Sunday, 19 May 2013

Land of the Rising Sun

I'm off to Japan early tomorrow morning, so won't be blogging for a while. It's a business trip and together with a colleague, I will be visiting our parent company's head office and manufacturing facility in Kyoto.

For both of us, this will be our first time in Japan, and we're really looking forward to it. We've a busy schedule ahead of us, with lots of meetings, tours and demonstrations to fully occupy our time there. Several of our evenings are also marked out for us, with many of our Japanese colleagues keen to wine, dine and entertain us. We do, however, have some free time for sight-seeing, shopping etc., next weekend, before flying back on the Bank Holiday Monday.

I don't expect there will be much opportunity for beer-hunting, although I've managed to do a bit of forward research on-line. There are several breweries in Kyoto, including a couple of brew pubs. The on-line guide I saw advises that bottles from most of these breweries are available in major department stores, so if I don't manage to track down any of these breweries, at least I should be able to pick up some bottles to bring back with me.

I'll be reporting back in about 10 days time.

Last Night in Tunbridge Wells

 As promised, here's a resume of last night's outing to Tunbridge Wells

I met up with Eric at Tonbridge station where we were also joined by Jon. We made the short train journey to TunbridgeWells and then had a leisurely walk, up the hill, to the Royal Oak. We found the pub packed, and although we could have found a seat, it was rather warm inside so, feeling a little flushed after our walk up from the station, decided to sit out on the terrace in front of the pub - after ordering our drinks of course!

 As I probably mentioned in my precious post, the Royal Oak was holding a beer festival, and we soon discovered that the theme was London breweries. It was a "rolling festival", which meant not all the beers were available at any one time. Instead, fresh beers were put on sale as soon as the current ones sold out. This of course had the advantage of most of the beers being "cellar cool", although there were a couple served direct from casks perched up on the bar. These were protected by insulated jackets, which ensured that they too were kept at the correct temperature.

All the beers, and indeed some of the breweries, were new to me, but the knowledgeable staff were able to issue guidelines as to the style, taste and appearance of each beer - other outlets, please take note! We all started with Mayor of Garratt, a 4.3% Best Bitter from By the Horns Brewery. We all agreed that this was an excellent example of a proper London Best Bitter, and for me this beer was the best of the evening. Two of us then moved on to Orchid, a 3.6% dark mild from East London Brewery. The barmaid was quite right when she advised it had liquorice and vanilla notes, and it certainly was another excellent beer. For our third, and final beer at the Oak, my colleagues chose Diamond Geezer, a 4.9% strong bitter, again from .By the Horns Brewery. I opted for Notting Hill Ruby Rye from Moncada Brewery, brewed as its name suggests with a portion of rye. Normally I steer clear of "red ales", but I have to say this one was certainly very pleasant, and didn't taste as strong as its 5.2% strength might have suggested.

We made this our final pint last at the Royal Oak. It was getting chilly outside, and the pub was becoming more and more crowded inside. The band had started up, and whilst all three of us appreciate live music, we really wanted to chat. Besides, we were hoping to meet up with our friends Iain and Carole. We assumed they would be in the Grove Tavern, so we made our way through the back streets to the Little Mount Sion area of Tunbridge Wells.

They weren't in the pub, but no matter, there was Harvey's Best and Olympia, plus Taylor's Landlod to tempt us to stay. We all went for the Landlord, which was in fine form, in fact I would sat the beer seems to have returned to something approaching its old best. There was talk of moving on to the Compasses, over the road, but we were comfortable where we were, and it wasn't that long before we would need to depart anyway to catch the last train home. A second, and final pint of Landlord was duly called for before we strolled back down the hill to the station, in plenty of time for our train.

Once again another good night over at the Wells; it's just a pity we don't have pubs of this calibre in Tonbridge.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Not Going Out - Part 3

The flip side of course about “Not Going Out”, is Staying In”. So how does someone who really likes a glass or two of decent beer equate this with not venturing down to the local pub?

Easy, just pick up a selection of decent bottles from whichever supermarket or off-licence is offering the best deals. Then, drink and enjoy! The first thing I want to get straight is that whilst I’ve been a member of CAMRA for nearly 40 years, apart from my early days with the campaign, I’ve never really gone along with this Real Ale in a Bottle (RAIB) nonsense. I’ve gone on record before to say that whilst RAIBs can sometimes be excellent, more often than not they are pretty dire (primarily due to poor bottling techniques, inadequate hygiene measures etc at many small breweries), and I don’t see any advantages in them whatsoever. CAMRA needs to alter its position on this, but somehow I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

Moving on, all the major supermarkets now offer a goods selection of bottles beers, sourced both from her in the UK as well as some of the better known examples from abroad. Obviously they wont carry as wide or diverse a selection as a specialist off-licence, but generally speaking, the larger the store, the greater the selection.  Waitrose, in my opinion,  are the best of the major supermarkets, and my local branch makes a point of stocking beers from some of our better known local breweries, such as Westerham, Whitstable and Hog’s  Back, alongside some of the more usual suspects. They also carry a reasonable range of foreign beers, both ales and lagers, alongside “own brand” lagers, ales and wheat beers from the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium.

Our local Sainsbury isn’t too bad either, also stocking Westerham beers alongside a number from the rarely seen (in this neck of the woods) Hopdaemon Brewery. For budget stuff, “cooking bitter”, Lidl’s step up to the mark with bargain basement offers, from time to time, on beers from Marstons or Shepherd Neame. I usually avoid the latter, I really dislike Shep’s, but recently we’ve seen Oyster Stout from Marstons, alongside Jennings Cocker-Hoop for just £1.19 a bottle!

Both Sainsbury’s and Waitrose run promotions along the lines of three bottles for five pounds or, less often, three for the price of two, and I normally take advantage of these offers to stock up on beers I am partial too. Prior to Christmas, I built up quite a stock of both London Porter and 1845 from Fullers, as well as Budvar Dark and Goose Island IPA. Incidentally, the latter is currently on promotion at Waitrose at two bottles for three pounds – an absolute bargain!  I’ve also been enjoying the Duchy Originals India Pale Ale, brewed at Wychwood Breweruy and bittered with English Sovereign hops. Nice beer, and nice price at three bottles for a fiver!  Morrisons and Tesco also run similar promotions to their rivals, but for me both stores involve a trip to either Tunbridge Wells or Sevenoaks respectively.

If I am feeling a bit more flushed I will pop into M&S and take advantage of their six bottles for the price of five offers which allows customers to “mix and match”. They also do a half decent Czech lager, from Regent Brewery I believe, at just over £1.50 a bottle.

Other sources of good bottled beer include our local farmers’ market, where Hepworths usually have a stall, or visits to certain breweries. Harvey’s have a wonderfully stocked shop, adjacent to their brewery in Lewes, but it is also possible to pick up bottles from Westerham when they hold their brewery open days. Since my wife and I sold our own off-licence, the Cask and Glass, six years ago, and following the recent closure of the similarly-styled Bitter End in Tunbridge Wells, there aren’t any specialist beer shops locally that I can think of, although Noble Wines in Tunbridge Wells does carry a small selection from Harvey’s, Nelson and Old Dairy from time to time.

Well that’s enough about sourcing the stuff; what about drinking it? First, I don’t drink anything like as much at home as I would in a pub. I normally find a single 500ml bottle quite sufficient, although sometimes I will follow it with say a 330ml bottle of something a bit more unusual, or that little bit stronger. Occasionally, mainly at weekends, I will stretch to a couple of 500ml bottles, but this doesn’t happen that often. Contrast this to when I go to the pub where three of four pints would be quite normal, mainly because I will be drinking with a group of friends, and somehow on these occasions the beer just seems to slide down so much easier!

So what do I do with the time that I might otherwise be spending down the pub? Well, I write this blog for a start, that keeps me out of mischief. This time of year and indeed right through from early spring to late autumn, I spend a lot of time outdoors. I won’t go so far to say I am a keen gardener, but I do like to keep our back yard looking neat and tidy, and just recently I’ve started growing a few vegetables. During the winter months there are usually plenty of DIY projects to keep me busy.

All in all, staying in, enjoying the odd beer or two, spending time with the family, blogging, gardening etc does make me appreciate far more those times when I do venture out. I’m off over Tunbridge Wells tonight, meeting up with a good friend whom I haven’t seen in ages. We’re heading to the Royal Oak, who are holding a rolling beer festival in the pub. It’ll be good to have a nattier over a few pints of something out of the ordinary. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Not Going Out - Part Two

In my previous post I argued that many professional people had been priced out of pubs by the high cost of beer, (and other drinks). An unfortunate side effect of this is that licensees have tried to make up the shortfall by appealing to those who can still afford several nights a week in their local boozer. Two or three decades ago this group would have comprised well-paid industrial workers, coal miners and people involved in activities such as steel making or heavy engineering. However, with the decline in these industries,  pubs had to look elsewhere for the bulk of their trade. For a while, during the construction boom at the end of the last century and beginning of this one, there were large numbers of skilled tradesmen, bricklayers, plumbers and electricians, all with plenty of spare cash in their pockets and looking for somewhere to unwind after a hard day’s graft. The pub provided the opportunity for them to relax and enjoy a few drinks with their mates, or fellow tradesmen.

All this changed, of course, with the financial crisis of 2008, followed by the loss of confidence, and collapse in demand for new housing and other property developments. The effect on the construction industry was devastating, and many skilled tradesmen found themselves out of work. Once again, a lot of pubs ended up bereft of a large proportion of their regular trade, but this time there was no obvious group to replace them. In desperation, many landlords decided that what their customers wanted was a regular diet of Sky Sports, so they subsequently invested heavily in this area, in the hope it would pull in the punters.

In a way it did, but lager-swilling louts wearing football shirts aren’t really the sort of customers conducive to a friendly relaxed atmosphere, and the end result has been that a large number of pubs now resemble American bars. Step inside and there is no escape from the all pervasive TV screens, or the foul language of some of these so-called football supporters.

The fact that so many formerly unspoilt locals have ended up like this is sufficient to deter people like me from ever setting foot in them again, but this situation would not have arisen if back in the 1970’s the brewers, who were the main pub owners at the time, hadn’t embarked on a program of knocking down internal walls and removing the age old distinctions between public and saloon bars. At least in those days if one didn’t like the crowd in the public bar, one could escape to the saloon and vice versa. Now, with so many pubs resembling nothing more than soulless, single room "drinking barns", there is no escape. On top of this comes the more or less universal assault on ones ear-drums from juke boxes, piped muzak or the all pervasive television. Why do landlords and bar staff think that everyone shares their dubious taste in music?  Why do they think we want to watch horse racing, golf, snooker or any number of other sporting pursuits?

Some licensees have tried, with some degree of success, activities such as quiz nights, to help to bring the punters in, but things such as karaoke nights or poker evenings are nothing but a major turn off so far as I am concerned, and smack of desperation. As for the effect of the smoking ban, well pubs were in decline for a long time prior to the introduction of that ill thought out piece of legislation.

Some pubs have moved in the opposite direction and now function as little more than high class restaurants. On the whole, food is a development that ought to be welcomed in pubs, so long as they continue to provider a reasonable amount of space for people who just want to drink. 

So what’s to be done to encourage people like me, and others, to return to the pub? Well, although it would be nice, it would be naive in the extreme to expect a return to two, or even multi-bar pubs, but I can’t help thinking that the rush to do away with what were considered as “outdated symbols of class division” was the start of the slippery slope in the pub’s long decline.

What I do see though from my admittedly infrequent forays into pub land, is that pubs which offer a good range of well-kept cask beers, together with decent continental lagers, and possibly the odd craft beer as well thrown into the mix, are thriving. So are those pubs where convivial conversation and friendly pub banter still rule the roost. There are several pubs in both Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks that fall into these categories, but I can’t really think of any that fit the bill in my home town of Tonbridge, although one or two perhaps come close.

If I was to win the lottery I would be tempted to buy a pub and put some of my ideas into practice, but until that unlikely day happens I’ll continue to do most of my drinking at home, whilst making the occasional foray into pub land.

I don't want to come across as a snob here. Back in my youth I was equally at home in both public and saloon bars; my choice being dictated by the situation and the company I was with. For example, a night out with my mates would normally be spent in the public bar,  enjoying a game of darts or cribbage. Music would be provided by the juke box, where we, the punters, chose what was played rather than the bar staff. If one was entertaining a member of the opposite sex, then the saloon was the bar of choice. More refined, quieter (the music from the juke box in the adjoining bar, didn't normally carry through), and  more comfortable surroundings. Things were much more civilised back then.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Not Going Out - Part One

I have written before about how I changed from a regular pub-goer to a rather infrequent one and, following a recent post by Curmudgeon, I’m prompted to write again. Curmudgeon suggests that going to the pub for a drink has become much less socially acceptable over the years. I disagree, as to claim that pub going it is becoming more sociably unacceptable is to suggest that it is an activity that is frowned upon, or is even something which society as a whole does not approve of.

Whilst the latter point may well be the case amongst a small minority of rabid teetotallers I think it is less true than it was 40 years ago when I first started drinking. It was not, for example, an activity which my mother approved, and I would say it is something she still doesn’t much approve of today. Back in my schooldays, I can even remember one teacher, a Methodist lay-preacher no less, describing public houses as “dens of iniquity and inebriation”. Marvellous stuff, and like a throw-back to the height of the Temperance movement in Victorian times!

However, leaving questions of maternal and scholarly approval to one side, I would argue that people have stopped visiting pubs as frequently as they once did, not because it’s socially unacceptable, BUT because it’s either too expensive, or they have other, more important or interesting things to do with their time and their money.

Taking the financial argument, I am convinced that the price of a pint represents a far larger proportion of average take home pay than it did say 20 or 30 years ago. For example, back in the early 1980’s,  I always seemed to have money for a pint whenever I felt like one, whereas now, despite my wages having probably quadrupled, an evening in the pub is an occasional treat rather than an everyday occurrence. Incredible, really; I earn far more than I’ve ever done before and yet I can’t afford to go to the pub with anything like the frequency I once used to. Something is definitely wrong somewhere!

Of course there are other factors to take into consideration.  For a start my mortgage is considerably larger than it was 30 years ago, and there have been other large, inflation-busting increases in things like council tax, gas, water and electricity bills I run a car now, instead of relying on public transport to get around. I am also fortunate to be able to take more holidays, and these of course have to be paid for. All these factors add up to there being less money available for going to the pub.

It seems that whilst living standards have generally risen the price of a pint has risen much higher, and is now proportionally far higher than it has ever been. This is the MAIN reason why so many people, myself included, have stopped going to the pub on a regular basis. In short, WE JUST CAN’T AFFORD IT!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Support British Hops!

"Support British Hops!" So said the leaflet handed out to those drinkers in the Bedford, Tunbridge Wells  last Saturday who were willing to try and comment on the intriguingly titled "Enigma Ale". This 4.8% beer had been specially brewed by Canterbury Brewers, who are based at the Foundry Brew-Pub in the cathedral city.using an unknown variety of hop. The man behind the beer  is world-renowned hop expert, Dr Peter Derby of the National Hop Collection, and the idea is to provide feedback to assist both growers and brewers to choose what could potentially be a new variety of British hop. As the leaflet says: 
"The beer in front of you has been brewed with a unique hop, grown in Britain, that may have never been tasted before. We have been asked by Dr. Peter Derby of the National Hop Collection to brew with an unknown hop variety. This could be a historical variety not brewed with for a hundred years or a brand new variety never tasted anywhere in the world before. We’ve brewed the beer, now we’re asking for your help to give the growers some feedback on the flavours. We have used the hops throughout the brewing process to show all of the flavours possible.  Your feedback will be taken seriously and by giving us an honest appraisal you will be helping to sustain one of the proudest features of our local landscape."

Anyone ordering a glass of Enigma was given a form, complete with a flavour wheel, and ask to score the beer according to eight different flavour groups, (Citrussy; Fruity; Floral; Herbal; Spicy; Resinous; Sugar-like; Miscellaneous), and using the following guidelines.

"Everyone’s palate is different and there are no wrong answers in taste, in order to help with clear flavour definitions we have provided a flavour wheel for your use. Any of the flavours in the segments (eg. orange, mandarin) are part of the flavour group heading (eg. Citrusy), if you detect these flavours then give a rating from 0-7 in the box provided. Please give an intensity rating for all eight flavour groups."

Of course, the correct balance of malt flavours also plays an important role in the overall taste and balance of the finished beer, and I think the people behind the project were right in choosing an innovative company, like Canterbury Brewers, whose portfolio includes a wide range of different beers and styles, to produce the beer for them.

Presenting the beer in such a fashion, with an intriguing name, an eye-catching pump-clip and, most importantly as a totally blind tasting, seems an excellent way of  dispelling preconceptions and providing some completely unbiased feedback. It certainly worked last Saturday, as most of us present in the pub gave the beer a try. So what did it actually taste like?  Well, I found it quite citrussy. especially on the nose, but there were also spicy and resinous components present as well. It was certainly a beer with character, and one I would be quite happy to drink on a regular basis.

I shall be keeping an eye om Canterbury Brewers website to find out what hop variety was actually used and whether it is an old or a brand new one. Whatever the answer, if it helps give a much needed boost to the British hop industry, then it gets my vote.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Pub of the Year 2013

In common with most, if not all, local branches, West Kent CAMRA run a Pub of the Year competition, usually abbreviated to POTY – an acronym I cringe at every time I hear it, even if it does save a bit of typing!  I don’t know whether this competition is obligatory for branches, or quite how it even came about, but our branch has been awarding this honour for as long as I can remember.

 When we first started running the competition, pubs were selected purely on the basis of numbers of votes received, after the membership had been asked to vote for their favourite pub by means of a form printed inside our then branch magazine, “Inn View News”, (now sadly defunct). Unfortunately this system was found to be open to abuse, as well as not making it entirely clear as to what the criteria for election were. I think that it was around this tine that CAMRA nationally set out the areas which pubs were not only to be selected on, but scored on as well. I can’t remember all of them, although I’m certain they’re buried somewhere on the national website, but obviously beer quality is the most important, followed by other criteria, such as the welcome received from bar staff, involvement of the pub with the local community, whether the pub was involved in, or actively supported CAMRA’s aims and campaigns.

  Following these guidelines, the branch strategy changed, and we began organising trips, by mini-bus, around a maximum of six short-listed pubs, which had been chosen by members at our annual Good Beer Guide selection meeting. The Pub of the Year was then selected from the scores awarded for each pub by all members participating in the trip, following the guideline criteria set out by CAMRA. In an attempt to present a more level playing field, there was a “weighting formula” applied to certain criteria, but don’t ask me how it worked, as I used to leave the working out to those more experienced in this sort of thing.

These trips were highly enjoyable, but took quite a bit of organising, especially with the hire of a mini-bus and finding a suitable “designated driver” willing to sit there drinking soft drinks all day whilst the rest of us were knocking back the beer. Because of their lengthy nature, the trips invariably had to take place on a Saturday, and finding a mutually agreeable date could also sometimes pose a problem. 

Even this system was far from perfect, as concerns were raised, that by the time members had reached the last couple of pubs on the tour, their judgement could well be affected by the amount of beer they had drunk! There was also the charge that voting for Pub of the Year was only open to those taking part in the POTY Trip, so for the last two years the branch has tried a somewhat more encompassing approach. This involves members visiting all six pubs on the short list, in their own time and under their own steam, and scoring then appropriately. Funnily enough, the end results have not been a lot different, but that’s a different story.

So far I haven’t made my contribution to this enhanced selection process; last year I was recovering from illness, whilst this year I have just been too busy. However, I wasn’t too busy to make it along to the award presentations that have taken place recently.

The first took place three weeks ago, and was the award of Pub of the Year 2013,  to the Halfway House, at Brenchley. This, I believe, is the third year running that this unspoilt rural free house has received this accolade, and deservedly so. For anyone not in the know, the Halfway House offers a range of up to10 cask beers, many of them locally sourced, with a mild always included amongst the line-up. All beers are served direct from casks which are kept in a temperature-controlled room, immediately behind the bar. The pub also serves good food and is a delight to visit at any time of year. During the winter months, a cosy log fire keeps the place warm and, aside from the main bar, there is a warren of inter-linked rooms, on two different levels, for those wanting some space of their own, or just some peace and quiet. In summer, there is an extensive garden to the rear, and side of the pub, with play equipment for energetic youngsters, and a separate “adults only” beer garden for those not wanting children running around under their feet. The latter is the venue for the pub’s twice yearly beer festivals, held over the late May and August bank Holiday Weekends.

We called, to present landlord Richard Allen with his award, following our visit to the Hopbine at Petteridge, after having walked across the fields, through the rain. I was nice to be able to warm ourselves by the fire, whilst enjoying the excellent beers from the wide range that Richard stocks.

We have had two other presentations following our visit to Brenchley; both of which took place on the Saturday just gone. This year two pubs ended up as joint runners up, and both were in Tunbridge Wells. The first was the Bedford, handily located next to the town’s railway station. Since owner, Simon Lewis took on the lease from Greene King and negotiated a deal allowing him to sell a range of independently-brewed beers alongside their own, the pub has gone from strength to strength and has become the premier ale-house in Tunbridge Wells. 

Because of Simon’s commitments elsewhere in the brewing industry, the Bedford is now run by general manager Mark Nicholson and his team. Mark has continued Simon’s policy of stocking a range of different beers, and different styles, sourced mainly from small breweries based in either Kent or Sussex, often showcasing the products of a brewery whose beers we don’t often see in this part of the world. Last Saturday was no exception, with three different beers from Goody Ales of Herne, near Canterbury, in tap including a porter, plus two beers from the ever reliable Gadds of Ramsgate. There was also an “enigma ale” from the Canterbury Brewery; more about that in a separate post. Apart from locally produced pies, the Bedford doesn’t currently serve much in the way of food, but that is about to change, with the re-fitting of the upstairs kitchen and the appointment of a chef who is known to many local drinkers  and CAMRA members. 

After a couple of hours in the Bedford, it was time to leave and walk the short distance up the hill to the other runner-up pub; the GroveTavern. Tucked away in the maze of small winding streets that lead down to the High Street, the Grove is almost certainly the smallest,  and possibly the oldest in pub in Tunbridge Wells. So far as friendly and welcoming locals are concerned, it is also one of the best. The beer range is perhaps slightly more mainstream than the Bedford’s, but it still features interesting guests from time to time, alongside the mainstays of Harvey’s Best and Taylor’s Landlord. When we called in St Austell Trelawney and Harvey’s Olympia were on sale, alongside the aforementioned.

Being so small, and with no room for a kitchen, and precious little space for dining tables, the Grove is a beer only house, but is none the worse for that. Landlord Steve Baxter has held the license on the pub since 2003, but leaves the day to day running to manager Sam and bar staff Sally and Tony, whilst he concentrates on his other passion, and business interest - computers. Being both a drinker’s pub as well as a locals’ one, it is safe to say the Grove attracts the cream of Tunbridge Wells's “thinkers”, and there is often some interesting and, at times lively, debate taking place at the bar.

There was another certificate to present to Steve, alongside that for runner up in the Pub of the Year competition, 2013, sees the Grove Tavern’s 10th consecutive appearance in the Good Beer Guide, so the pub was presented with a special certificate commemorating this fact. 

All in all, both Saturdays were good days out, and all three pubs worthy recipients of their respective awards.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Angelfest 2013

Beer festivals are continuing to grow in popularity, with the increase in both the type and scope of such events showing no sign of abating. These days it’s not just pubs that are getting in on the act, but sports and social clubs, and even heritage railways, which are holding their own events.

The area covered by West Kent CAMRA has long played host to the SIBA South East Region Beer Festival, staged initially at the Hop Farm Country Park, near Paddock Wood, but since 2009  held at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club. In addition, our local rail heritage group, the Spa Valley Railway, now have two very successful beer festivals under their belt, helped of course, by local CAMRA volunteers.

Not to be outdone, local association football team, Tonbridge Angels have run their own beer festival, for the past two years, which is held at their Longmead Stadium, in the north end of the town. I couldn’t make last years inaugural event, so was determined no to muss this year’s festival. Billed as Angelfest, beer and music festival, the event certainly seems to have caught the public’s imagination. I visited on Saturday evening, and when I arrived found the place packed. 

Now I’m almost ashamed to say that despite having spent nearly 30 years living in the town, I had never visited Tonbridge Angel’s ground, and only had a vague inkling as to where it was. I say almost ashamed, because I’m no big fan of football, despite having shown an interest during my teenage years. To me, the “beautiful game” has been totally ruined by money, is dominated by expensive players bought in from abroad,  and played by a bunch o over-paid prima-donnas, who are more interested in their lifestyles off the pitch than what they should be doing on it! In short, football is no longer the workingman’s game that it once was.

Leaving these consideration s aside, as none of them really apply to Tonbridge Angels who play in the Blue Square South League (whatever that is?), the organisers of Angelfest had pulled out all the stops to make the event a success, with nearly 50 cask ales, a selection of Belgian beer, (both draught as well as bottled), plus a succession of mainly local live music acts. As is usual at festivals, beers were served direct from the cask, although the draught Belgian beers were dispensed from a series of pressurised founts.

The beer selection was perhaps slightly unusual, consisting of a number of Essex breweries - Colchester, Crouch Vale and Shalfords, alongside Kent brewers - Gadds, Old Dairy, Rockin Robin, Tonbridge and Westerham. There were a couple from the North East, - Maxim and Northumberland (the latter, definitely not not my favourite), plus Moles from Wiltshire and Sambrooks from London. A mixed bag, so to speak, but something for everyone. By far and away my favourite beer was Yakima Gold from Crouch Vale, followed closely by Amarillo from the same company. Both beers are flavoured using American Amarillo hops.

What was really good about Angelfest, and what set it aside from many CAMRA festivals, was the preponderance of young people, many of whom were female. The ciders and Belgian beers obviously found favour with the latter group, but many of the girls seemed at least willing to try the odd glass of cask ale or two. There was also a healthy sprinkling of what could perhaps be described as Tonbridge’s “alternative society”, drawn possibly by the music, but hopefully by the beers as well. 

The event was housed in a marquee, erected between the pitch and the club bar, with access to the latter for toilet facilities etc. Although I was there probably less than 3 hours, I thoroughly enjoyed myself as, it seems, the majority of punters did as well. Admission to the festival was free, but it was necessary to purchase a half-pint festival glass at £2, which was non-refundable. I haven’t come across any feedback yet as to how the event went, but judging by the number of attendees and the fact that one or two beers had run out by Saturday night, I imagine the organisers will have been pleased with how things went, and are probably already thinking about next year’s event.