Sunday, 11 September 2016

Pig & Porter Brewing Co

Saturday just gone was open day at Pig & Porter Brewing Co.The brewery are based in a small unit on an industrial estate in High Brooms, the intermediate stop on the rail line between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Being so close, it seemed rude not to attend, especially as I am a fan of their beers; so shortly after midday, I walked down to Tonbridge station and made the five minute rail journey to High Brooms.

The estate where the brewery is situated, occupies the site of a former clay pit, associated with the now vanished brick-making industry which was once an important feature of High Brooms. I found the brewery without any trouble, although the people milling around outside drinking, did give a bit of a clue.

Mash-Tun & Brew-Kettle
The unit was considerably smaller than I was expecting, but the brewing plant has been carefully shoe-horned in to take advantage of every available inch of space. As we later discovered, Pig & Porter have acquired a further similar-size unit, at the opposite end of the same block, and this is used primarily for cold storage of finished packaged stock (casks and key-kegs).

Arriving at the brewery I bumped into Jon, a friend from CAMRA, and a little later on several other branch members also put in an appearance. The open day was a pretty low-key affair, and was just a case of turn up, try a few Pig & Porter beers, and have a look around the brewery, (there were two tours; one in the morning and the other in the afternoon).

A bar had been erected in the area under the stairs, with both cask and keg beers on sale and priced at £3.00 a pint; all that is except the rather potent DIPA (Double India Pale Ale 8.6%), which cost £3.00 a half. Next time I will bring my own glass along, as the brewery were, understandably, using disposable plastic ones.

I’m fairly certain I managed to sample all of the beers on sale, and I also managed a chat with Sean Ayling and his wife Jacqui. Sean is one of the two partners behind the brewery; the other being Robin Wright. Robin, who was away on holiday, looks after the administrative side of the brewery, whilst Sean does the brewing, assisted by relative newcomer, George Fisher.

Pig & Porter started life as an "events company", providing catering at village fetes, weddings, barn dances etc; the pig part of their name coming from the hog roasts, which were one of their specialities, and the porter, of course, from the beer. To begin with they used other breweries kit to produce the beer, very much in the tradition of a "gypsy", or "cuckoo brewery".

Even then they discovered that the amount of beer needed for these events was fraction of what even a micro brewery could produce, so they ended brewing a full length of beer and then selling the rest off to pubs. The company’s first beer, under their own name, was Red Spider Rye 4.8%; a red ale brewed with a portion of rye in the grist, which gives the beer a degree of spiciness. The brewing of Red Spider Rye took place at the end of 2012, and it is good to report the beer is still produced today.

Sean Ayling - Head Brewer & Co-founder
Red Spider was a huge success and was lapped up by local pubs, but the duo continued with their event business throughout the spring and summer of the following year, and with catering events taking place most weekends, there was little time in which to brew. At the end of summer 2013, the pair became aware that the former Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery site was available. RTWB was a short-lived enterprise which had unexpectedly folded a year or so before, and their 10 barrel brewing plant had lain idle since the closure. Sean and Robin struck a deal to share the site and its equipment with the Tumanny Albion Brewing Company; a company which produced various lagers, under contract, for sale in the Baltic States.

After a year or so sharing the site, it was evident that both companies needed to expand. Tumanny Albion moved out, leaving Pig & Porter as the sole occupants. Sean and Robin had already decided to drop the catering side of the business and concentrate on brewing; a decision which was forced on them by Sean having to brew at weekends because, at the time, he was not in a position to quit his day job.

Key-Kegs - the way ahead?
Today, both partners are very much full time, and the appointment of George, as assistant brewer, has helped take some of the strain off Sean on the brewing side. The brewery is now running close to capacity and with the addition of a new, temperature-controlled, stainless-steel 15 barrel fermenter along side the original three 10 barrels fermenters, they are now turning out around 80 casks a week. An increasing amount of the output is now despatched in key-kegs, but as Sean point out, the beer is still unfiltered, unpasteurised and continues to condition in the key-kegs, so to all intents and purposes is “real ale”.

So what of the future? In a relatively short space of time Pig & Porter have gained a reputation amongst beer lovers for turning out innovative and interesting beers, which appeal to both craft aficionados and traditionalists. Their range of different beers has expanded considerably from their initial core range, and having heard Sean speak about his passion for brewing, it is easy to envisage further innovation. The brewery has already produced an 8.6% ABV Double IPA – called DoubleThink, and are looking to produce an Imperial Stout with an ABV in double figures!

Fermentation capacity is one restraining factor, but as Sean pointed out the brewery’s current mash tun is on the small side, making it difficult to produce beers of the desired  10% plus ABV. There is talk of looking for a new site. Rents in Tunbridge Wells are not cheap, and with both partners have to commute considerable distances to work, (Sean lives in Whitstable and Robin in Hastings), somewhere more central to both, and where rents are also cheaper, would make sense.

Local drinkers would be sorry to see Pig & Porter up sticks and move away, but I’m certain we would still see their beers; such is the brewery’s reputation. In the meantime I would like to thank Sean, Jacqui and George for giving up their Saturday in order to show us round the brewery, and for making it such an interesting afternoon out.

Here are the beers I enjoyed at the brewery. With the exception of Ashcan Rantings, all are key-keg:

Ashcan Rantings 4%                             - Citra Pale Ale
Pig Cubed Mango Saison 4.8%            - Saison with added Mango Cubes
Signs of Triviality 5.5%                         - A more straight forward Saison
Slow Black 5.1%                                 - An excellent Oatmeal Stout; my joint favourite beer of the day.
California Common 5.5%                     - An American-style IPA, brewed in collaboration with Weird Beard Brew Co, my other joint favourite beer of the day.
DoubleThink DIPA 8.6%                       - A strong, well-balanced Double IPA.

For a much more in-depth write-up on Pig & Porter, please check out this feature by local blogger, James Beeson.

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