16 August 2015

Kent Brewery visit

On Saturday 25 July, a group of CAMRA volunteers from the Reading Beer and Cider Festival went on a coach trip to visit Kent Brewery, within the Birling Estate, near West Malling. We were given programmes for the day with an itinerary on the back cover, as we boarded the coach outside Reading station.
The brewery is surrounded by fields where hops used to grow. The fortified farmhouse on the hill behind the brewery is the home of Guy Nevill, whose family have owned the Birling Estate since 1435.
We were greeted by Paul and Heike Herbert and once inside were able to choose from three cask ales, at a very reasonable price.
Session Pale was the first choice for most volunteers. The 3.7% ABV Pale Ale has a balance of floral flavourings and aromas with a hint of citrus and elderflower from the Cascade and Citra hops.
Session Pale won Kent Beer of the Festival at the 2014 CAMRA Kent Beer Festival. This beer is not one of the brewery's main beers but has a strong following and was requested for the 2015 Great British Beer Festival.
Beyond the Pale (5.4% ABV) is a full flavoured golden Pale Ale with a powerful punch of hops. KGB stands for Kent Golding Bitter, this 4.1% ABV amber Bitter is hopped with Golding and Fuggles hops and features a rich variety of local malts.
Once everyone had a beer, Paul gave the group an introductory talk in the office area of the brewery. Paul and Heike both had a background in archaeology. Paul moved into new media technologies and developed an interest in beer. He was introduced to American beer styles at the Draft House, Northcote Road, Clapham. Paul went on to visit some breweries in the USA and attended Brewlab at the University of Sunderland in 2009. The idea for Kent Brewery came from a chance meeting between Paul and Toby Simmonds at Paul's local pub, the Bull at Horton Kirby. Toby had been brewing with Dark Star in Sussex for three years and wanted his own microbrewery. With Toby's brewing experience and Paul's broad business experience they had the right basis for a successful brewery partnership.
Paul explained that the brewery started in 2010, originally brewing at Larkins in Chiddingstone but switching to Birling in April 2011. Paul is keen to see new hops developed in Kent and would also like to see more hops grown near the brewery. Asked about the use of American hops in Session Pale, he said that hops producing similar citrus flavours could be produced in Kent. He warned that simply growing Cascade hops in the UK would not give the same flavours.
After a chance to refill empty glasses, Paul would talk about technical aspects of brewing and answer more questions from the main area of the brewery.
Paul told us that the main brewing vessels are based on a 10 barrel plant size. However, a possible expansion to 15 barrel plant size could happen in the future as the Mash Tun is big enough already and space will be found to squeeze in two new 15 barrel fermenters within weeks of our visit. Other plans include new label designs and bottling beers.
Asked about water supplies, Paul said mains water is currently used for brewing.
The brewery delivers to Kent, East Sussex and East London with beer wholesalers distributing their beer further afield. 
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Paul mentioned that all of the brewery's 1500 casks are plastic. He said they went for the 'most ghastly' colour scheme to reduce the risk of theft!  Their casks are made by Brewery Plastics Ltd of Hereford (formerly CypherCo). Only three of their casks have gone out of circulation due to damage in five years.
It would soon be time to thank Paul and Heike for hosting our visit before getting back on the coach for the short drive to the Nevill Bull pub in Birling.
Once everyone had obtained drinks from the bar and before it was time to leave for pubs in West Malling, there was a chance to gather the group in the back garden for a photo.
Special thanks go to everyone involved in the organisation of this trip and for compiling the programme, including Allan Conner, Melissa Reed, Nick and Joy Jerram.
Melissa, Joy, Allan and Nick
Also, who could forget Cuddles, the Reading Beer and Cider Festival mascot, who came along too!

Kent Brewery website: www.kentbrewery.com

06 August 2015

Windswept Brewing Co, Lossiemouth

The Moray coast
Lossiemouth, Moray, is 44 miles from Inverness on the North East coast of Scotland. RAF Lossiemouth is an important fast jet main operating base with both Tornado and Typhoon squadrons based there. Windswept Brewing Co is based in Coulardbank industrial estate on the edge of Lossiemouth and within earshot of aircraft noise from the RAF station.

Al Read and Nigel Tiddy, former RAF (Tornado) pilots enjoyed the outdoor life on the wild and unspoilt coast and nearby Highlands and established West Beach Brewery in 2012. The name was changed to Windswept Brewing in November 2012 due to legal problems.

Al Read in Windswept Brewery yard.
My visit to the brewery with locally based friends on 30 July 2015 had been arranged in advance and Natassia Barksby told us about the brewery and the beers in the white portacabin office and shop opposite the two main brewery units.
Natassia Barksby kindly posed with a West Berkshire Ullage magazine
The bottle range currently includes: APA a 5% ABV American Pale Ale hopped with Columbus, Willamette and Cascade; Blonde and Wolf in 500ml bottles and Weizen, Tornado (6.7% Citra IPA) and Typhoon (6.2% Amarillo IPA) in 330ml bottles. Wolf of Glen Moray, 9.2% ABV, aged in oak whisky casks, is also available in a special 330ml bottle pack.
Windswept Brewing Co has won several awards including SIBA Scotland Gold for APA and Wolf in 2013. APA went on to win SIBA National Bronze in the 2014 Champion Strong Bitters category.  Weizen was awarded Overall Champion award at the 2014 CAMRA Aberdeen and North East Beer Festival.
APA - label on back of bottle
Back in the brewery yard, Al Read (Director of Operations) told us about his interest in brewing that started with homebrewing. On a three year exchange visit to North Carolina (2003-6), Al discovered interesting new beers that were not generally available in the UK. An American navigator on an exchange stay in Lossiemouth who had experience of competition brewing was also an inspiration for Al. Visiting local breweries like Cairngorm and Cromarty he realised that apart from the scale there was no major difference between home brewing and commercial brewing. Al developed his tasting skills on CAMRA courses and with the Craigellachie Real Ale Club. He was invited to be a judge for the Champion Beer of Scotland and there he found that his tasting notes were similar to those of the experts. Al said that drinking beer socially in clubs and groups was an important factor in developing his tasting skills.
Al had brewery work to do so he left us with Natassia to take a look inside the brewery.
Assistant brewer, Doug Russell, digging out the mash tun
The success of the brewery has led to a requirement for more space. The brewery started in a single unit with the office inside. Later, a mezzanine level was added and the adjacent unit was acquired. The portacabin and space in the yard were added and there are now plans to add a third unit to give space for a bottling plant. There are two 10 barrel and four 20 barrel fermenters and a fifth one will be added. The kettle (copper), the middle vessel in the photo above, is 10 barrel capacity. The hot liquor tank is in the far corner. The spent grains from the mash tun end up going to a local farmer as compost for the sandy Moray soil.
Marooned, Blonde, APA and Aurora mini kegs for tasting
Natassia fetched some mini kegs so we could taste some of the beers including Blonde, APA and Marooned, a seasonal 5.2% ABV blackcurrant wheat beer. Marooned was maroon in colour, lively with a refreshing slightly sour flavour. We returned to the portacabin to purchase a mixed pack of six bottled beers to enjoy later.
Natassia told us about the music and beer festivals that the brewery is involved with including Moktoberfest in Elgin Town Hall, North Hop in Inverness and sponsorship of Speyfest at Fochabers.
Kirsty McLeod handles exports with beers from Windswept Brewing being exported to distributors in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, France and Andorra.
Before leaving I had a chance for a quick chat with lead brewer, Charlotte Cook. Charlotte said her favourite beer from the brewery is Wolf, the 6% ABV dark strong Scottish ale named after the Wolf of Bladenoch, infamous for burning down Elgin cathedral. She also mentioned that brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, for ageing in whisky casks, is planned.
Calum Stewart Trio on the 'Windswept Stage', Speyfest, 31/7/15
My friends and I would have another chance to tast Windswept beers the following evening at Speyfest in Fochabers where the highlight of the Friday night musical entertainment was a performance by Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham.
The Windswept Brewing bar, mounted on whisky barrels, was set up in a corner of the separate bar marquee. Brewery staff behind the bar included Kirsty McLeod (left) and Marketing Manager, Julie Smith (centre). Pam was disappointed that the seasonal Marooned blackcurrant wheat beer was not ready to be served but I was happy to find my favourite, APA, was available. Later I enjoyed my first pint of Wolf, one of the few Windswept beers I had not sampled by this stage!

Website: windsweptbrewing.com

Windswept Brewing Co
Unit B
13 Coulardbank Industrial Estate
IV31 6NG

Email: info@windsweptbrewing.co.uk
Brewery: 01343 814310