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

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