Pub/Bar of the Month May 2013: The Farmer's Bar at The King's Head, Aylesbury, UK
The Farmer's Bar at The King's Head, Aylesbury, UK
If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well. That's the old adage that always comes to mind whenever I meet up with the diligent people at Chiltern Brewery.
The business was set up by Richard and Lesley Jenkinson on their smallholding in 1980. Today, run by their sons George and Tom (pictured left to right), it's the longest-established independent brewery in the Chilterns.
The Jenkinsons didn't arrive at this situation by accident. To survive as a microbrewer in the 1980s was no mean feat in the days before guest beer slots and progressive beer duty.
Hard work and the right mentality were crucial to success and that shines through in everything this proudly British brewery does.
There's no better example of this than in the way in which it runs its sole pub. Indeed, it begins with the very choice of pub to run.
The King's Head in the centre of Aylesbury is one of the great surviving English coaching inns. Owned by the National Trust, it's a well-preserved example of the genre, built in 1455 around a cobbled courtyard that once stabled horses and served as the town's market place.
Original features remain in place – crooked beams, sloping floors, wattle and daub walls – although most of the rooms are not currently in use. Importantly, however, the building still serves its original function as a hostelry.
The Farmer's Bar – so named after its clientele during those market days – is a buzzing, very civilized place in which to eat and drink, although it has not always been so, certainly in recent times.
Before Chiltern took control in 2005, it offered a rather uncomfortable environment, with smoke trapped in by the low beams and cask ales somewhat hidden from view as the emphasis was on keg beers.
Tom and George had rather fancied the idea of making the bar a Chiltern outlet. They had talked it over while having a pint in the courtyard one day but it wasn't until the National Trust came calling that they considered it seriously.
National Trust Approach
The fact that the National Trust approached Chiltern again underscores the esteem in which the brewery is held in these parts but the Jenkinsons still needed to think hard about the proposition which, happily for Aylesbury drinkers, they accepted.
A full refurbishment then took place. The fresh white décor, the cosy corners and the range of furnishings that extends from comfy armchairs to seats created out of wooden casks now attract a more mature range of clients, some just dropping by for morning coffee, others partaking of the high-quality, locally-sourced food at lunchtime.
But this remains very much a beer place – hops strung along the beams emphasise that – and discerning drinkers are its lifeblood.
A key part of the refurbishment involved the repositioning of the cask ale handpumps in a prominent place at the front of the bar.
Today, these dispense three Chiltern beers – Chiltern Ale, Beechwood Bitter and the latest seasonal – plus a guest ale and a guest cider. A sixth handpump is called into use whenever required.
This is often when the pub offers 'beer celebrations'. These involve a certain beer style being showcased over a couple of months, with examples from breweries near and far brought in during that period.
To boost the beer range, a six-head font, to be reserved for hand-picked 'craft' beers, stouts and authentic lagers, is about to be added.
Typical of the Chiltern approach and attention to detail is the fact that the Jenkinsons remain hands-on managers of the bar, with George in charge on a daily basis.
After nearly six centuries of service to Buckinghamshire's county town, The King's Head – whose future looked uncertain only eight years ago – is enjoying a new lease of life.
Chiltern has put the work in – the job's been done well – and it's now there for everyone to appreciate once again.
The Farmer's Bar at The King's Head, Market Square, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP20 2RW
Tel. (01296) 718812
Opening Hours: 11–11; 12–10.30 Sunday