In one of the closest competitions seen in recent years the 'West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year' has been awarded to Fuggles Beer Café in Tunbridge Wells. Fuggles came top in 3 out of the 5 categories by which contenders are rated, having been highly placed previously, including coming in as runner up last year.
Since opening in November 2013, Fuggles Beer Café has, under the watchful eye of its proprietor and founder Alex Greig, helped transform the local "Beer Scene", particularly in Tunbridge Wells, by serving a wide range of quality cask ales and craft beers. This combined with high standards of customer service and impeccable staff knowledge in relation to the beers, ciders and artisan spirits on offer, makes Fuggles a worthy winner of this award.
For the benefit of local readers, but also for those from other parts of the country who might know the area, the full results for the competition are as follows:
Top Six Pubs - West Kent CAMRA Awards
1. Fuggles, Tunbridge Wells
2. Windmill, Sevenoaks Weald
3. Halfway House, Brenchley
4. Dovecote, Capel
5. Queens Arms, Cowden Pound
6. Crown, Groombridge
Most Improved pub: Toad Rock, Rusthall
Cider Pub of the year: The Pantiles Tap
Club of the year: Constitutional Club, Tunbridge Wells.
Before going any further it's worth mentioning that organising inspections for this type of contest has always proved difficult for the branch; even though West Kent CAMRA has been running a Pub of the Year competition for as long as anyone can remember.
Four years ago I wrote at length about these difficulties, and described how, over the years, various different approaches had been tried; each with their own inherent drawbacks. So after holding postal ballots (remember the good old fashioned Royal Mail?) and mini-bus trips, in recent years the branch has adopted a different approach by asking members to visit all six pubs on the short list, in their own time and under their own steam, and scoring them appropriately.
This too has not been straight forward, and this year the number of participants who managed to get round all six pubs, within the allotted time, did not reach double figures. The branch committee are acutely aware of this and suspect the poor show was due to the many and varying constraints on members’ time. Over the coming year, the branch will be examining suggestions for a more encompassing approach, but I don't think there's an easy answer to this.
None of this of course, should detract from Fuggles well-deserved success, and those of us living in Tonbridge are eagerly anticipating the opening of a branch of Fuggles in the town. Work has already started on converting the old Bonners Carpet shop, at the north end of the High Street, into Fuggles – Tonbridge, with an anticipated opening in early June.
Who knows, perhaps in a few years’ time Tonbridge Fuggles will steal a march on its Tunbridge Wells sibling, and claim the crown for itself?