CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 2 Lenham Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - December 12, 2001

guinness eileen

Who'd A Thought It, Headcorn Road, Grafty Green, Kent

guinness eileen

Red Lion, The Square, Lenham, Kent

Before I start this week's column I was so happy to read Tim Hampson's article in the current issue of CAMRA's What's Brewing. Tim talks about the health value of beer, particularly hoppy beer. "British real ales contain more hops than most other beers," he says, claiming that xanthohumol and other agents in hops may stop some cancers developing. The high quantity of folate may protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer, and the silicon is good for bones and connective tissue. That hoppy pint also protects against gallstones and against the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which leads to stomach ulcers and cancer.

Is this good news for hops lovers or what? Now we can enjoy a couple pints in the pub with the confidence it's doing us some good in the long run. And what a joy is the world of hops: the tastes range through countless fruit flavours, spices, and herbs, many used in combination although single-hop brews are becoming quite popular. Whenever I see hops hanging in a country pub I'm reminded of when I was a teenager and my older brother was making home brew. Since the Southern California climate was just right, K.C. started growing his own hops in the planter out by the swimming pool, nestled in the shade of our large iguana's cage. I used to brew a pleasant tea out of the hops -- and I'm sure Desi didn't mind the fragrance it imparted to his jungly domain.

Speaking of tropical lizards in hops fields, I discovered a most unusually named pub recently. Many English pubs have fairly ordinary predictable names. There are countless Red Lions, Royal Oaks, Ploughs, Ships, Georges, Chequerses, Roses & Crowns, all number of Bells, and various Heads and Arms of royalty, not to mention variously coloured animals. Occasionally you'll run across an odd name: in Kent alone there is the Wrong 'Un (Bexleyheath), the Ordinary Fellow (Chatham), the Dirty Habit (Hollingbourne), the Old House At Home (one in Maidstone and one in Queenborough), Everybody's Inn (Margate), and, of course, your unusual animals such as the Blazing Donkey (Ham), the Fat Ox (St Michael's), and the Tickled Trout (one in West Farleigh and one in Wye).

And then, tucked away in the Kent Weald just outside of the village of Grafty Green, is the Who'd A Thought It. Now, who would, anyway? Or who did? Certainly not me, at least before a couple months ago. The very Kentish-looking Who'd A was built in 1545 during the reign of Henry VIII as a thatched farm dwelling forming part of an estate, becoming a registered Ale House in 1740. It seems to attract a slightly posh clientele, and we hear a celebrity or two may appear now and then. Nevertheless it's a friendly and unspoilt freehouse with low beamed ceilings, a large hearth, and a fine restaurant offering a wide choice of dishes prepared with fresh herbs, local produce, high quality meats and poultry, and fresh fish direct from Billingsgate Market. According to the brochure, the pub's 13 ensuite rooms offer double Jacuzzi baths set in Italian tiled bathrooms with separate Victorian style showers. Not too shabby...

On one side of the pub is a champagne and oyster bar (featuring over 30 varieties of champagne -- my mom's dream), and I noticed an advertisement on the wall for Vintage Port Night on December 3rd for £40 per person. The decor is mostly champagne-oriented: champagne ashtrays, champagne umbrellas in the beer garden as opposed to the usual Stella Artois or Foster's Lager fare. At the main bar there are five handpumps which, on our first visit, featured Wadworth 6X, Flowers IPA, Master Brew, London Pride, and Timothy Taylor Landlord. When we first walked in we were greeted by a black dog behind the bar. When I asked him for two pints of Landlord (4.3% ABV, Timothy Taylor & Co. Ltd., Keighley, West Yorkshire) he smiled, wagged his tail, and trotted off, replaced shortly by an attractive barmaid in an olive drab military dress who served us. Our pints were a bit too cold but they were drinkable -- and the warm pub was a most comforting place to be on a Saturday immediately after a major global disaster.

We originally learned about the Who'd A from a musician friend who says the live music on Sunday nights is quite good. This is something we have yet to sample as it would be quite a long drive home from the pub on those narrow dark roads and, um, with all those real ales, a bit of a problem...

If you make the lovely scenic drive north from Grafty Green, up to just south of the A20 between Maidstone and Ashford, you'll come to the ancient village of Lenham. Lenham's Central Square was granted its original Market Charter by King John in 1206. Situated in the Square is the Red Lion, an old Fremlin's pub which dates back to the 14th century and the days of coaching inns and turnpike roads. There was a good mix of people in the pub when three of us stopped in on a Saturday afternoon. It's a pleasant enough environment with lots of dark wood and glass and views of a bakery and a church across the square. After drinking our slightly new-ish pints of London Pride (4.1% ABV, Fuller, Smith, and Turner, London) each of us discovered "Fat Man's Alley" which leads back to the loos. Coincidentally there was a very fat man sitting in the corner. Was there any connection? Are us thin folk allowed to use the loos as well? Considering Lenham is advertised as a perfect base from which to walk along the Pilgrim's Way and across the North Downs, I would think the Red Lion would offer an alternative "Fit Man's Alley" as well...