Wikio - Top Blogs - Wine and beer The Real Ale Girl: December 2010

Thursday 16 December 2010

Way out West-erham

I'm not a country girl. I am city born, my lullabies are the sounds of sirens and 3am revellers. Four years living in Cambridge, albeit glorious and the location of my discovery of real ale, often felt like clasutrophibic village living to me. Meanwhile, my friend from rural Devon thought she had arrived in a dangerous, graffitti- ridden metropolis.
So it was with a mix of intrigued trepidation that I allowed myself to be driven down the deepest, darkest lanes of Kent towards the Westerham Brewery. When I say I allowed myself to be driven, I should admit, we actually managed to convince Non-drinking Mum to drive us there, pay £8 for a shandy and stand in a cold barn. She didn't get the reward for the crazy journey, pot-holed driveway and snow-ramped car park that we did, as we heaved open huge sliding doors to find a brewhouse brimming with jugs of beer, the glitter of fairy lights bouncing off mash tuns and hundreds of balding heads. We paid eight quid, we poured unlimited ale into our non-plastic compostable cups and we merried ourselves squeezing into nooks between pieces of brewing equipment.
We made our way along the jugs, from the refreshing 1965 Special Bitter, the William Wilborforce Freedom Ale (mixing demerera sugar- fairtrade, of course- with Kentish hops), past SPA, British Bulldog, Finchcocks Orginial and Grasshopper, to the Christmas brew God's Wallop and the relatively new Double Stout. We had an 18 pint box of God's Wallop last Christmas (it goes very well with turkey, in fact, the food offering at the brewery itself were baps of turkey marinated in the stuff). This year, we will be making our way through an 18 pinter of the Double Stout- a beautifully rich and fruity, yet smooth, easy drinking beer full of winter warming oomph.
Westerham is a brewery which, from the farmyard location and open-air gents, appears quaint and old-fashioned but in reality is at the forefront of innovation in beer. Robert Wicks, the brewery's founder, peppered his tour with nuggets of the future- his sccience geek 'hoprocket' system (oo-er), the eclectic, up-coming international beer style specials, the ethical and environmental credentials of the brewery, all the while singing of the health benefits of ale. They have recently started growing their own malt and use almost entirely Kentish grown hops, being loyal to the beer heritage of the local area both through the ingredients sourced and by creating beers to old recipes from the archives (and the original yeast) of the famous Black Eagle Brewery.
A unique experience: a glimpse of the future, in a dark and muddy farm, while handling the biggest jugs around. (Ahem).

Wednesday 1 December 2010

All Hail The Harp

I just had one of those lovely moments where you exclaim out loud with glee and want to tell someone the news. I had one such moment this morning when a text arrived saying not to go to work because of the snow. But that's not the one I wanted to tell you about. This particular exclamation happened when I finally got round to opening this month's What's Brewing.
Behold, on the front page, a most marvellous piece of news-The (glorious) Harp on Chandos Place, London, has made it into the final four for the CAMRA best pub in the country. I always look at the pubs who win that accolade with a sense of wonder and intrigue- they must be spectacular enclaves of beer joy, full of ale loving pilgrims clutching their Good Beer Guides with rapture. But they are always so darn far away an I find myself asking the inevitable questions- will I be able to go there on a weekend away? How far is it from the nearest train station? When I get there will the punters look at me like I shouldn't be there (or offer me a glass of rose)? Before the cries of complaint at my naive comments leap from your mouths, I will confess to never having, to my knowledge, been to a CAMRA national pub of the year. Not even The Kelham Island Tavern. Indeed a travesty, and a black mark on ale loving credibilty.
But- oh! The Harp! Its 15 minutes on the train from my gaff! It's a mere delight filled skip from Charing Cross! And they never look at you like you haven't got the right to be ordering a stout with bosoms, a good figure, and no memory of the '70s, as the staff are in the same boat! This place is girl power Real Ale Stylee, a place I love so much that I will risk every elbow in the rib, every sweaty armpit up the nose, every moment of missing out on a bar stall, just to be inside. It was the first place I tried the heavenly Old Chestnut by the lovely dudes at Dark Star, and Sambrook's Powerhouse Porter, hot off the press in its first couple of weeks. The beers are reliable, exciting, beautifully served and varied, served to locals, commuters and Japanese tourists in equal measure, making it truly cosmoplitan whilst endearingly quaint, charming and well, bloody small.
Bigup to the lasses at The Harp- a well deserved place in the final four.