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General or Historical Articles

Alec James

FiftyYears6 1Towards the end of 1992 Peter and Doreen had left the “Shoe” and bought the Imperial in Canterbury. December saw our Christmas trip to Alan Gardner in Leyland.

Having met Alan and his wife June in my beermat collecting days they put us up so, Alan and myself could do some serious drinking and the girls some serious shopping.

This was basically six days of drinking in the best pubs in Preston, Bolton, Chorley, Manchester, Liverpool and Wigan. By far and away my favourite was the Northern Quarter in Manchester with the Beer House and Marble Arch (see photo right) being the best.

FiftyYears6 2In January 1993 my employers decided on a new shift pattern. This was two 12-hour days followed by two 12-hour nights. Four days off followed and every ten weeks I had two weeks off. I called this Al's alcoholic charter. After nights, sleep in the morning followed by 3 days drinking.

February saw us stay with a friend in Dundee for a few days. Sadly the beer was not up too much although the “Ox” (Oxford Bar) in Edinburgh was superb (see photo, right below). The main event was an armed robbery we bumped into (literally). We walked round a corner in Dundee and there was armed men having a tug-of-war over a bag of money with security men! Of course Heather, being very cool, got the number of the getaway car. It turned out to be someone chasing them!

FiftyYears6 3Fifty-odd grand they got away with and the security men were suspended “for not adhering to company policy”! I presume that means crapping ones-self, which is what I nearly did.

I think I went to my first beer festival at the Elephant in Faversham in April. Once a Fremlin’s pub it was by now a free house. Known by some as Sid's vinegar factory he tried to sell 80 odd beers. After a couple of weeks much of the beer was still left! The quality of the beers then bear no resemblance to Jim’s ales now. Please see photo above left, taken after Sid had left, when it came under the control of Flagship Brewery of Chatham.

FiftyYears6 4After the 2nd Rosey (the Roseneath in Gillingham) Beer Festival, it was off to York with Ron & Roz Buchet (affectionately known as Bucket). They dropped us in Kimberley on the way back, but not before we had visited Sheffield, Doncaster and the North Yorks Moors Railway. Once we checked in to the Nelson & Railway at Kimberley, we had time to get to the CAMRA Derby Beer Festival.

The pub was a great B & B where we shared the toilets with the kids getting ready for school! However the Hardy Hanson beers were superb. It was at this time, according to most people who I knew, that we drank the worst beer ever to see a glass. The brewery only lasted a year and I'm not surprised. Was Mundane's Opening Medicine supposed to taste like that? I thought the other beer was Doctors Orders but can find no trace of it.

FiftyYears6 5After that it was the Kent Beer Festival at Canterbury and a week end staying with Peter & Doreen, formerly of the Horseshoe at Strood, and now at the Imperial in Wincheap, Canterbury. August saw the local branch of CAMRA run a beer festival at the first Medway Euro Drink & Food Festival. It would be another ten years before they tried it again.

In September a little trip “up north” featured Burton Beer Festival in the wonderful Town Hall with its Wurlitzer organ. Tried the Mundane ale again just to prove it was that bad! Somehow we made the Sheffield Beer Festival and Feltham Beer Festival on the way home. After trips round Arkells and King & Barnes breweries, it was get ready for our winter bash in the North West.

FiftyYears6 6A whole week of boozing in some great pubs. Liverpool, Bolton, Wigan, Bradford, Stockport, Preston and Manchester! Alan Gardner and Don Quayle certainly knew their way round the pubs on public transport. For me the highlight was a trip out to Appleton Thorn in Cheshire. The Village Hall Club was in the Good Beer Guide then and still is in 2015! It was just like being in someone’s front room and the beer was superb.

At the end of the year we first became aware of the Man of Kent in Rochester. It was recommended by a couple of London drinkers. Surely not, in my drinking career it always sold fizz. First visit was my introduction to Jay Sandemann, the self-proclaimed “Alemaster”. Goachers ales adorned the bar plus other guests, drinking in Rochester just got even better!

FiftyYears6 7Early 1994 saw Strood could get a pub that could serve decent beer! The former Railway in Canal Road became the Riverside and the manager knew his beer. Again he got his beer from far and wide and kept a few of us happy for a while. Sadly it didn't last long and after a falling out with the owners he left and they ripped out the hand pumps and that was that.

I think the first ever Dover Winter Ale Festival was in February and served some pretty strong beers. That year saw a small beer festival in Ashford to coincide with a leg of the Tour De France. Rochester Beer Festival reappeared on the Esplanade but was nothing compared to the previous year. Later that year we went to Jersey at long last. The beer was good and cheap but not much choice.

November that year we saw Pete in the Will Adams organising a visit to Fuller’s Brewery. The problem was Heather and myself were going on to North West that same day. Loads of beer in the brewery and I slept all the way to Wigan before having another few jars!

FiftyYears6 8I really could have done with a rest but no, it was back south with a few nights in Derby. We even managed to break the train journey at Stafford to visit the Titanic pub by the station. I managed to avoid beer on the Friday but on Saturday I was at the lunatic Winter Ale Festival at the White Horse in Parsons Green. Thankfully the Pigs Ear bash in East London was a much milder affair later.

1995 saw Andrew Purcell launch the Flagship brewery in the Chatham Dockyard. However he was always troubled by a lack of outlets locally. Many free houses had regular supplies of Goachers so it was always going to be difficult. The Minnis Brewery started in the Rose & Crown, Stelling Minnis, but only lasted for a year or so.

My favourite was Viking Brewery located near to Ramsgate which started brewing in the summer of that year. They just seemed to brew beers I liked. Sadly they only lasted for a couple of years but re-emerged as Kent Brewery only to finally close in 2000. This year saw Harveys brewery acquire the Prince of Guinea in Gillingham. Things were looking on the up but that pub had far too many problems and they sold it a couple of years later. Now it stands as two houses and yet another pub bites the dust.

FiftyYears6 9I managed to fit in a couple of brewery trips during the year, namely Morland and Morrells. When these two brewers closed someone remarked that if your brewery began with M, don't let me go round it! My tour of destruction began in 1967 at Mackeson as I tried to get some beermats there. Maclay, Mansfield, Mitchells (Lancaster), Minerva, Minnis, Malton all fell, but in my defense Moorhouses, Moulin, Marble and recently Marstons have all survived my presence!

In April the local CAMRA branch went on a day trip to Brighton. Did I really drink that much ale? The Evening Star and the Hand in Hand boasted 15 hand pumps between them and I tried twelve, I think! Later that month, with Tony & Kath we had a great week-end in Dudley (again!) at the CAMRA AGM in Wolverhampton. The beer was great as usual and made up for the hot air in the meeting.

I'm sure the Tudor Rose in Upnor held their first beer festival that year. Roger certainly knew how to throw on a beer bash, with twenty-odd beers rarely available in Medway. This was the year Sheps did a Spitfire trail. Collect 20 cards for a prize etc. Drank in the usual places to accumulate the cards which included Herne Bay.

FiftyYears6 10I had had a good drink there and went in the gents toilet on the front. I walked straight into two scrotes who thought the old fool might have some money, “you look like you can give us some money” sneered the youth in the doorway. I was so furious with myself that I launched a sweet right-hander at the spotty faced git in the doorway. Not a very good shot and I hurt my ego more than the would-be mugger. All three of us legged it in different directions!

We had lovely week-end in York finished off with a couple of nights in Peterborough to check if the beer festival was as good as ever! Sadly it rained as usual, but never let a drop of water get in the way of a good drink! There was another beer festival at Sid's vinegar factory in Faversham, but again the beer was still on weeks later! Sadly as the Horseshoe went downhill there was nowhere in Strood to get a decent pint so we spent all our drinking hours over the Medway bridge.

If I thought the Brunswick (photo above left) in Derby was good, they then had a beer festival in October. What a selection of ales! We stayed in Derby for four days and still only scratched the surface beer-wise. 55 different beers in four days, not bad, as I remember! Fred, Margaret, Heather and myself then had a go at the CAMRA Jersey Beer Festival in November, meeting Colin & Sue there.

FiftyYears6 11I found out to my cost that I'm not a good flyer but a couple of swift brandies beforehand soon sorted that out. A very good trip round the islands and Mary Ann Brewery again proved the beer could be good, but the majority of pubs preferred to sell fizzy beer and you had to have a beer guide to help you out. Sadly the beers in the festival came mainly from Southern England and I certainly wasn't going to drink Sheps out there. At least they had a good range from Gales, Ringwood and King & Barnes.

Medway CAMRA's Christmas social ended up in the Roseneath, and I think this was the session where a certain Adrian Moss ended up in the railway sidings in London somewhere.

Part 6 of 12