Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Kent Touch This

 First of all, those following me on Google + will know that my team, Grimsby Town, the Mighty Mariners, were to face Bristol Rovers at Wembley Stadium for the Non-League Play-off Final. I used to be an avid fan, following the team wherever they played. As a change of job meant Saturday's were no longer certain to be free for football, and, I suppose, growing up a touch, my regular pilgrimages down to Blundell Park, and on the highways and bye-ways, when the Black and White stripes were playing away from home, became less and less. For the final, I was off from work, the first day of my holiday. My intention was to pop to the Club shop to buy my ticket so I could see my beloved team play their most important game for years and travel to Wembley by coach, and then either travel on to Kent, meeting up with T'other 'arf ,who was to travel down the day after, or just face the long trip back up to Lincolnshire, only to go back down South the following day. In the end, after seeing the pricing, and add-ons, just for a ticket, I decided not to be ripped off, and go down the pub,( The County, in town to be precise, which was selling a lovely pint of the zesty and refreshing Pale Ale from Sharp's, namely the 4.2% “Atlantic” )where, come the final result (losing on penalties after a hard fought game) I questioned if a grown man was allowed to cry into his pint ? Oh well, next season might be different. That's the waffling done, now on to the good stuff. Beer, pubs and our little break in Kent.
The last time we were in The Garden of England, it was for very different reasons, a family funeral, so, on this occasion, we had plans to enjoy ourselves a little more. After a good journey down, only 4 hours and 40 minutes, in, sometimes, torrential rain !, we arrived in Margate, dropped our bags, and nipped out for a quick couple of beers. With The Wheatsheaf being the nearest pub to us, we popped in there and duly quenched our thirsts with Moreland's Old Speckled Hen. Sometimes, in the pub chains, this can be a very ordinary drink, but our drinks in here were very well served, and, more importantly, in good condition. On leaving here we proceeded to an invite for dinner with Family, Chilli, rice and Garlic bread, followed by a couple of glasses of “Sailor Jerry's” Spiced Rum. Our first day was coming to a close, with yawns and tired eyes eventually making us retire for the day. The following morning, we discussed plans the the coming week and, after shelling out on the very reasonably priced Stagecoach Bus 1 week Mega rider Gold, which, for £20-50 each, entitled us to unlimited trips on any of their buses in Kent and East Sussex, we set off around the area.

Lest we Forget
We decided on a trip to Folkestone, and, after seeing the storm clouds approach from all directions as we were bumping along the country roads of the Kent Downs, we were not surprised to be alighting in the sodden streets of this South coast harbour and resort. Our first call was The Pulman, a nice pub, with a charming beer patio to the rear, situated in Church St. In here, we enjoyed the wonderful Old Dairy Brewery's “Gold Top”, a Golden Pale Ale of 4.3%. This is a refreshing session beer from a local brewer, which, although citrus in the finish, has a slight toffee hint to it. I found this a nicely balanced beer, as did my “half-pinter”. The rain had eased, so we wandered off, up The Bayle,and, eventually down to the harbour, before taking the street lift back up to the Memorial to all those who, after arriving on troop trains, marched down to awaiting ships and sailed, high in spirits, to the abyss' of the trenches of The Great War. I feel so insignificant when my bravery is measured against these patriotic Giants of yesteryear. We followed The Road of Remembrance, bedecked with knitted poppies, back down into the Old Town, and then back to The Bayle, resting as another shower approached, in The Guildhall. I remember this as The Globe, an old fashioned boozer, filled with characters and bric-a-brac style memorabilia, now much “shinier”, but still as welcoming as before. I tried the 4.1% “Cheshire Gold”, a Golden Ale, with a floral aroma, and citrus vein right through to the long, hoppy and satisfying finish, hailing from Coach House Brewing Co, whilst Jane savoured the wonderfully balanced Harvey's “Sussex Best Bitter”, a lovely beer, with an ABV of 4%. The sun was, again, out and we scurried back towards the bus station. Having just missed a bus, we decided to catch the next one, but, until then, a spot of retail therapy (for the Lady), and a trip to JDW's Samuel Peto would have to fill the void. The Samuel Peto, housed in a converted Baptist Church, oozes with character, with many fixtures and fittings from the original building. In here I sampled a “Kentish Reserve ” from The Whitstable Brewery. A surprisingly easy drinking Premium Bitter, at 5%. this malty brew has a taste rather similar to a nice brown bread. It has a slight fruitiness coming through, but this doesn't become too invasive. A good beer indeed. The retail therapy? I haven't a clue ! That was the last port of call in Folkestone, although I am sure more delights are lurking if one digs a little deeper (The British Lion for one, which was closed on our visit, is a cracking pub, just yards from The Guildhall). On arriving back in Canterbury, we had another 45 mins to wait for the Margate bus, so, with the weather getting really bad, we sought refuge in The City Arms. We settled down to 2 beers from the Canterbury Brewery, Foundry Torpedo, a 4.5% Amber Ale, which was crisp, zesty with a light fruit hint, balanced by a grassiness, and “GB” a Pale Ale of 4.2% which was dry, slightly spicy and floral.
Our return “home” was not what you would call welcoming. The wind was blowing, and the rain was, as they say in North Lincolnshire, “heshing it down”. Suffice to say, after we had got off the bus, walked 150 metres to a supermarket, picking up a few supplies, and then hopped on the “loop” bus, we resembled something more akin to shipwreck survivors rather than the beer tourists we are.


No trip to this part of Kent is complete without a visit to the County's capital, Canterbury. Later in the week, we jumped on the No 8 for our journey west to this beautiful city. Stopping on the way to visit more family, we arrived just after lunch. First on the agenda, after a bacon buttie, was The Bell & Crown in Palace St, between The Marlowe Theatre and Canterbury Cathedral, a smashing little pub, which champions Kentish beers. I chose a pint of The Canterbury Ales “Pardoners Ale”, a rather fruity, bitter-sweet 3.8% session beer, with spice, honey and oranges hints tickling the taste buds. T'other 'arf went for the 4.7% Gadd's “She Sells Sea Shells”, a dry,light zesty Summer Ale, displaying a medium bitterness in the finish. With shops nearby, it was decided that I could have time off the leash (only joking, Sweetheart!) and have a wander. I was thinking of walking up to The King's Head in Wincheap, a pub visited, and enjoyed immensely a few years ago, but I then changed my mind, as the traffic around this area was quite busy, and not designed for possible wobbly legs on my return. Instead I dropped in to the sister pub of The Bell & Crown, The Carpenters Arms. This has a more younger person's establishment, but still carries a couple of local ales alongside the keg, and fizzy lagers. In here I chose Old Dairy Brewery's “Red Top”, a 3.8% Best Bitter. A slight haze was apparent in the glass, but the beer was still good besides this. Hints of toffee and coffee give way to spicy fruit and citrus, and it is very well balanced. I wandered back up the street a full 50metres to The Black Griffin, a large and extremely friendly boozer on the corner of the lane of the same lane, and St Peter's St. In here, I enjoyed a wonderful pint of Brains' “On the Fence”, a 4.1% Bitter, with a good malty body and a bitter-sweetness, which has a balanced delicate berry fruit taste, through to the long finish. I really liked this pub,and the well delivered beer here was a delight. We had agreed to meet up for a spot of late lunch at The Foundry, but on my way there, I passed The Cricketers, proclaiming it's wares and decided to try them myself. The first pint that I asked for, “Early Bird” , turned up with less clarity than a Party Political Broadcast, but, incredulously, I was told they had been serving it like that ALL DAY !!! I declined, chose another of the Shepherd Neame Ales, “Master Brew”, which was at least a little less opaque, even if it was not on form. I forced down half of my drink, while I sat out in the sun, without any passion for it, and then proceeded to our last port of call in this fine City.
One of  my favourite Pubs
The Foundry Brew Pub, Canterbury
Jane was just getting the drinks in when I arrived at The Foundry Brew Pub, the home of The Canterbury Brewers, so I chose the well renowned and highly acclaimed “Street Light Porter”, and T'other 'arf went for “Foundrman's Gold”. My 5.8% brew was excellent. Rich, with chocolate and coffee prominent, but not overpowering the, overall, well balanced beer. This ale is, in my opinion, a modern classic. Jane's beer was also well received, with floral hints mingling with peachiness making it very refreshing. The bitterness was quite subtle. This Golden Ale would be a great session beer, weighing in at 4%. We ordered a simple late lunch of sandwiches, with a side portion of chips, and were pleasantly surprised at the HUGE portions which arrived. I accompanied my meal with another different brew, the light, refreshing, early hopped “Foundryman's Dragon”, with an ABV of 3.9%. Malt and berry flavours abound in, yet another, great brew from this brewery. If in Canterbury, visit this brewpub. Have a drink, sample the food, but stay awhile. It is well worth it. After this, we waddled back to the bus station, waited for our transport and gushed over some of the places we had visited.

Thanet's Micropubs.

I just love Micropubs. Their simplicity is quite welcome in our high tech world. Find a premises, usually an old shop or outhouse. Buy some barrels of Real Ale and Cider. Set up some racking. Pour the brew into the awaiting glasses of discerning drinkers. VoilĂ . No pumps. No gas. Just good beer. Kent has a fair few of these to enjoy. On our latest visit, we managed to re-visit two old favourites, and add another to our list during our week. We popped back in to The Lifeboat, in Margate's Old Town. I enjoyed a 4.5% Whitstable “Oyster Stout” in here. With malt, mocha coffee and a gentle sweetness mixing together, this is yet another good local Ale. T'other 'arf sampled the Tonbridge Brewery “Coppernob” a 3.8% Kentish Ale. With a light maltiness, leading to a dry and fully hopped finish, this is another good session beer.
The Lifeboat's Wall of Cider.
Cider lovers also have a great selection to choose from, and, on our visit, the “wall of cider” had over a dozen different types. We also re-visited The Harbour Arms in Margate, or, to be precise, visited the new one. Since our last visit here, they have moved to bigger, more practical premises, right next door. It still has a great atmosphere, and the beer is still good. On our visit, we sampled the 4.8% Russian Porter “Black Pig” and “Turbulent Priest” a 4.4% Bitter, both from The Wantsum Brewery. The Porter was smooth and has a smoky choco-coffee back taste, but remains quite floral too, whilst the Bitter had a nice fruit aroma which balanced perfectly with the chocolate, coffee and malt body. Take a wander to this little pub on Margate's harbour arm, not only for the satisfying beers, but to, possibly, the vantage point of the best view of the resort. Our final evening was spent in a new micropub to me, The Four Candles” in Sowel Street, St Peter's, just near Broadstairs. I'd wanted to visit this place on our last couple of trips down South, but had not quite got there. We were glad that we, T'other, arf, Darren, her step-brother ,and his partner, Wendy, and I, did this time. It is small, tight,friendly and full of character. The owner makes you feel like you have been a regular for years and the clientele very embracing of strangers. We partook of the excellent “Robin's Target Ale” brewed on site, a 4.8% Pale Ale with a refreshing zesty bitterness to it, with hints of grapefruit and a long dry finish, and Wendy plumped for a glass of one of the Biddenden Cider Brewery's offerings.I finished the evening on “Orme” from the “Great Orme Brewery”, a 4.3% Best Bitter, which was malty, with a hint of sweetness, tempered by a wonderful dry, bitter aftertaste. From here, it is only a 10 walk to another brilliant micropub, The Yard of Ale, unfortunately, an early start, driving back to Grimsby, thwarted us popping in there this time.
Well that is that. We have one or two little trips planned over the Summer, which I hope to share with you, but until the next time, Cheers and keep it “Real”

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Sorry I've Been Away So Long

Today, Sunday, I am sat here, tapping away at my laptop, looking for some literal inspirations to flow along the communicative strands, which invisibly join the grey matter to my fingertips. Why am I finding this so hard ? Well, today is the second leg of the Vanarama Conference Premier Play-off Semi Finals. I am keeping a close eye on Bristol Rovers' attempts to reach the Wembley final, against Forest Green Rovers. Later, my beloved Grimsby Town will kick off against Eastleigh in the second of today's matches. Already short in the fingernails department, I might have to resort to alcohol to help steady the nerves before the end. I may interject this post with various “Oohs” and “Ahhs” and maybe more random sounds, but don't worry. Sanity will prevail. Well here goes then, with my latest mutterings, musings and mumbles about beery stuff and boozers, I hope you enjoy. As you may, possibly, have read in my previous post, the last few weeks have been very up and down for T'other 'arf and I. I have now finished an intensive 2 weeks off training for my new job, which followed immediately on the back of a trip to Kent to attend the funeral of Jane's father. We have both been very wrapped up in other matters of late, but, thankfully, a little normality is now steadily resuming. During this period, we still got a chance to sample a brew or two, which I am hoping to review for you now.
(It's all over at The Memorial Ground. Bristol Rovers 1-0 v Forest Green. 2-0 on aggregate.)
We started the month off with a couple, or so, beers at home. On offer were Shepherd Neame's “Master Brew”, Belhaven “Black Scottish Stout”, Master Brewers Choice (part of the Shepherd Neame brewery) “IPA” and a bottle of Weston's “Scrumpy” Cloudy Cider. The “Master Brew”, a solid tasting 4% Kentish Ale, has initial maltiness, which gives in to a slight toffeeness, with fruit and nutty undertones rising to the fore. After so many years in the game, (after all, they are Britain's Oldest Brewery) it comes as no surprise that this beer is so consistently good. Belhaven, at 4.2%, I found, was quite thin. It was full of hints and slight undertones, but never really championed any of them. Coffee, chocolate, malt and an overall sweetness are detectable, but soon seem to dissipate, leaving one a little disappointed. It was an OK beer, but nothing special.
  (Yeeeeeesss !! Palmer scores for Grimsby. 1-0 up, 3-1 on agg)
The 7.4% cider, I was advised, went down well. Quite sweet, but with a dry finish. Staring at the empty glass, I can definitely vouch for that ! The following week, I picked up a selection of beers from our local corner shop, 3 for a fiver, I think. These were............
(2-0, Lennell John Lewis aka “The Shop” slots it away.)
Sorry, distracted there. Where was I. Oh, yes, I picked up Hook Norton “Hooky Gold”, a 4.2% Golden Bitter, which, although, light tasting, carries a wonderful crisp and zesty punch throughout. This was followed by Titanic “Stout”, a 4.5% brew with a good, roasted malt taste with a good hop finish. A beer that has won many awards, and that is clearly evident. Last up was “Combined Harvest”, a 4.7% Premium Bitter, which is quite sweet, but gives in to an underlying Nutty hint towards the end. Another very reasonable beer from Bateman's.
(Whoo-Hoo 3-0, Palmer again.)
Overall, not a bad selection of beers. I am finding more and more better beers available on the shelves nowadays, not just the bog standard offerings which once graced most outlets all of the time.
(That's it. Wembley now beckons and, ultimately, a place back in the Football League)

Back in Thanet.

We travelled back down to Margate for more sombre events in the middle of April, to bid farewell to Tony, Jane's father. A character who enjoyed life, who had a wicked sense of humour, was, sometimes, blunt and forthright in his opinions, but always, I found, a man who it was a pleasure to “have a yarn” with, and whom we will sadly miss. After a lovely Humanist ceremony, and celebration of his life, we raised a glass in his memory at the Salmestone Grange, a 14th century building, in Margate. No hand-pulled beers, but bottles of Shepherd Neame's beers were available. We didn't venture anywhere on the night-time, just those places our minds wanted to wander, unchecked.
The next afternoon, we wandered into town, and re-visited The Lifeboat Inn. Always a favourite place of mine, you are never disappointed with the range and quality of the local ales, or the charismatic owner, who welcomes all and sundry in his own gregarious way. I started with a wonderful Ale called “Coalman's Porter” from a new brewery based in St Nicholas at Wade, by the name of Attwell's. This was a lovely beer of 3.9%, which had a good choco-coffee taste right through to the end. It was not one of those thin, wishy-washy stouts that pales into insignificance after the first gulp, nor one of those which you need a knife and fork to get through it. This was superbly balanced and a real joy to sample. T'other 'arf chose the 3.5% Wantsum Brewery's “More's Head”. I am a big fan of this brewers beers, and this was another fine Ale. Initial malt gives way to a roasted nut hint, which is followed by a floral, citrus trace in the finish. The last beer sampled was in The Lifeboat was the Ramsgate based Gadd's “East Kent IPA”. This was a full-on 6.5% IPA with a heavy fruitiness in the body, and aroma. The hoppy finish is huge, but the end note is more bitter-sweet than dry. Wow, this is a well crafted beer. We wandered back to “home” picking up a range of local ales from the supermarket, rang for a Chinese take-away, and reflected on our last couple of days
On Saturday, we decided to spread our wings a touch, and, shortly after jumping on the Thanet Loop bus, dayrider in hand, we arrived in sunny Ramsgate.We strolled around the harbour, looked at the various arty shops and, eventually, came to The Hovelling Boat Inn, another of Thanet's great micro-pubs. We walked in, or rather through, looking for the bar, only to be advised that there wasn't one ! “ Just look at the board, order what you want, sit down and I will fetch it to you” And the young lady did. I ordered a brew from a Buckinghamshire brewery called “XT10 Stout”, a 4.5% brew with an excellent full bodied, roated flavour, which is not too overpowering of the delicate hoppiness. Jane chose “Abducation” from the Dancing Duck Brewery. A 5.5% IPA, with a full malted flavour, which sits comfortably with hints of tropical fruits.We followed these with Butcombe “Rare Breed” a 3.5% bitter-sweet Pale Ale, which was extremely refreshing with citrus and floral notes, and a half of Bowman's “Wallop's Wood”. This was another good beer. It is more malt than hopped in flavour and at 4%, a session beer of some note. Very well balanced from the first sip to the lingering finish. We then jumped back on the “Loop”, and ended up in Broadstairs, hunting down the sickly sweet Gipsy Tart, famous in these parts ( I had a sausage roll instead!) before re-acquanting ourselves with “The Thirty-Nine Steps”. We grabbed a swift beer in here, namely Wantsum's “Imperium” a smooth 4% Bitter, which had a lovely biscuit taste to it. Another good beer by this Thanet brewery. With delicacies in hand, we, again, boarded our transport for the return trip to Margate. We, later, popped back out meeting up with family members, as it was our last evening in Margate, and visited the quirky Yard of Ale in nearby St Peter's. Set in the yard of a local funeral directors, this encapsulates what the micro-pub phenomenon is all about. Local beers served excellently in surroundings which would usually be overlooked. We, the customers, don't need acres of bar space, or more chrome finishings than a Harley Davison factory. We just want well kept beer and good company. We certainly got that here. I had a pint of The Canterbury Ales “Merchant's Ale” a 4% Kentish Mild Stout. It was smooth, dark and quite fruity, with malts and a slight hoppy nose. I failed to notice which beer was the chosen half, but I can report that Rhubarb and Strawberry Cider was sampled by our collective. After these we popped our heads into the nearby Red Lion, a lively, but friendly, “local”, We chose the Sharp's “Atlantic” a pleasantly bitter and zesty IPA of 4.2%, before jumping back on the “Loop” into Margate for an Indian meal. With a 5 hour journey awaiting us the next day, that was where the evening ended. The circumstances of our visit were not those we would have chosen, but we are back in Kent later this month when we can, maybe, enjoy the gems this County always offers visitors a little more.
Cheers and keep it “Real”

(Sorry for the interuptions !)