Located in the heart of the town’s historic promenade, The Pantiles Tap specialises in sourcing the finest beers from microbreweries all over the UK and beyond. Owner Geoff Wentworth talks about some of his top tipples and explains why a keg and cask focus is proving popular for punters
Tell us how the place got started
We opened just before Christmas in 2014, and wanted to open our own bar that concentrated on the very best keg and cask beers. We found a premises, got planning permission and put in a bar, and now have 14 lines, eight keg and six cask.
Do you stock many local beers?
We always have one cask beer on; at the moment it’s Larkins Brewery, but we also have at least one beer from Pig and Porter, Dark Star and Rother Brewery. As far as the rest of the cask beers are concerned, they come from all over the UK and are pretty much the best breweries in the country. We bring in beers from Manchester, Scotland, the North, the South West and pretty much anywhere in the UK, as long as it’s really,Â really good. We only buy from microbreweries rather than national or regional.
How about international?
Our keg beers come from all over the world. At the moment, we have a beer from New Zealand and two beers on keg from the USA. We have the best keg beers in the UK as well, and try to make a point of buying or sourcing ‘beers of the moment’ that everyone wants. They’re the beers that, shall we say, ‘beer geeks’ are really, really looking for, haven’t tried and really need to get or tick off.
Educating your customers about the beers must be a big part of it…
Absolutely, it’s what we do. We’ve got 14 beers on, so depending on what sort of beer they normally like, we’ll always find at least one that they’ll enjoy if they walk in and don’t know any. We also have sampling glasses, so if anyone comes in, they can sample the beers too, which works really well.
Is there also a range of ciders and bottled beers on offer?
We normally have 10 ciders on, which are mainly quite local, from Kent and Sussex; we quite often have one from Pembury when we can get hold of it, so that’s really local. We have an amazing range of bottles and normally have 50 bottled beers in our cabinet. Again, they come from all over the world, like Scandinavia, Australia, the USA, Italy and New Zealand, as well as the best in the UK. At the moment, we’re just bringing in keg and bottled beers from the Netherlands, and some Belgian beers on keg as well. It’s pretty much an international line-up.
Why set up in The Pantiles?
The Pantiles has become a destination area for socialising and going out for a meal or a drink. The jazz season lasts 22 weeks and there are food markets at the weekends, so there’s always something going on. The draw was really the footfall; it’s a pedestrian area and we thought it would be a really good fit for us.
What are the benefits of being part of the Pantiles Traders Association?
The Pantiles Traders is a very, very good organisation. What it basically enables us to do is actually be part of the Pantiles community. Quite often, there are events focused on The Pantiles, which are very, very beneficial to our business. The one that’s really picking up is the Hug-Many New Year’s celebration, which was fantastically successful; all the PantilesÂ traders contributed towards the charity it was raising money for. It works in many ways and is beneficial for us and the community as a whole.
Has there been a positive response since you opened?
Business has been really, really good, but it’s better in the summer than in the winter. The Pantiles is one of those places that everyone wants to go to if the weather’s good, but whenÂ it’s cold and wet in the winter, people are at the top of town because that’s where all the shops are. We concentrate on beer and have sold a lot; we sold 1,000 different beers in our first year.
Are wine drinkers welcome too?
We looked at really concentrating completely and totally on beer, but quite soon found out that, in Tunbridge Wells, you need to do wine as well. We don’t have an extensive range of wines, but quite a respectable one, so we do pretty well.
Where would you like to take The Pantiles Tap going forward?
We’ve pretty much got this one the way we want it. Every pub is a work in progress because generally what happens is, the people come in and dictate its direction, so we find out which beers and what sorts of strengths sell best. We’ve pretty much nailed it on how we want to go with beers; we could possibly look at extending our food, but what we basicallyÂ wanted to do with this one was develop a pub that we would want to drink in ourselves, so that’s worked.
And by ‘this one’, you mean…?
We’re looking at opening another pub, but I’m not quite sure where that one will be yet. It has been in our thoughts for a while, but it’s about finding a suitable venue in a suitable town. The thing about craft beer bars is that they’re increasingly replacing traditional pubs, which are closing, especially ones that are tied to national pub companies. They’re closing because they can’t make a profit, whereas, if you’re completely and totally independent, you can work out your own prices and buy from wherever you want.