Wednesday 19th June 2013
Up to the time of this visit, all of the East Kent micro pubs opened since the original, the Butchers Arms at Herne, have been located in towns, often on busy streets. This venture goes back to the roots and is to be found in a village.
Inspired by the other openings all over East Kent, Graham Austin, a former carpenter, thought that Wye, a prosperous village in the Stour valley near to Ashford, would be a good place to open one and so he leased the premises of what were previously Smiles Hairdressing.
As far as beer is concerned this village is very important as it was until recently the home of Wye College. It doesn't sound too grand but let me assure you it was very important. In its former life it's said to be England's third oldest university. Nottingham was actually the third but it closed shortly after being established. Next was Wye, founded in 1447 by the Archbishop of York as a theological college.
In 1894 the church moved out and it became an agricultural college. Not long after, in 1898 it became a part of the University of London and its extensive grounds were used for all kinds of "hands on" schooling but its most important function was for research and extensive laboratories were established. Being in Kent, after fruit, the most important crop is hops.
It is for hops that Wye College is known throughout the world as it is responsible for the establishment and development of many hop varieties. The following names are all familiar to brewers and all came out of Wye: Challenger, Northdown, Target, Yeoman and First Gold, the world's first dwarf hop. Important, as it didn't need the large structures that the older varieties required.
Sadly the college is no longer with us as it has closed and the historic buildings are up for rent. The story of its demise is shabby. Because of Government cuts it was no longer sustainable as an outpost of London University, which is sad. It was sold to Imperial College who you might have thought would have been responsible custodians.
Totally the opposite occurred, as all they wanted to do was redevelop the land for thousands of houses including a new motorway link. Educational institutions acting like the worst kind of property developers. Get used to it, it's modern life, but disgusting nevertheless. The last students left in 2009 and, as the historic buildings deteriorate, tenants are awaited. Thankfully the research aspect was transferred to the hands of Wye Hops Ltd., a company based at Harbledown near Canterbury.
Most of the above is a complete digression from the subject, yet it needs to be said. Back to the Barber's Arms, it opened on 31 May 2013, three weeks before our visit. I was with Linda and as we walked towards the pub I noticed the red and white striped canopy above its front window. These are the traditional colours of a barber shop. Sitting on the doorstep guarding (?) the pub was Tilly, Graham's dog. I had recognised her from a photograph of them in an on-line newspaper when he announced the forthcoming opening of the pub.
To get in to the pub you go up a step or two and you are in the main room with the bar at the back. One of the first things you notice is the stag's head on the right wall. Beneath it is a conveniently placed upturned wooden barrel that is ideal for resting a pint on. There is wooden furniture around the outside of the room including a bench with a latticed back against the window.
Around the small bar (yes, there was one!) there were three seats. Decor is quite minimal with mottled yellow walls and a few frames on them with a metallic Old Holborn sign and a Bass mirror behind the bar. There is a small shelf for resting beers on the right wall and the middle of the pub is an empty space, I suppose they are expecting a large amount of standing drinkers, and this may not be wrong. Tilly settled at our feet and we looked at the beer list on the blackboard above the bar. The beers were served from cooled casks to be found in a room behind the bar.
Our choices were: Wickwar (Wickwar, Gloucestershire) Cooper's (3.5%); Moorhouses (Burnley, Lancashire); Goacher's (Maidstone, Kent) Fine Light Ale and Hop Back (Downton, Wiltshire) Summer Lightning (5.0%) and for those who love cider there was East Stour Cider's Merry Moon Lunatickal Medium Cider (6.4%) and Raspberry Cider (6.0%). The pub also sells organic wines and soft drinks, there didn't seem to be any packed pub snacks on sale.
This is a pub with the best cask beer selection in Wye and should be visited if you are in the area, especially during the village's Food & Drink Festival at the end of July.
The Barbers Arms, 169 Bridge Street, Wye, Kent TN25 5DP
Open: Tuesday-Thursday 12.00-14.00, 17.00-21.00;
Friday-Saturday 12.00-14.00, 17.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-17.00. Monday: Closed.
Wye station is around ten minutes walk away and is served by a half hourly (hourly on Sunday) train from London Charing Cross via Ashford that continues to Canterbury, it takes 90 minutes. However it is possible to travel on a HiSpeed train to London St Pancras to Ashford and change onto the local train there, this way the journey takes around an hour.
Should you arrive from the London direction, go over the line via the level crossing at the rear of the train. Go along this road, Bridge Street, crossing over the River Stour with the Tickled Trout pub on your left. At the road junction, continue straight on up Bridge Street and the pub is on the left.