Saturday, 30 March 2013

Whitstable and Herne Bay Part One

I'd somehow managed to have around 15 days annual leave leftover by the start of March this year. I was therefore forced into booking time off by the HR department as part of some "wellbeing" initiative. Taking time home on a weekday when I'm not going anywhere on holiday is never much fun as everybody I know is stuck at work so I just end up sitting at home watching crap TV and playing a tremendous amount of video games. I decided this time I would do an ale trail day trip to get me away from Call of Duty and Jeremy Kyle. Now that I'm living on the Kent borders I thought I'd see what the South East has to offer. The Lovely Jemma suggested I visit Whistable, partly because it's nice and partly because she's been there a few times and wouldn't feel like she's missing out by not visiting with me. A quick glance at the Good Beer Guide revealed there were a few decent pubs there and in neighbouring Herne Bay, so the decision was made to pay a visit.

After arriving at Whitstable train station I immediately hopped onto a bus and headed over to Herne, a small village about a 15 minute bus ride from Herne Bay. I'd forgotten just how expensive buses are outside of London, and grudgingly handed over the £6 for a one day bus pass. For that amount of money I expect gold plated seats and a relaxing massage while I travel, but alas it was just a boring journey on a plain bus. My reason for visiting Herne was to pay a visit to The Butchers Arms, a pub which has gained famed for being the first "micropub" when it opened in 2005. The landlord, Martin, took advantage of a change of licensing laws and converted a small former butchers into a den of real ale and banter. There's a no mobile phone policy which is why I haven't taken any pictures of the place. Although to be honest I probably would of forgotten to take pictures anyway.

Entering the pub at 12pm, I was the only customer and it stayed that way for a good hour. But it didn't matter as Martin was a very friendly and accommodating host, even though he had gout so he wasn't able to head back into the former butchers "cold room" to pour the beer. Luckily his lovely assistant poured the ales for me. A blackboard behind the tiny "bar" showed that there were four ales on offer although it looked like there was room for about six ales in the cold room.  The cold room must have magical properties as it managed to make Adnams Broadside taste great, with raisin notes I never knew existed coming through perfectly. Hopdaemon Incubus was a bit special, a very refreshing best bitter that got everything right. Lovely bitter finish, slightly sweet, with fruity and caramel undertones. Very good indeed. Finally The Ripple Steam Brewery IPA, which was marked just as IPA on the blackboard, causing Martin to curse his assistant under his breath, was the weakest of the bunch. Almost grassy flavours were coming through, and although there was a hint of fruitiness the overall flavour was disappointing to me. The final beer on offer was Dark Star Hophead, which is apparently the "regular" beer. I didn't sample it but I'm sure it was delicious as always.

The lunchtime hours are stated as 12pm - 1:30pm. I was the only person in there from 12pm - 1pm, but a couple of locals came in towards the end and there was some pleasurable banter. I can imagine this place being quite lively and a bit of fun with a few people in, as even just the six of us was enough to get a decent atmosphere going. There's no denying this is a very "blokey" place, with a sign on the toilet door asking patrons to leave the toilet seat up, and a couple of bottles of white wine in the cold room in case it's requested by a confused wife or girlfriend. This may rub some people the wrong way, but I liked the honesty of the place - it's Martins gaff and he'll run it how he wants (which is generally very well indeed) and if you don't like it there's a Shepherd Neame pub just across the road. I had a thoroughly pleasurable visit and I can't wait to go back.

If it's on a sign it must be true!
It saddened me to leave the Butchers Arms but more pubs awaited so it was on to a bus to nearby Fordwich, which claims to be England's smallest town. Clearly they like a drink as it's blessed with two pubs but I only had time to pop into the Fordwich Arms. I probably lowered the average patron age by around 40 years when I walked in and the elderly clientèle did make me think I'd walked into the local WI meeting by mistake but I soon settled in. This is a very well presented pub both inside and out, with a glorious fireplace, and probably the most tasteful decorating I've seen in a traditional pub. Naturally I forgot to take pictures, and to be honest I thought I'd scare most of the customers with my modern technology, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The Fordwich Arms. Nice inside and out.
Most of the patrons were there to enjoy lunch which looked very good indeed. Sadly the ale selection didn't have quite as much effort put into it as the decor and the food and I ended up having a rather disappointing half of Flowers Original, a beer as old as time and it tasted like it. After the varied beers at the Butchers Arms this was a thudding return to the bad old days of the "warm, flat brown water" stereotype that ale still sometimes suffers from. However the pub was so nice that I was happy to spend 30 minutes in there quaffing this bland, lifeless beer. Again this was another pub I'd be happy to return to, probably more for a bite to eat than for a beer on it's own.

The final pub in the Herne area was the Prince of Wales in Herne Bay. 3pm on a Wednesday during the off season at a seaside resort is never going to be the most lively time for a pub but walking into here was like walking into a morgue. A couple of punters sat dreary eyed at the bar, like real life Barney Gumbles from The Simpsons. I plumped for a pint of Early Bird from Shephered Neame, one of their seasonal beers which I hadn't tried before. Sadly it ended up being the most boring beer of the day, completely lifeless with precious little flavour to it. A dreary beer for a dreary pub. The pub is large which doesn't help the atmosphere when nobody is in. A large games room in the back look promising, and I imagine with a few in this is could be quite a good boozer. However as I found Herne Bay itself entirely underwhelming I don't think I'll be able to give this pub a second chance any time soon.

That's it for now, I'll be detailing the pubs I visited in Whistable in a further blog post. I know you can't wait and quite frankly I don't blame you. Have a great Easter.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A new house and a Snooty Fox

As mentioned in my last update I'm afraid I've been slacking off from this blog due to foolishly deciding to buy a house. This has meant my time has been taken up running back and forth dealing with estate agents, solicitors, surveyors, utilitiy companies and furniture suppliers. And more importantly I haven't had any internet access for the past few weeks.

It's my first time buying a house and it's been an exciting journey. I must admit I was a bit nervous throughout the process after discovering the house buying section of the MoneySavingExpert forums and reading some of the horror stories on there. I always find doing a bit of research on the internet on a subject is both a blessing and curse. It's a blessing because I learn a lot about the subject and get differing viewpoints, and can prepare for any potential hiccups. It's a curse because I realise just how many things can go horribly wrong, and just terribly wrong it can go. In this case, after reading the MSE forums, I was worried that during the house buying process there would be a point where I just end up sitting in a corner silently rocking back and forth while clutching my mobile phone, hoping my solicitor wouldn't call me up to tell me the office dog accidentally ate all of my paperwork and the buying process will be delayed for a year.

Bringing it all together in the most
shambolic way possible
Thankfully the estate agents and solicitors weren't completely useless and didn't have an office dog, so the process went through smoothly with no paperwork being eaten by any type of domestic pet. Getting internet access also went through OK. As part of their charter BT are required to mess something up, and in this case a BT Engineer who was supposed to visit our house never arrived as "the work could all be done at the exchange." Of course we weren't told this until the next day, after The Lovely Jemma had spent a day at home waiting for a BT engineer who was never going to arrive. As it's BT the complaint process is long and ultimately pointless, so they will most likely get away with this.

But now that I'm settled in and have internet it's time for a few updates on my beery travels. I'll be doing a few posts over the next few weeks and I'll start off with a report on the delights of The Snooty Fox. This relatively new pub has been getting a lot of acclaim from CAMRA members and other real ale fans who don't sport beards. When I saw they were having a Northern ale festival I decided to go check out this well regarded boozer for the first time. I ventured off to Canonbury, which is one of those places nobody knew existed until the London Overground discovered it like a mechanical, lumbering Christopher Columbus. Upon entering the pub my first impressions were "this is a small pub" and also "bloody hell there's a lot of people here I'm never going to get a seat." There was a jovial atmosphere inside, and also a very appealing selection of Northern ales, some being served from the bar and others from barrels in a temporary area which was probably using up some of the seating.

Highly Recommended
They clearly care about the beer here and all the ale was in tip top condition. Highlights included the Magic Rock High Wire NZ. The Lovely Jemma described this one best as a "adventure in my mouth, and I like the adventure." It's a fruity, fragrant and absolutely delicious beer, and one to challenge the mighty Thornbridge Kipling as a new hoppy favourite. The New World Red from the Saltaire Brewery was also great, with a lovely malty bitterness that gave this ruby red beer a nice warming feel to it. Delightful.

I spotted and correctly identified beer writer and blogger Pete Brown in attendance, and it turns out he was there to do a talk on his new book. It's quite an achievement for me to identify someone correctly. Usually I point at someone and say "Isn't that Christopher Walken?" before The Lovely Jemma has to point out that it's not Mr Walken but actually just a homeless person and that's why he's rooting through some bins.

Sadly the conversation in the pub was so loud I wasn't able to catch much of what Mr Brown was saying.  The bits I caught sounded far more entertaining and informative then anything I could of thought up, which is probably why he's publishing books and I'm sat here typing gibberish into a blog that is largely read by Google Spiderbots. We did share one thing in common though: he also seemed pretty pleased with the beer quality in the pub.

As part of the festival a small Northern themed food menu was available. I went for a Toad in the Hole which filled me up nicely. Overall a very pleasant evening was had in this cosy and welcoming pub, and I look forward to returning.

As mentioned there are more updates to come as I continue to enthral you all with my February ale tales. See you soon!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Still Alive

Just a short post to reassure my regular reader that I am still alive. The past few weeks have been busy for me as I've somehow managed to get myself a house. Buying and doing up a house takes up a surprising amount of time, even if The Lovely Jemma has done most of the work. I've also been without internet although BT and EE have finally managed to come together and provide broadband to my humble abode.

Despite the house taking up a lot of my time I have managed to visit a few pubs and sample a few ales over the last few weeks, including visiting a couple of pubs in what is now my "new" local area in South East London. It is my duty to tell you about these adventures so look out for updates over the next few days.