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.

22 February 2009

Bull Brewery Showcase №4 - Dark Star

The fourth Showcase in the monthly series features the locally revered Dark Star Brewing Co. of Sussex. Dark Star beers are regularly seen on the pumps at The Bull but never has there been such a selection at any one time.

The following six ales will be served from the stillage from Thursday 5th March until the casks have run dry (which judging by the Thornbridge event last time may not be all that long!):

  • Hophead 3.8%
  • Best 4.0%
  • Saison 4.5%
  • Sussex Extra Stout 4.5%
  • American Pale Ale 4.7%
  • Six Hop 6.5%

Out of this herculean line-up, the one which immediately catches my eye is the new seasonal, Saison. Described as a “Belgian farmhouse ale historically brewed to be enjoyed by the farmers during the harvest” it boasts Saaz, Styrian and Belgian Goldings hops plus specially imported Saison yeast. Although, those who are not yet versed in the sheer pleasure that is a fresh pint of gravity-dispensed Hophead or APA will surely find these difficult to top.

As usual, there will be a further five handpulled ales from a selection of the UK’s finest and a full-on Bingo Quiz to kick things off on the Thursday evening. Less usual is a Meet the Brewer session at the pub on Friday 6th at 8pm and a groovy disco to round off proceedings on Saturday night.

The Bull is gaining wider notoriety all the time, with a recent influx of new visitors from all over Kent and into Sussex. Their regular advertisements in the London Drinker have also enticed a number of discerning pubgoers out from the capital.

If you are yet to check out what all the fuss is about, what better excuse could you hope to find than this? (Aside from the BrewDog Showcase lined up for April, that is…)


28 January 2009

Scotland Invades the Criterion

Thursday 22nd – Sunday 25th January saw the Criterion, Leicester hosting a Burns Night beer festival, featuring a solid selection of ales from our tartan brothers across the border.

Having previewed the selection a few days prior to the event, both the ‘Monster and I were keen to get over for this one; the line up included no less than six offerings from that most elusive of breweries, Clockwork, and as a result the beer hound in us could smell the scoops on the breeze…

Clockwork is a brewery which I must confess I had no real knowledge of – hardly surprising given that it operates from a solitary brewpub in Glasgow, where the brewery output is consumed and sold exclusively on the premises. How the Criterion had managed this coup I do not know, but much kudos to them for it.

Unfortunately, due to logistical issues, the Clockwork beers did not arrive until after the festival (they’re currently racked up in the cellar, and I’m awaiting a text from one of my contacts on the staff to advise that they’re tapped and ready), so on the Thursday we busied ourselves with the rest of the selection.

The 15 beers available were drawn from six breweries; renegade masters and Portman defeaters Brewdog were represented by Trashy Blond (4.9%) and Zeitgeist (4.9%), with these complemented by three offerings from Fyfe, Boadicea (4.2%), Perle (4.2%) and Weiss Squad (4.5%), and six from Kelburn, Goldihops (3.8%), Misty Law (4.0%), Red Smiddy (4.1%), Dark Moor (4.5%), Carte Blanche (5.0%) and Ca’ Canny (5.2%)

The selection was rounded off with one brew apiece from Harviestoun (Haggis Hunter, 4.3%) and Houston (Texas, 4.3%) and a somewhat calculated offering of 80 Shilling (4.1%) and Deuchars IPA (3.8%) from the behemoth that is Caledonian.

Of these we sampled all bar the Caledonian duo (just too commercial), the wheat beer (just not our bag) and the Goldihops and Red Smiddy (both already scooped). The condition on all was very good, and the beers themselves were generally good – the only real let down was the Perle, a lacklustre, thin and watery offering brewed using this lager hop variety.

Beers on the day which merit particular note were the Trashy Blond, a cracking amber number with a spicy hopped palate redolent with apple and citrus notes and a deliciously dry and bitter finish, the Zeitgeist with its big sweet malt hit, roasted and chocolate tones and lightly fruited hop edge, and the Haggis Hunter for its tangy, fruity malts and late, bitter hop finish.

All in all, the team at the Critter pulled off a good show, and I look forward to sampling the Clockwork brews when they become available.

If there is one gripe to be made it would have to be in respect of pricing – due to “costly delivery charges from Scotland” the prices on all the ales had been increased by up to 20p, resulting in a pint of 3.8% beer selling for £2.50. Still, given the economic climate I guess this is to be expected really!

For those with an interest, the Clockwork ales will be Amber IPA (3.8%), Red Alt (4.4%), Oregon IPA (5.5) and Strong Ale (6.0%) and two keg beers, Original Lager (4.8%) and Hazy Daze Seriously Ginger (5.0%)


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