Tuesday, 27 April 2010
The local brewing scene in West Kent has been transformed in recent months with the formation of three new craft-breweries. The two most recent, Tonbridge and Royal Tunbridge Wells have still to bring their products to market, although the former is due to launch this coming weekend. But the third - Moodleys, has been in production for a couple of months now, and last week local CAMRA members were party to a talk by the company's founder, plus a tasting of the brewery's beers. The venue for this event was the Anchor in Sevenoaks where the irrepressible landlord Barry Dennis had also laid on a free buffet for us.
Moodleys Brewery is owned and run by Yudhistra Moodley from farm premises, close to his home village of Rusthall, just outside Tunbridge Wells. Yudhistra has concentrated on bottled beers to start with, and the three he currently produces are all bottle-conditioned. We began our sampling with a tasting of Toad Rock Bitter which I found rather unbalanced and was my least favourite of the trio. This may be down to Yudhistra's unusual choice of hops for bittering this beer. Bramling Cross is a hop variety that is not commonly used in brewing these days, and I can fully understand why.
After the bitter, we moved on to Poundage Porter, which was a big improvement and had a really appealing aroma. Unfortunately, at only 4% abv, it didn't quite have the fullness in taste of a true porter and was lacking somewhat in body. The final beer though really hit the spot. The 4.2% Original Mild was dark, sweet and luscious, just as a strong dark mild should be. I would encourage Yudhistra to develop this beer further, as it has the potential to be a real winner.
As we tasted the various beers Yudhistra explained the philosophy behind the brewery. He is committed to using only natural ingredients and traditional brewing processes, and whilst this is to be applauded many of us felt that he has taken this a bit too far by refusing to use finings to clarify his beers. I can understand his wanting to appeal to the vegetarian/vegan market, but the latter particularly is a tiny one and vegetable derived alternatives to isinglass are readily available. The absence of finings meant that all the beers sampled that night suffered from varying amounts of yeast haze which had a detrimental effect on their taste. It is fair to say that whilst naturally cloudy beers, such as wheat beers are more widely available they are still very much a niche market. Several of us made this point to Yudhistra and stated that if he wishes to start offering his beers in cask form, it is essential that he adds finings to his beers. If he doesn't he is likely to find few landlords willing to take a beer that will take weeks to clear naturally. Rightly or wrongly, most people drink with their eyes and will send back a hazy pint, even if it tastes perfectly ok. I feel it is vital that he grasps this fact, particularly if he wants to appeal to a wider, and more mainstream audience.
That said, it was a good evening and although I feel there is still room for improvement, Yudhistra has taken his first tentative steps toward becoming a full-time brewer. He is planning to install a much larger plant (he is currently using a 10 gallon home-brew kit), and this upgrade should lead to a far more consistent product. I wish him well; not many of us are prepared to follow our passion for beer by actually branching out into brewing it full-time. I just hope he takes our comments about the finings on board!
ps. Watch this space for news about the other two breweries about to start production. It's certainly all happening here in West Kent!