeline thrown to the pub by local brewers, Larkin’s of Chiddingstone. In case anyone missed the original article, the Greyhound is a pub owned by Enterprise Inns, in the tiny hamlet of Charcott, close to where I work in Chiddingstone Causeway.

The Greyhound is a pleasant bright and breezy local, with views across the fields towards the hills which rise to form the High Weald. There still seems to be three distinct areas in the main part of the pub, although the divisions that marked the former bars are long gone. During the winter months, open fires supplement the central heating. Like many country pubs it relied heavily on the food trade, and Tony, the former licensee was a trained chef. With a separate restaurant area the Greyhound was popular with the lunchtime car-trade; mainly retired people out for a drive in the country, although it did also attract a fair number of walkers.

Something must have wrong somewhere along the line, because just over two years ago, Tony and his partner Alison decided they’d had enough of the pub trade and tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to sell their lease. Owners Enterprise Inns had also been attempting to sell the freehold, but matters came to a head towards the end of August, when the licensees handed back their keys and left the pub.

This was when local heroes Larkin’s stepped in, with an offer to rent the pub, on a short-term lease, provided the lease was free of tie, thereby enabling the brewery to sell its own beers. I later found out that if Larkins hadn’t stepped in, the pub would have been closed and boarded up until either a new tenant or owner could be found. This would have been a disaster for a pretty little place like Charcott, so hats of to Larkin’s for coming to the rescue.

With six weeks having now elapsed I wanted to see how the Greyhound is doing, so I popped in this lunchtime for a look, plus a quick pint. I often walk past the pub at lunchtimes, and I noticed last week, following my return from Germany, that it is now closed  weekday lunchtimes, apart from Fridays, when it open between midday and 3pm.

I walked up from Chiddingstone Causeway and then followed the path across the old airfield, primarily to make sure I still got a decent lunchtime walk in. I arrived shortly after 1.15pm, and found the door propped open. To my surprise there was no-one in the pub, apart from the landlord. I was pleased though to see Larkin’s Green Hop Best on sale alongside the brewery’s Traditional and Pale Ale, so I ordered myself a pint.

I asked the landlord, who I later discovered is called Mike, as to how the pub is doing; particularly as the food side of the business has been dropped (for the time being at least). He told me the pub is well supported at weekends, attracting a good number of locals. As proof of this he walked over to the right hand section of the pub, after he’d finished serving me, and began making up the fire, in readiness for the expected evening trade.

Not long after, a second customer appeared. He was obviously a regular, as the landlord and he were on first name terms. I joined in the conversation which centred on village matters, but also included a chat about our railways. This was because landlord Mike had once worked for Railtrack – the predecessors of Network Rail. I managed to steer the conversation back to more local matters, as I was keen learn more about the still closed Castle Inn at nearby Chiddingstone.

It seems some progress is being reached made with the latter, as the National Trust, who are the owners of this unspoilt 15th Century Inn, are reported to be close to signing a lease with a new tenant. For the background to this disturbing story of greed, on behalf of one of Britain’s best known landowners, see my post here from June, this year.

Just over twenty minutes later, it was unfortunately time for me to leave and make my way back to work. The Larkin’s Green Hop Best had been excellent, with some rich pine-like resins present; from the generous hopping the beer has received. A couple of years ago, the same beer (or rather that particular year’s version), won the award for “Beer of the Festival”, at the Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival; an event run jointly by West Kent CAMRA and the Heritage Railway. The beer will feature at this year’s event, which takes place next weekend (further details to follow).

There was a distinct autumnal feel in the air, as I made my way back to work. The air was still, and the sky over-cast; with the occasional brief glimpse of the sun trying to make its way through the clouds. I was thinking that in a month or so time, Larkin’s Porter will be available, and it will be good to see it on sale at the Greyhound.

In the meantime, I trust people will continue to show support for the pub. I certainly intend to set aside Friday lunchtime for a swift pint at the Greyhound, and look forward to others doing the same.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf and the Brewing Nuns

I feel it’s good when away on holiday to sometimes take a little excursion somewhere else; a “side-trip” as the Americans would say to a place or location not too far from the vicinity of where one is staying, but equally just far enough as to make the trip worthwhile, and something of an adventure.

My son and I have done this on several occasions; as have I, when I’ve stayed somewhere on my own. My wife, however, was not over keen on the idea of such an excursion, when I put it to her during our stay in Regensburg; particularly as she guessed (rightly) there would not only be beer involved, but a degree of walking as well.

I actually had two trips in mind, but as I had done the first of these (a boat-ride down the Danube, from Kelheim, to Kloster-Weltenburg) on a previous visit to Regensburg, I was keener to undertake the second excursion. This was a visit to another holy place, in the form of the abbey at Mallersdorf; the only remaining nunnery in Europe where the Sisters brew their own beer.

Sister Doris
Two years ago I wrote about Sister Doris, the legendary Brewster at Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf. For the past 45 years she has risen well before most of the other sisters on brewing days, in order to start work in the abbey brew-house by 3:30 am. She’s even allowed to skip the obligatory morning prayers in order to perform her tasks in the brewery. Most of the beers Sister Doris brews are for consumption within the convent, and as they are not sold elsewhere, it is necessary to journey to the abbey in order to sample them.

A visit to Kloster-Mallersdorf had been on my wish-list for some time, but it wasn’t until a week or so before our holiday that I realised the abbey was within reasonable travelling distance of where we would be staying. After looking into it further, I discovered it was roughly an hour’s train journey from Regensburg, and then a short walk (18 minutes according to Google Maps), from Mallersdorf station.  

The impressive Kloster-Mallersdorf
The only trouble was the convent is perched on a hill over-looking the village of Mallersdorf-Pfaffenberg, and this was the deal breaker as far as my wife was concerned. She did say though, that she had no problem with me going; either on my own, or taking our son along as well. Rather than walking half-way up a mountain, she was perfectly happy to spend the day in Regensburg, just chilling out

So come the next day, I said farewell to my wife and son and wandered down to Regensburg’s main station. Trains were timed at roughly 30 minute intervals, so there was no need to rush. The temperature had been a little on the cool side when I left, but by the time I boarded the train, the mercury had begun to climb and it was necessary to remove the thin fleece I had been wearing.

Mallersdorf station - by request only
I travelled on the 11:14 train south from Regensburg, and my journey involved changing trains at a town called Neufahrn in Niederbayern. From there it was just a 10 minute ride, up the valley, on a branch line train. It was very pleasant travelling through the Bavarian countryside, which was looking particularly good in the late September sunshine, and the fields of ripened sunflowers, waiting to be harvested, formed a memorable sight against the backdrop of the steadily rising hills.

I asked the conductor, when he came to check my ticket, about the branch-line service, as my pre-printed schedule from Deutsche Bahn stated that Mallersdorf was a “request stop”. He told me to advise the driver when boarding the train, but as things happened he was also leaving the train at Neufahrn and very kindly walked over to the other platform with me, and told the driver himself.

Abbey church at Kloster-Mallersdorf
There were one or two passengers boarding at Mallersdorf, so the train stopped anyway, but it was a nice gesture from the conductor, and an example of excellent customer service on behalf of the German Railways. The diesel-powered train left on time, and began its leisurely journey along the single-track line. Ten minutes later, I alighted at Mallersdorf and set off to reach abbey.

There was a street of quite upmarket looking houses close to the station, but at the end of Bahhofstraße I passed into open countryside. I could see the impressive bulk of Kloster-Mallersdorf, high on top of a hill overlooking the village, as I continued my journey. The road leading up to the abbey was quite steep, so I was pleased, in a way that my wife had chosen not to accompany me, as I would not have heard the last of how "I dragged her up a mountain”, for some time!

Fortunately, my regular lunchtime walks meant the hill was not too much of a challenge, and as I kept to the shady side of the road, I felt fine by the time I reached the top. Unlike many monastery breweries I have been to, there is no bar or restaurant at the abbey itself for visitors to stop for a drink or bite to eat. Members of the public may buy bottles to take away; as I discovered later, but fortunately the privately-owned and family run Klosterbräustüberl, adjacent to the abbey gates, does provide a friendly welcome to both locals and visitors alike; although it is worth remembering that it is closed all day Monday.

I made my way round to the small garden area, overlooking the abbey, at the side of the pub, as that seemed where most of the customers had gravitated to. On a glorious late September day, who could blame them, so I decided to follow suite, and after finding an empty table, waited for the waitress to come and take my order. 

The abbey brewery produces two beers; a Vollbier Helles and a Zoigl. Both are 5.0% ABV. I ordered a half litre of the former, but as it appeared quite hazy, I wondered whether I had been served the unfiltered Zoigl by mistake.

When the time came for a second beer, I asked the waitress if there had been a mix-up with my order. She assured me that there hadn’t, and brought me a glass of Zoigl which, if anything, was even hazier.

Now I have to be honest by saying that neither of these beers were stunning, or even classics; but they were good solid, workaday beers of the sort anyone living close to the abbey would be more than happy to drink For my part, I was just pleased to be there, sunning myself in the garden whilst enjoying this small idyllic corner of Bavaria.

The small beer garden - Klosterbräustüberl
It seemed the locals were happy to be there too, for as well as a couple of tables for diners, there was that most German of pub traditions, a Stammtisch, or “regulars table”. Now over the years I have become reasonably fluent in German, and like most people learning a foreign language find I can understand more of what is being said than I can actually speak, but I struggled to understand a word of what the mainly male group sat around the Stammtisch, were saying. They were obviously conversing in the local Bavarian dialect; something people from other parts of Germany find almost unintelligible – so what chance had I?

View from the beer garden
The menu at Klosterbräustüberl Mallersdorf looked filling and keenly priced (the beer was good value too at one Euro less than what we had been paying in Regensburg), but I was conscious that for the past few days I had been eating quite filling meals, along with the rest of my family. I had made a decision beforehand, not to eat at the pub, as I knew we would be having a heavy meal in  the evening, so the cheese and tomato roll, I’d bought in Regensburg would do just right; although I waited until I got back to the station before eating it.

Before leaving, I asked the waitress if the pub sold bottled beer to take away. She told me they didn’t, but pointed me in the direction of the abbey, just across the way, where she informed me I could buy carry-outs.

A glimpse of the brewery through the window
I settled my bill, and following her instructions walked through the archway entrance and into the main courtyard of the abbey. There was an incline leading down to the right, and there at the bottom of the slope I could see a parked car with its boot opened, with a nun supervising the loading of a crate of beer into the back of the vehicle. I made my way down towards this scene of activity, but not before a quick peep through the windows of what was obviously the brew-house, on the other side of the courtyard.

In my best German I asked the Holy Sister, who was serving the customers, if it was possible to buy single bottles of beer, rather than a whole crate. She told me it was and, asked how many would I like. I settled for two, but not before enquiring if they had more than Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf beer, one type of beer on sale. Unfortunately they hadn’t, but I came away with two handsome-looking, swing top bottles of complete with a smiling photo of Sister Doris herself, on the label; and all for the princely sum of € 2.50.
Where the locals come for their take-outs

Pleased with my purchases I made my way back down towards the station and caught a train shortly before 3pm. I had a bit of a wait at Neufahrn for my connection, so to kill some time I walked towards the town centre, primarily to buy a bottle of water. It was still very warm out, and despite the beer I’d drunk, I was feeling thirsty.

On the way back, I paused to reflect for a few minutes at a memorial garden dedicated to the dead of two World Wars. Reading just a few of the many names of servicemen killed between 1939 & 1945, brought home to me the terrible price paid by the German people for that horrific conflict; the seeds of which were sown in 1933, with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reichs Chancellor, and which ended in 1945, following the deaths of almost 50 million people, and the utter destruction of the German nation.

Memorial garden for the war dead of Neufahrn
My train back to Regensburg was packed with students, returning to university in the city after the long summer break. I managed to get a seat in one of the old-style compartment coaches, and was rocked gently off to sleep by the swaying of the train and the warm air blowing in through the window.

Fortunately I awoke in plenty of time to depart the train, and then made my way back through the city, to our hotel. I plonked the bottles of Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf beer down in front of my wife, as I’m not sure she had quite believed me at first about the brewing nuns! It turned out her and Matt had spent an interesting day as well, exploring Regensburg.

Proof of my visit
Later that evening, we celebrated by going for a typical Bavarian meal at Weltenburg am Dom; a traditional restaurant in the shadow of the cathedral, with a small beer garden attached, run on behalf of the Holy Fathers at Kloster Weltenburg. After brewing nuns, it seemed only right we should try a beer or two produced by some brewing monks!

Footnote: the article attached to this link, includes an interview with Sister Doris, where she describes how she first became a brewer at Kloster- Mallersdorf, and how each of the nearly 500 nuns at the abbey contribute in their own special way to both life in the convent, and the outside world.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Closed for Business

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at some stage in our drinking careers, and I know that certain bloggers have written about it as well; including retiredmartin who described the problems he encountered on Exmoor, back in the summer.

For my part it wasn’t too much of a problem; licensees after all are entitled to a holiday, like the rest of us and when I got home I did find the pub had given due notice of the closure on its website.

I was out for a bike ride - the first time I’ve been in the saddle since my visit to Brabant, back in August. There was no reason why I would have checked the Plough’s website before setting off, especially as the pub normally attracts quite a crowd on a Sunday. If truth be known, I wasn’t exactly sure as to where I was heading when I left home, but having ended up near the pub, I fancied a drink and the chance to rest my legs for a short while.

I cycled back into Tonbridge and whilst I did toy with the idea of popping into the  local Spoon’s, the moment had passed and I really couldn’t be bothered to chain up my bike and join the Sunday lunchtime crowd, three or four people deep at the bar. Instead I continued home and had a nice cup of tea instead.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

An Evening in Kentish Town

A Trade Show brought me to London’s Docklands on Friday afternoon, and whilst the exhibition wasn’t particularly up to much, my visit did at least afford the opportunity to meet up with an old friend and work colleague in the evening.

My wife and I worked with Andrew, back in the early 1980’s when we were all employed by one of Tonbridge’s largest companies. We went our separate ways, work- wise, when the major part of the firm's business was sold off in 1985. Andrew gravitated up to London and we lost touch; until last year, when we arranged a reunion back in Tonbridge.

It seemed a good idea for me to meet up with him, on his home-patch this time; particularly as he was always a totally committed pub and beer man, so on Friday evening we met at Kentish Town tube station, close to Andrew’s home. Just across from the station is a large, handsome looking pub called the Assembly House, and it was there that we headed to first.

The Assembly House is Grade II listed, and according to WhatPub, it was built in 1896. With its large and prominent French chateau style tower, it is quite a landmark locally.  The interior is large, having been opened out in recent years, and is naturally lit by clear windows. There is a large bar counter which extends from the front room, round the side and into the back room, but the most striking feature is the etched glass to the right hand side of the large single room. There is also a skylight in what was once the billiard room, at the back of the pub.

We found a table close to the door, after first grabbing ourselves a couple of pints. There was a selection of interesting beer on sale, including offerings from Old Dairy, Truman’s and Windsor & Eton. We both opted for the latter in the form of the brewery’s light and refreshing Parklife. Coming in at just 3.2% ABV, this pale light ale manages to pack plenty of flavour for its low strength, and in view of this it was a good beer to start on. What’s more, it was served in a dimpled jug.

Andrew had already told me about the Assembly House’s popularity, and on a Friday evening, the pub was bound to be busy. With this in mind, we decided to leave, but primarily to ensure we got a seat at the next pub. This was a short bus ride away and was the legendary Southampton Arms; a pub I had read a lot about and had always wanted to visit.

I wasn’t disappointed when we walked through the doors of this small, traditional London boozer with its long thin bar and pew style seating. Anyone who has been there will be aware of the pub’s policy of only stocking beers from small independent breweries, along with a range of 8 traditional ciders. There are also two lagers from the Meantime Brewery of Greenwich.

The ales are dispensed from a line of hand-pumps on the bar, whilst the ciders come from a further set of hand-pulls along the back wall. The latter is covered with some original white tiles, and to complete the Southampton’s authenticity there are two fine old pub mirrors; one advertising beers from Lacon’s of Yarmouth and the other, that former great ale of old England, Draught Bass.The pub also offers a limited range of bar-snack type food, in the form of pork pies, sausage rolls, scotch eggs, roast pork in baps plus various vegetarian options.

We were lucky to find a seat on the end of one of the benches, and having secured this, decided to stay put for the rest of the evening. We drank our way through three of the beers; or rather I did, as my friend stuck with the first one, which was Howling Hops Pale XX 5.0% ABV. I also tried the same brewery’s 3.8 % Pale Ale, and an interesting 5% dark, seasonal beer from Salopian, called POGO.

There was a good crowd in the pub, with the small garden area at the rear providing a welcome overspill. We couldn’t help noticing that we were by far the oldest two people there; not that it mattered and I have to say the service from the knowledgeable bar staff was friendly and exemplary, allowing us to try the beers before deciding which to have.

We were, of course, had lots of catching up to do, and the time was slipping away, so shortly before 10pm I resisted the temptation of a final pint, and we departed. We crossed the road and caught the bus back to Kentish Town station, where Andrew and I parted company. I took the tube to Charing Cross and then the train home to Tonbridge. Despite falling asleep a number of times I managed not to miss my stop.

We have arranged a further night’s sampling in Kentish Town, where my friend has promised to take me to his local; a pub with the strange name of Tapping the Admiral. As far as Friday’s session was concerned, the beers in both pubs were good, and I scored them at either 3.5 or 4 NBSS on the WhatPub site. My only slight grouse was that London prices take a bit of getting used to; with £4 a pint at the Assembly House and a slightly more reasonable £3.80 at the Southampton Arms.

Photos: I didn’t have my camera with me and, given the poor light conditions on Friday evening, the few photos I took with my Smartphone were grainy and out of focus. The photos accompanying this post therefore appear courtesy of WhatPub.