6 October 2008

Strong as a Bull

Sometimes it's a closely-fought wrestling bout in your mind: do you divulge and promote your undisputed favourite tucked away treasure of a pub to the world? After all, an unpretentious, warm and friendly, classic village pub like this deserves to prosper and be a source of pleasure to as many worthy souls as possible.

Or do you try your hardest to keep it a secret; your own personal, relatively quiet refuge away from the unpleasant realities of big city life? There aren't many places where you feel so truly welcomed and smugly satisfied.

As more and more of Britain's much beloved pubs continue to wither towards terminal closure, there are the odd few that have sprouted new life and are keeping the freehouse tradition alive.

Since we imposed ourselves (as out-of-town regulars) on The Bull in Horton Kirby early this year, we have witnessed a very good pub grow to become truly great. In the last 10 months, we have seen Licencees Garrett and Lynne:
  • introduce real ciders and perries and acclaimed American and Continental bottled beers in addition to the excellent ever-changing cask ales from microbreweries nationwide

  • arrange pub outings to the Dark Star brewery and Chappel beer festival

  • host numerous beer festivals, parties and live music evenings

  • launch a website and Facebook group, keeping regulars up to date with developments and upcoming events

  • serve up a treat of fine, locally-sourced homecooked food (including special steak and fish nights, lamb and hogroasts and barbeques galore)

  • justly pick up the local CAMRA Pub of the Year award, a title dominated by the Cock Inn at Luddesdowne for the past 3 years

There's even a cracking view of the Darenth Valley from the peaceful back garden and the rarity of an adorable pub dog, Chloe, completes the homely, familiar feel of the place. We have never left without a beaming smile on our faces and count our lucky stars that we have a place of this standard within reasonable distance (about a 25 mile round trip from home down the A20).

Happily, far from resulting in complacency, the Pub of the Year status seems only to have spurred the owners on to achieve greater things. A sixth handpump is waiting to be installed on the bar and there is sometimes an extra ale available on gravity. The keg beers have been refined with Stella and John Smiths ousted in favour of imported Löwenbräu and Dark Star Natural Blonde lager. Garrett even has plans to commence brewing on site in the New Year.

This weekend The Bull is hosting its Handpicked '08 Beer Festival, sourcing beers from the corners of the country that you simply do not find in Kentish pubs. There are also a couple of exclusives, including a seldom seen cask of Dark Star Imperial Stout at 10.5% ABV and a festival special also from the Sussex micro. As self-professed aficionados we were given the opportunity to assist in the selection of the ales - so if you don't like the look of these then you've got us to blame!

Beowulf Dark Raven (4.5)
Beowulf Dragonsmoke Stout (4.7)
Beowulf Finns Hall Porter (4.7)
BrewDog Hype (4.1)
BrewDog Punk IPA (6.0)
Brewster Hophead (3.6)
Brewster Hop-a-doodle-doo (4.3)
Dark Star Hophead (3.6)
Dark Star Festival Special (4.5)
Dark Star Imperial Stout (10.5)
Marble Pint (3.9)
Marble JP Best (4.3)
Marble Ginger Marble (4.5)
Newby Wyke Sidewinder (3.8)
Newby Wyke Riverside Special Bitter (4.8)
Purity Pure Gold (3.8)
Purity Pure UBU (4.7)
Thornbridge Lord Marples (4.0)
Thornbridge Katipo (5.4)
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9)

As well as this impressive beer list, there will be a further 5 ciders and perries, a barbeque, live music, birds of prey display and another mouthwatering hogroast on the Sunday. The atmosphere is sure to be terrific and attendance is strongly advised.

The festival runs from Friday through to Sunday and the nearest train station is Farningham Road on the London Victoria line. I imagine we'll be there more often than not, so do come and say hello if you spot us.



  1. Pubs like this need to be shouted about and they will survive and prosper in the current financial turmoil. They appear to deserve success.

  2. Paul,

    You're quite right. It's just that it is a fairly small pub in a small village and has already gained some notoriety since the camra accolade. I wouldn't want it to lose its comfort factor - but I suppose a bustling environ adds to the atmosphere.

    UPDATE: We found out yesterday that the gaffer plans to start a monthly beer festival with several casks from a particular brewery's line-up all served from the stillage. Another great idea unique to the area. :-)

  3. That's my kind of pub and a seriously good festival beer list. Brew Dog, Marble & Thornbridge - it's Goodnight Gracie time you lucky people!

  4. Hi Will,

    I've always considered you to be the lucky one - there's forever at least one fest in your stomping ground being detailed on your blog. Sounds like an amazing scene you have going on up there. We must make the effort to reach Huddersfield sometime.

    Yes, there's a few hefty brews in the line-up. The Imperial Stout may prove problematic! We're counting down the hours...

  5. That Purity brewery seem to be popping up all over the place in London.

    Sounds like a great pub.


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