13 September 2009

West is Best in Kent

Congratulations to everyone involved at The Bull at Horton Kirby for deservedly winning the CAMRA Kent Pub of the Year 2009. The Bull pipped last year's title holder The Butcher's Arms at Herne to the accolade and will now face off against the London, Surrey & Sussex and East Anglia victors for the right to represent the South East in the national finals.

Garrett Phipps and Lynne Prentice took the reigns at an unremarkable village local in April 2005 and since then the pub has gone from strength to strength at a staggering rate. Before their arrival, The Bull stocked just one cask ale, Courage Best, and was very much a lager-drinkers' pub. The pub was one of the first to truly champion Dark Star beers outside of their own tied estate and was soon shifting more Hophead than anywhere else in the country. The ale range has continued to grow and there are now up to ten to choose from at any one time. This level of throughput is all the more remarkable considering the pub's remote location in the middle of the undulating Darent Valley countryside.

Reputation has grown and visitors now flock from far and wide to attend the revered monthly Brewery Showcases and regular Beer Festivals and events. The combination of carefully selected, top-quality beers from some of the nation's finest up-and-coming breweries such as Marble, BrewDog, Pictish and Thornbridge and Lynne's quality home-cooked, locally-sourced food together with the warmest of atmospheres continues to delight first timers and hardcore regulars alike.

The Bull won their local CAMRA branch Pub of the Year in 2008 and 2009 and collected the West Kent prize last month before scooping the county-wide award. They now square up against The Bricklayer's Arms at Putney, The Wheatsheaf at Writtle and last year's regional finalist The Royal Oak at Rusper in a bid to take on the best of the best, including last year's national champion, The Kelham Island Tavern in Sheffield.

A special mention must also go to Nick Byram and the team at the Dartford WMC for being voted CAMRA Kent Club of the Year 2009. The club is no stranger to success, having picked up the national prize in 2006 and continues to offer a staggering range of beers at heriocally low prices. The six-month waiting list for membership is testament to the club's ever-increasing popularity and they must, surely, be contenders for the national prize again this year.

To mark the occasion, the two champions will host a Joint Beer Festival from 19th-22nd November, with 30 winning ales available at each venue and an hourly shuttle bus running between them. In an extra twist, the two landlords have agreed to swap premises for the day on Saturday 21st November, with Garrett manning the bar at the WMC and Nick pulling the pints at The Bull. Be sure to add it to your diary and join in the celebrations.

  • Garrett assures me that The Bull's website and blog will be back up and running and information-rich very soon.

Oakham - A Glass Act

Check out the suave new glassware that Oakham Ales have provided to members of their Oakademy of Excellence. The new tall, curvaceous branded bulbs are more reminiscent of continental premium lager pots and surely won't do any harm in their ongoing attempts to shake off outdated negative ale imagery and nab market share away from the multinationals.

The Oakademy is a recently-established members club for permanent stockists of Oakham beers, allowing exclusive access to their limited edition monthly guests, September's being the 5.2% ABV American-inspired Red Neck. Draught K├Ânig Pilsener, imported from Germany, is also available only to member pubs.

A glossy brochure of participating pubs will be made available from October and a full list of some 60 outlets across the Midlands can be found on the website, including a "tickers' page" detailing where you can track down each of the monthly beers.

3 September 2009

Perfect Pictish

Just a quick note to say, yes, the rumours are true. Due to literally some enquiries into the whys and wherefores of Ale-Affinity's untimely demise, I've decided to tentatively prod the dormant site with my foot to see if there's any life left in it.

I've spruced the place up a bit (do you like it?) and gone for a bit more of a grown-up feel, since none of us are getting any younger. However, don't expect an immediate flurry of activity, as I'm jetting off on holiday at the weekend and will be busy packing and organising beforehand.

I will, of course, be making time to hit The Bull later today for the much anticipated Pictish Brewery Showcase. There was a false start back in May, when Phoenix stepped in late on after Pictish were unable to ship what was required. Since then, the Rochdale-based micro have featured with some regularity on the bar and seriously impressed us all. I won't go into detail about the seven available beers, among them four single hoppers, as Steve 'Beer Justice' Williams has already done so more than adequately. I will just say that I'm a big fan of single hop variety ales. It's a great education into which hops give certain flavours and the few that I've been lucky enough to try from Pictish to date have been magnificent. My aim is to eventually get through as many of the 37 listed on their site as possible.

Having ventured up to Derbyshire with Mark Dredge on Tuesday, I'll be continuing to make the most of my time unchained from my office desk and will persist with public transport (both bus and train) in order to make the most of what's on offer. Wish me luck.

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