It’s often interesting turning up at a pub, a few days after their beer festival has officially ended, just to see what’s left. This wasn’t our intention when we visited the Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells, the other Tuesday evening, as we were there for our regular monthly Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival “update meeting”. Nevertheless it was good to have some unusual and indeed novel beers to try; something, if you like, to act as a “sweetener” to make a potentially dull and boring meeting seem a little less tedious. The beers were left over from the weekend festival, put on by the Royal Oak to introduce customers to some different beers; something they would not normally get the opportunity to drink, and thus something out of the ordinary.
My first choice though was a bit of a disaster. I had arrived slightly late for the meeting; 8pm starts are a bit rushed for me, and proceedings were already underway when I walked into the pub. Deep Porter 4.5%, from New Plassey Brewery, took my fancy, I nodded to it and the barman asked if I wanted a pint? I replied in the affirmative, the barman pulled the pint for me, it looked good, I pocketed my change and had a quick slurp before walking over to where my friends were sitting to take my place at the meeting. On the way over I had an inkling that something wasn’t quite right with the beer. Sharp-tasting with a sour edge! I had another slurp, after I had sat down and offered my apologies for being late, but that was no better; in fact it was worse. I noticed that the person sitting next to me was also drinking a porter. I asked him if it was the same one as me. It was, but he was at least a third of the way through his. “Unusual”, was his comment; more like “off” was my reply. After a couple more pulls at the beer I decided that I definitely didn’t want to drink a pint of it so, after apologising again to the chairman, I walked back across to the bar, and asked for it to be changed for something else.
“Ah”, said the barman, “that one was on when I came on shift. I wasn’t sure about it myself, but you’re the second person to return, so what would you like instead?” I opted for a pint of Rye Pale Ale, from The Liverpool Craft Brewing Company; a 5.0% full-bodied pale ale, which was rather nice. Mine host did the decent thing and turned the offending pump clip round, so that no-one else would end up with a dodgy pint; this was good of him, as it is not his pub. To me, it looked (and tasted), like an infected cask, rather than something which had sat around opened for too long, but full marks to the barman for taking it off sale.
My second pint of the evening was also from The Liverpool Craft brewing Company. This time it was American Red. It was enjoyable, but not as much to my taste as the Pale Ale was. I am not a huge fan of the “Red Ale” style; possibly it’s the inclusion in some versions of roasted barley, giving the beer a slightly “burnt “and to me, an unpleasant taste. (The beer which always springs to mind here is Hobgoblin; but there are others). Nevertheless, after the unpleasant experience earlier with the Deep Porter, it was nice to have something another beer that was perfectly ok to drink.
The third, and final, beer of the evening was Teleporter – a 5% porter, brewed by the Summer Wine Brewery, from Holmfirth (where else?). This was dispensed from a cask perched up on the bar, and because of this the beer was at room, rather than cellar temperature. This was despite an insulated jacket around the cask but then, on the other hand, the beer had probably been there since the weekend. Although slightly “tired”, the beer was still quite drinkable, but I still decided to make it the final beer of the evening as there was work in the morning, and I didn’t want the encumbrance of a “thick head” to slow me down and muddle my thinking.
Like I said at the beginning, it is sometimes good to catch the tail end of a festival. In the case of the Royal Oak, the festival had been running since the previous Friday, and the theme behind the event had been beers unusual to the area. I would have gone along myself, had the festival not clashed with Maidstone’s one, over at East Malling, which wrote about here. According to friends who did manage to get along though, there was another relative new-comer present, in the shape of Pig & Porter. This is an outfit who offer food as well as beer; an “event catering business” if you like. They’ve been functioning as a “cuckoo” brewery since starting up earlier this year, producing their beers as “guests” in a number of different breweries spread across the South East, but now they’ve acquired a home of their own, for the time being at least, in the premises of the former Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery. Regular followers of this blog will recall that RTWB unfortunately ceased brewing at the end of 2012, after trading for less than three years.
It’s good news to learn that the mothballed brewing kit is to be put to good use once again, but the story doesn’t end there as, apparently, Pig and Porter will be sharing the premises, and the equipment, with an Estonian-based concern which is planning to brew a lager for its home market, back in the Baltic States. An interesting development and one which need watching with interest, but it does mean that the West Kent CAMRA area is now home to five independent breweries of various shapes and sizes. Will there be room for them all in the market? Well, that remains to be seen, but in the meantime the local beer scene has never looked so interesting.