Breweries of Kent and Kentish Breweries: A Chronology

I’ve been blithely saying the number of breweries in Kent has doubled or something in the last ten years. Let’s crunch the statistics. This obviously omits the closed breweries of Kent, a topic that demands much more research than I have time to do right now.

More Than Ten Years Ago:

1. Shepherd Neame (1698)
2. Goacher’s (1983)
3. Larkins (1987)
4. Nelson (1995)
5. Hopdaemon (2000)
6. Swan On The Green (2000)
7. Millis (2002)
8. Ramsgate aka Gadds (2002)

Five to Ten Years Ago:
9. Whitstable (2003)
10. Westerham (2004)

In Last Five Years:
11. Moodleys (2008)
12. Old Dairy (2009)
13. Wantsum (2009)
14. Abigale (2010)
15. The Canterbury Ales (2010)
16. Farriers Arms (2010)
17. Kent (2010)
18. Royal Tunbridge Wells (2010)
19. Tonbridge (2010)
20. Black Cat (2011)
21. Canterbury (2011)
22. Hop Fuzz (2011)
23. Rockin’ Robin (2011)
24. Caveman (2012)
25. Goody (2012)
26. Ripple Steam Brewery (2012)
27. Tir Dha Ghlas Brewery (2012)

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery

I make it twenty-seven or twenty-eight or twenty-nine breweries in Kent, depending on where precisely you draw the boundaries, and I suspect that this is a number which has grown by a third in ten years. When googling breweries, I keep finding newspaper stories of hobbyists who want to take it to the next level, and I sometimes wonder if the current apparent boom in brewing (a thousand different breweries) is sustainable. Do people who like beer and have cash glimpse a gap in the market and invest unwisely? A boom will bust. What is now trendy will become old hat.

Thus spake Eeyore.

There has been a long history of takeovers and buyouts, so that what appear to be different brands are in fact Marstons or Whitbreads, and choice of beer has been more limited than it has appeared – Fuller’s or Gales’? Same difference? Plus it’s one thing to supply your own pub (The Black Cat, The Foundry, Farriers Arms etc), quite another to scale up to supply several pubs or produce sufficient beer for TesMorrRoseBury’s.

I don’t know precisely what is going on with The Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery, but a Facebook post this morning stated “the brewery is currently shut. I have several options for the future of the brewery which I am pursuing. Plans are to be back up and running in due course.” I’m hoping that the brewery can continue.

The brewery is based in Tunbridge Wells (obviously – but then Whitstable isn’t in the Bubble) and started in 2010 as a collaboration between Simon Lewis and retired brewer Ian Dormon, from the previous Royal Tunbridge Wells brewery, closed 1983.

I’ve had a number of their beers – I think there was a green hop, but I’ve also had a Dipper (3.7%), a Royal (4.1%), a Beau (4.8%), a Helles (5%) and, most recently, a Golden Ticket (5%), I think my favourite. I hope they can continue in some form.


Kentish Breweries and Breweries of Kent

Just a convenient listing of Kent breweries – I’ve tried them all (possibly aside from Moodleys), but don’t feel up to commenting on all of them. Omissions: Rother Valley, as just in Sussex, and Curious, as a vineyard beer.

  • Abigale (Ashford) (2010)
  • Black Cat (Tunbridge Wells) – Brewpub (2011)
  • Canterbury (Canterbury) – Brewpub – an ever-changing range, most of which I like (2011)
  • The Canterbury Ales (Canterbury) – not quite sure about them, only liked a couple (2010)
  • Caveman (Swanscombe) – Brewpub – fantastic first beer, Citra (2012)
  • Farriers Arms (Ashford) – Brewpub (2010)
  • Goacher’s (Maidstone) (1983)
  • Goody (Herne) – have potential, not quite there (2012)
  • Hop Fuzz (Hythe) – shaky start, but some interesting beers (2011)
  • Hopdaemon (Sittingbourne) – Incubus is my standard drink, Golden Braid is good, Skrimshander pretty good (2000)
  • Kent (West Malling) – want more of this, love them (2010)
  • Larkins (Edenbridge) – uses the original Royal Tunbridge Wells brewery equipment (1987)
  • Millis (Dartford) (2002)
  • Moodleys (Penshurst) (2008)
  • Nelson (Chatham) – not really a fan (1995 as Flagship; Nelson since 2004)
  • Old Dairy (Cranbrook) – hit and miss, I fear, more hits than misses (2009)
  • Ramsgate aka Gadds (Broadstairs) – well-established, trustable brand (2002)
  • Ripple Steam Brewery (Dover) – interesting start (2012)
  • Rockin’ Robin (Maidstone) (2011)
  • Royal Tunbridge Wells (Tunbridge Wells) (2010)
  • Shepherd Neame (Faversham) – never really liked, some of the seasonals are ok, as is Spitfire in bottles (1698)
  • Swan On The Green (West Peckham, Maidstone) – Brewpub (2000)
  • Tir Dha Ghlas Brewery (Dover) – Brewpub or Brewbistro (2012)
  • Tonbridge (Tonbridge) (2010)
  • Wantsum (Canterbury) – hit and miss, not really sure yet (2009)
  • Westerham (Edenbridge) – mixed experiences, better draught than bottle (2004)
  • Whitstable (Maidstone) – some really good beers, but go off easily (2003)

Breakfast Stout

So there’s Porter and there’s Stout.

Guinness is a stout.

Stout is made of water, hops, yeast and roasted barley, hence it is darker in colour than most beers, black or dark brown. It seems to be a name for porter, a strong beer drunk by the boatmen of London, although stout seems to predate that. I’m sure some sources will say porter is a kind of stout. I’ve not drunk much stout before this last year – Guinness in High Wycombe, Murphys on occasion – but there are some interesting one around in a very of styles.

Breakfast stout seems to be a stout with the sort of ingredients added that you’d have for breakfast – not bacon and eggs but oats and coffee and (how French!) chocolate. I’ve had oatmeal stouts and milk stouts, but Anarchy Brew Co’s Sublime Chaos is the first breakfast stout I’ve had. The coffee and oat flavours come through, and moderate the burnt flavour; it also controls the sweetness I suspect and I gather that an earlier attempt with a different bean was too sweet. This has a back of the throat flavour, somewhat warming, very nice without being great.

Examples: Anarchy Brew Co Sublime Chaos.

Unnecessary Defensiveness

I was stood in Tenterden, Kent, in search of decent local beer. More precisely, I was in search of Abigale, and had jumped on a bus to Ashford on a well-timed whim, electing to stay on the bus to Tenterden. Of the four or so pubs I found in Tenterden, all but one were Shepherd Neame – which I dislike – and one was serving some nice beers, but none of them from anywhere closer than the New Forest. It seemed to be odd to be more or less surrounded by hop fields and to not be able to drink anything from Kent. Aside from the Sheps. A supermarket was selling Rother Valley Blues, but that’s not the same as a draught beer.

I had counted something in the region of twenty breweries in the Kent area, a third or so of them relatively new, and it occurred to me that there was something interesting in local produce and small enterprises. There’s something to be researched. I am surrounded by hops, a key ingredient of beer, and I am a few miles from Wye, a centre of hop research.

I’d recently had a bit of a health scare, and was on a diet, and had to cut down drinking so … it made sense to try and make each pint count. It occurred to me I knew little about beer – it had yeast and hops and malt and water and came in pints, and some I liked and some I didn’t, and there were once six big companies which had been broken by the revision of the laws about tying pubs to breweries and … that was about I. I liked Theakstons and Youngers and Timothy Taylor, and would regard myself as a Northern drinker, stranded in Enemy Territory.

Growing up I would have shandies with Watney’s Red Barrel or Watney’s Pale Ale, and occasionally sampled and disliked Home Ales and Shipstones, the two Nottingham breweries; I later tried and didn’t like Mansfield Bitter. My underage drinking was lager, which I found hard to drink because it was gassy. Then, at a theatre club, I was bought a pint of Theakston’s XB. By a cop. I was seventeen. It would have been rude to refuse. It was awkward to point out he’d broken the law. I stayed with beer.

But I never really thought about what I was drinking.

This is a place to think about it. Because, after all, I think about films and books and photographs and art and god forbid I live an unconsidered life.

This is my space to find out about beer – and teach myself, and no doubt state the bleeding obvious. And to find out how to write about beer. And work out precisely what I want to research about beer. I note that I am supervising a PhD student, who is researching binge drinking, so the sociology of drink may come to the fore at some point.

I don’t know where it is going.

I’ve had two bottles today – an Old Dairy Snow Top and a Wantsum Figgy Pudding, both from Kent Breweries, bought from Wild Ferment. Now I’m on a beer from further afield, an Anarchy Brew Company Sublime Chaos, a startling 7% and described as a breakfast stout. It’s thick black, or very dark brown, with no head to speak of, very burnt bitter flavour, with a touch of espresso coffee on a rich roast – Ethiopian coffee beans apparently, Guji – and New Zealand hops. I’d expect it to be much sweeter, given the percentage, but the beans hold it down. There’s a back of the throat, warm oaty taste, which is pleasant, but you wouldn’t want a third bottle.

Time to investigate breakfast stout…