Opinion and rants

The Session #133 – Planet Thanet

Margate

As a child growing up in the Isle of Thanet, Kent (not an actual Isle) my exposure to the pub was mostly a relatively humdrum experience, usually for a family occasion, or maybe a meal, even a new year’s eve visit. The odd trip up to my Dad’s local to watch him play for his Pool team, was about as exciting as pubs got for me during my early teens. Even as I got slightly older, and started paying for my own drinks the venues were quite run of the mill – we would go wherever would serve us, given that we were 16 or 17 at the time. Even during my student years in Leeds, the pubs were still just wallpaper in a occasionally visited room of my life, and the beer was of even less significance. Gradually, as I became more interested in beer and pubs, this changed. As did the places I visited – on visits back to Margate the difference was clearer, less good beer was available there and I could count the number of places worth visiting on one finger.

As a native turned occasional visitor, there’s no doubt I was missing somewhere that would have been a cut above the rest, but generally Thanet’s pubs were either owned by the local family operator or a national PubCo and were much the same. Friday and Saturday nights were busy everywhere, of course, but it was generally the same places and faces. Nowadays, this is far from the case. Having just spent a week in Margate and it’s wider locale I’ve been to less than a third of the places I would usually have liked to visit. Whilst the micropub revolution is still alive and kicking, there’s plenty of ‘regular’ sized pubs and bars that are worth visiting as well.

the-ravensgate-arms

Originally resurrected in 2014 by the now defunct Late Knights Brewery, the Ravensgate Arms was forcibly shut when it had its licence revoked last year due to allegations of opening after hours and breaches of the licence conditions, a decision that mystified many. The consensus opinion seemed to be that the management had been enjoying themselves a bit too much, and the authorities took a dim view of a few incidents by throwing the book at them. Luckily, Eddie Gadd, of the Ramsgate Brewery, joined forces with the original manager of the pub from 2014, to take over, reopening late last year. The pub not only has a great range of keg and cask beer, but a lively atmosphere and that ‘proper pub’ feel. If you’re into visiting a place with that ‘backstreet boozer’ feel, Gadd’s beers and guests can also be found at the Montefiore Arms, a short stroll away.

Now nestled away on an industrial estate, Eddie Gadd and his team have been operating The Ramsgate Brewery since 2002 when they operated on an old Firkin brewpub kit down in Ramsgate Harbour. Whilst the brewery may mainly have a reputation for making excellent traditional ales using Kentish hops, they also produce bretted pales, tripels, sour beers and much more besides. Tours are operated on Saturdays, and there’s an on-site shop offering packaged and draught beer to take away. Ramsgate Brewery alumni are spread far and wide across the UK these days, and Gadd’s have been influential in the current new wave of breweries, even if Eddie himself regards some of the surrounding culture with healthy cynicism.

Despite the name, the Bottleshop in Margate is primarily a bar – the owners being the Bottleshop importers/wholesalers, originating from Canterbury but now with their main sites in East London and Bermondsey. As they themselves have discussed, the decision to open a bar here was a bold one – but which seems to have paid off. Certainly, other than the Ravensgate there isn’t as good a beer selection elsewhere in Thanet, and their position, straddling Margate Old Town and the Seafront is a prime location for tourists and locals. Modern, sleek, but welcoming, this is a must-visit.

From the modern to the old, of sorts, The Old Cottage Pub has been undergoing a long, painstaking process of redevelopment and is scheduled to open this year. The building dates back from 1650 and the owners have taken every possible step to restore the building’s features, as well as install an on-site microbrewery. Their facebook page has been sporadically updated, including a 18 month period of silence, but I am assured that progress is being made. If you’re at a loose end, you can see their appearance on Homes Under the Hammer here. If historical pubs interest you it’s worth checking out the Northern Belle, a short walk from here, which has been operating since 1680. Also of significance is the UK’s largest branch of Wetherspoons at the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, a Grade II listed building – grand, opulent, and sympathetically restored. Ultimately it is still a ‘spoons though.

yard_of_ale_smj_800px

Much has been written about the relatively short history of Micropubs, and with Kent being the epicentre of the explosion its unsurprising to learn that Thanet is chock full of them. Amongst the crowd, there are a few that are particularly noteworthy – The Yard of Ale was a CAMRA national pub of the year finalist in 2015, and is based in the yard of a Funeral Directors’, The Fez is located on Margate high street and is eccentrically furnished with all sorts of tat and treasures, and The Four Candles in St Peter’s bills itself as the smallest brewpub in Britain – producing its own bottles and casks in the basement. It might disappoint the micropub purists, but The Tap Room in Cliftonville and the Lifeboat in Margate Old Town also now sell Keg. The horror!

My feelings towards the Isle have and haven’t changed, in terms of liveability its infinitely preferable now than when I was younger but its hard to tell if my ageing has been the main factor, or if the diversification of the area into a more lively, if still edgy place is more appealing. Certainly, it wasn’t an outwardly appealing place in my youth, but with the influx of new blood parts of it are markedly attractive – but thankfully still not in a shiny, polished way. There’s still a huge disparity between the inhabitants, with some very deprived communities and resentment of the DFLs (down from London) from the older, more backwards-focused residents, but ultimately the injection of culture and life over the last five or so years is vital and welcomed, especially for those looking for good beer

Standard
Reviews and events

12 Beers of Xmas – De Molen – Amarillo and Hardknott – Rhetoric

Yesterday I unwisely said that my Beer for the day would be ‘whatever I find while out in Whitstable’. I’m not really a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person, I’d much rather have something planned well in advance, but short of necking either of these Beers with breakfast it was a necessary risk.

Despite a lovely meal with great company, the beer on offer in the Restaurant and Pub didn’t meet the mark of the previous two nights – Shepherd Neame’s ubiquity in these parts doesn’t help. So, I’ve decided to give myself a do-over and make tonight a double header.

First up, Brouwerij De Molen’s Amarillo. Double IPA(ish) according to the label, it pours a cloudy amber and although I appear to have lost my sense of smell due to over enthusiastic use of Vicks First Defence*, I can already smell a resinous, jammy quality. First gulp is peachy and strawberry jelly, with a nice puckering dryness on the finish. I had to be careful with the pour due to De Molen’s trademark sedimentary bottoms, but there’s a lasting, if thin, head. This has an unmistakeable Double IPA profile, and with the sweet fruits makes a great winter beer.

Next in line, Hardknott Rhetoric. This is edition 1, brewed back in 2012 as a one-off as part of Hardknott’s concept range. Billed as a Quasi-Bombastic Belgian Quad, it is infused with Star Anise and made with a variety of sugars, resulting in a sweet, boozy, deep red treat. The Brewer, Dave Bailey, advised in a blog that it would be a good idea to age this for a few years, and while two and a half years on the beer isn’t overly showing many visible signs of having improved the beer’s condition, it tastes cherry brandy-like and complex. Again, there are strong preserved fruit flavours, but with a warming boozy aftertaste like a good port.

Another enjoyable night in the parent’s living room with a pair of brilliant beers. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I’m out again, but being in the know about Thanet’s Beer scene I’m predicting better results than I found in Whitstable.

*Disclaimer – I didn’t pay for my Vicks First Defence, and given that it has well and truly fckd my sense of smell, I don’t think it influenced this blog post content

Standard
Reviews and events

12 Beers of Xmas – To Øl – Jule Mælk

The winds were with us today – 4hrs 13min from West Yorkshire to Margate. All the Beer in the boot survived intact which is a blessing and a curse. With limited fridge space due to the annual overstock of Meats and Treats, I’ve brought mostly strong, dark beers that will be sufficiently acclimatised with an hour out in the back yard.

With the apprentice final on in one corner, it’s rantin’ season and the fuel for my sneering is To Øl’s Jule Mælk. Pouring pitch black, but with a yellowish taint to the edges, and a thin mocha head, this Imperial Stout is definitely snooze inducing at 15% abv. Going past the initial boozy hit, lactic cappuccino flavours dominate, but with a sharp salty caramel aftertaste.

Despite the strength and a sweetness that some may find cloying, I’m enjoying this and finding it incredibly drinkable – I’ve tried to approach it as a slow sipper but it has proved too irresistible and I’m halfway down with 15 minutes. After a long drive, I’m settled in and ready for a doze!

Standard