Tunbridge Wells is spoilt for choice when it comes to beer. For a relatively small town, the number of good quality pubs - from traditional boozers like The Grove Tavern and The Bedford to hip new crafty hotspots like Fuggles Beer Cafe - is nothing short of remarkable. The newest such joint in town is The Pantiles Tap, which opened in November 2014. Situated just opposite the Corn Exchange in the Pantiles, and in the cellar of a former hotel, The Pantiles Tap is a stripped back, no frills attached tap-room style pub, with a rotating selection of some of the best beer from in the UK and abroad.
I must profess to being somewhat a regular at 'The Tap', having made the watering hole a regular stop off point on the way home from the centre of town. One of the nicest things about the pub for me is that due to its primary focus on beer and (recently) cider, it doesn't attract anywhere near as many of the problematic clientele as some of the other bars in town - something that really pays dividends during the manic festive period.
Run by Geoff Wentworth and his wife Jo, the pub itself is very minimalist, with little decor and rather harsh lighting that doesn't exactly give off a cosy ambience. For me, however, this is all part of The Tap's charm, which gives off a distinctly Eastern-European vibe. With a selection of eight Keg beers and six cask lines, it is second only to Fuggles in terms of variety and choice in Tunbridge Wells. Over the last year, beers from the likes of Magic Rock, Beavertown, Thornbridge, Brewdog, Stone and more have been regulars on the taps, whilst a large fridge opposite the bar holds a wide variety of bottled beers from across the world - although these don't come cheap, with no takeout option available.
On this particular visit just before Christmas, the beer selection was an absolute treat, with beers from Wild Beer Co, Dark Star, Anarchy Brew Co, Beavertown, Magic Rock and more gracing the line-up. I opted to start with Partizan Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales 2015 Rainbow Project collaboration, Real Time Saison. A 6.6% Saison brewed with Kaffir lime, lemongrass and grapefruit Zest, this is a beer that couldn't be further from your average best bitter. Although a tad on the flat side, the beer pours a hazy golden yellow colour and is extremely refreshing. There is a definite tartness, with the grapefruit zest and lime really cutting through and dominating the flavour. An excellent palette cleansing beer for sure.
Next up, I decided to go with a reliable old favourite and have a half of Beavertown's 8-Ball Rye IPA. Far from being a safe bet, however, the 8-Ball came up incredibly juicy this particular evening and I ended up going back for a second half. At 6.2%, it's far from a session strength beer, but the combination of spicy rye malts and fruity hop flavours make it extremely hard to resist.
I ended the evening with Magic Rock's Custard Pie, a 6.7% Wit beer brewed in collaboration with Italian brewery Birra Toccalmatoo. Another fairly light blonde coloured beer, Custard Pie is brewed using US Hefe Yeast and New Zealand and US Hops, with vanilla added during the dry-hopping phase. This results in a dominant belgian-esque banana flavour, with some more subtly fruit undertones (think lime and apricots). I have to confess that it was a little too sweet for my liking, but certainly an intriguing beer that serves as further evidence that Magic Rock are at the forefront of the craft revolution.
The Pantiles Tap is not a pub in the traditional sense. The lack of spirits and limited selection of wine, combined with not serving food (bar the occasional cheese roll and some excellent bar snacks) means that it is difficult to recommend the pub as the ideal destination for a date or romantic night out. However, if you are lucky enough to have friends who enjoy great beer, then you would be hard pressed to find another pub in Tunbridge Wells with the selection, variety and passion for beer that are self evident in everything The Tap does.