BeerVisits - UK - Europe - USA/Canada - World

General or Historical Articles

FiftyYears3 1Alec James

Summer 1975 saw a friend Robbie and myself hire a car for a week, the highlight being a day trip to the Isle of Wight. Four adults and four kids jammed in car and we left at 4am to catch an early ferry. No M25 then, all A roads and caught a ferry at 8am. Toured the island and caught the last ferry home arriving at 4am! Best pub was the Mill Bay in Ventnor, found thanks to the 1975 CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

FiftyYears3 2Another great trip that week was to Woburn Abbey Safari Park. Again the Good Beer Guide came up trumps in the shape of the Barley Mow at Tyttenhanger. A rare truly free house, it became quite famous for a while but was sold to Watneys and closed in 1984.

Then in 1976 I went into the Cricketers at Strood. No hand pumps in sight but Eric Acott the landlord told me the beer was on electric dispense as the pub had no cellar. I was hooked, the beer was lovely, no fizz, no headache later; he even had Shep’s Old Ale on the bar in winter. What a joy and after that the pub was known to me as “Electric Eric's” and I would go there most Saturday evenings.

FiftyYears3 3Summer 1976 was rather warm and I remember Maurice at work remarking about drinking real ale in hot weather. I arranged to meet him in the Royal Victoria & Bull in Rochester one lunchtime. Mrs Burford, yes Dave's mum, served two pints of Trophy and was it good, even Maurice was impressed. I knew of course that the cellar was nice and cool being very deep and made of flint and stone.

In the Good Beer Guide that year, most of the real ale in Kent was Shep's with a smattering of real Trophy. Some of the pubs served the Trophy straight from the barrel, notably the Bush, Blackbird & Thrush at East Peckham, the Amazon & Tiger in Meopham, the Ringlestone Inn and of course, the Mounted Rifleman at Luddenham, near Faversham which became a firm favourite. Thanks to the 1977 Good Beer Guide I could now find pubs that served some quite exotic brews at the time.

FiftyYears3 4The Toastmasters at Burham now sold Youngs, Sam Smiths and Theakstons Old Peculiar. The Vigo Inn in Vigo itself had Youngs and Bass, and Crown Point Inn at Seal Chart served Youngs, Sam Smiths and my favourite Harveys.

Best trip out was Tunbridge Wells for the Beau Nash (Harveys & Sam Smiths) and the Sussex Arms which sold most of the Harveys range.

There were plenty of Beermat meetings in London and always seemed to be in pubs which served good beer. It was at one London meeting I first tried Ind Coope Burton Ale. As Medway had quite a few Ind Coope pubs I kept my eye out for the brew. It first appeared in the Falstaff at Higham and it was superb.

FiftyYears3 5In the next few years it became quite common and some pubs tried the whole range, Ind Coope Mild, Bitter and Burton. The Star and the Masons Arms in Rochester both served all three. How times change, when I first started drinking the Masons was a Fremlins house, then Ind Coope, Shepherd Neame for a short while and is now the What the Dick Inns, a free house.

By the end of the 1970's I was a regular at the Kent Beer Festival in Canterbury although I did not join CAMRA until 1980. I also remember a ramshackle beer festival in Sheerness in 1981. The big six brewers even proved they could brew good beer if they wanted. Whitbread Fremlins Bitter and Tusker, Draught Bass, Courage Directors and Ind Coope Burton Ale, even Watneys (please see illustration of one of their Fined Bitter mats) and Scottish & Newcastle started to make good beer available to drinkers.

FiftyYears3 6In Kent we had our first micro-brewery, I think. Canterbury Brewery beer being available in the Millers Arms in that city. This was soon joined by Sevenoaks Brewery at the Crown Point Inn.

During this period I started to take part in the Shepherd Neame Ale Trails. They started out by having a passport stamped and prizes awarded after the New Year.

Whilst taking part some workmates used to meet after work at the Bridgewood Cottage at the top of Bluebell Hill. The landlord Roy told me he was born on the stairs in the pub and took over the license from his parents. Roy and his lady friend Ann ran the pub for many years and made the national papers when it emerged they had got engaged in the 1940's but they had never tied the knot! It was famous for its old bus seats as furniture but was closed down for the road widening later in the 1980's.

Part 3 of 12