In my last blog I talked about hitting a scary landmark birthday. The trauma of reaching this age was made not just bearable but a joy by all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts I received – I am a very lucky hop flower!
So as well as being treated to a Korean cooking course (If you don’t know what I am talking about, please see my last blog) last weekend I was taken for a trip on the Real Ale Train or to use it’s nickname the RAT in Hampshire for a few real ales whilst being transported through time and the Hampshire countryside.
The RAT’s location is the restored steam locomotives on the Mid Hants Railway known as the Watercress Line after the local cargo it used to take to London. There are four stations on the ten mile line, each taking you down memory lane with a vintage style of old railway posters, signage and furniture. Such is the charm of this picturesque line that it has featured in films and TV including my favourite Midsomer Murders plus Countryfile and a Richmond Sausage ad to name just a few.
RATs are held on most but not all Saturday nights from February through to the beginning of December and feature different breweries either local or from neighbouring counties. Last Saturday night it was the turn of Triple FFF , Hammerpot and Downton – no TV connection…
Triple FFF Brewery who being in Alton couldn’t be more local to the RAT have been brewing since 1997. They offer a comprehensive range of core beers and seasonals with interesting names such as Pressed Rat and Warthog, Comfortably Numb and Dazed and Confused.
Based near the Sussex hamlet of the same name is the Hammerpot Brewery. Set up in 2005 Hammerpot have brewed award winning beers and take great pride in their local heritage.
Over the Wiltshire Border, the Downton Brewery use some interesting ingredients in their beers such as fresh apples, Coriander and locally grown pumpkins.
As the trip was booked well in advance we each got a voucher for a free beer as it seemed did most of the other passengers as immediately upon boarding most people headed for the carriage where the real ale was served. Rather handily this was the next carriage from us so although we were initially hemmed in by keen and thirsty real ale drinkers, the queue actually moved quickly. In fact throughout the evening I waited just seconds to be served such was the efficiency and dexterity of the bar staff – I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t fancy pouring pints on a moving train!
Being seasoned pros at this drinking business we had lined our stomachs with an early dinner at the White Hart in nearby Holybourne where we were staying the night. Hot food is available on the train however plus there is a separate bar serving wine and a selection of bottled beers including some from local breweries which also has a selection of crisps and chocolate bars should you get the munchies.
So to the beers, I kicked off with the 3.9% ABV Quadhop from Downton. A refreshing pale bitter with a nice dry finish.
I then moved on to Hammerpot’s Shooting Star Bitter 3.8 ABV which had great citrus notes but also a touch of spice.
New beers were added during the evening one of these being Triple FFF’s award winning Moondance. At 4.2% a lovely hoppy pale. Loads of floral notes from cascade hops and very drinkable!
I finished the trip with Hammerpot’s Bottle Wreck Porter, 4.7% ABV. Bottle Wreck has also won numerous awards including Champion Beer of Britain, Porters category, at the 2012 CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival. It has warming rich notes of burnt coffee but being a porter was not overly heavy.
Also available on the real ale bar at various points during the evening were Hammerpot’s Red Hunter, Downton’s Honey Blond and their Pumpkin Ale plus Cirrus Minor Cider from Mr Whitehead’s Cider Company.
We arrived back at Alton at around 10.30pm and did the mile walk back to the White Hart where we continued our evening.
Obviously if you are into good beer and/or steam trains you will love the RAT but if like two of our group you aren’t into either the RAT is still a wonderful night out. The atmosphere was lively and friendly and who doesn’t love the sound of a steam train letting off steam?
If I have inspired you to take a journey on the RAT be aware this popular event sells out well in advance so have a look at the website for booking details. The RAT is timed to get back to Alton Station in time for the 10.44pm to London Waterloo but there are later trains.
If you fancy making a weekend of it I would recommend a stay at the White Hart. We walked the mile to Alton Station but cabs are available. The White Hart menu is fantastic. Pre RAT I had a cheese and bacon burger with delicious chips washed down with a half of Manx Brewery O’Kells Bitter – yes half I didn’t want to peak too soon after all! The traditional fried breakfast I had Sunday morning set me up for the day. Clean rooms, great staff in a village pub serving a good selection of beers surrounded by countryside walks – what a great place to complete the weekend!
The RAT is a fun evening out. As mentioned the staff were excellent and the beer selection excelled my expectations. Think I’d better book for 2017!