West Kent CAMRA had a trip out into the Weald of Kent yesterday, to the lovely town of Tenterden; home of the Kent & East Sussex Heritage Railway and also the Old Dairy Brewery. The latter attraction was the purpose of our visit to Tenterden, and we were there to present the brewery with the award for Best Green Hop Beer of the Festival.
Old Dairy Bullion Green Hop Ale won the award at our own Spa Valley Railway Festival, which took place last October, and as well as presenting the brewery with a certificate, the idea behind the trip was to say thank-you to all the volunteers who helped at the festival.
We didn’t hire a coach, as this means of travel seems to have become prohibitively expensive of late. Instead we made use of the regular 297 bus, which runs between Tunbridge Wells and Tenterden, several times a day. The only drawback is the length of the journey; around an hour and a half, depending on traffic.
|Tenterden High Street|
It was a perfect day for our trip though, and with the sun breaking through after some early morning mist we were treated to a real scenic journey as we travelled through the part-wooded, part farmland of the rolling Wealden countryside. We passed through numerous picture-postcard villages; many ending with suffix “den” (Benenden, Horsmonden, Rolvenden etc), plus the odd small town – Cranbrook, before arriving in Tenterden shortly before 12.30pm.
Tenterden is known as the “Jewel of the Weald”; and deservedly so, as with its wide main street, and attractive tile-hung or weather boarded houses, it is one of the most pleasant small towns in this part of the south-east. A preponderance of independently owned shops, combined with an absence of many of the major retail chains, only adds to its charm.
We weren’t due at the Old Dairy until 1pm, so feeling a bumped around after our lengthy bus-ride, plus a little thirsty we headed towards the nearest decent pub. This we found in the form of the Woolpack Hotel; an attractive, part tile hung 15th Century inn, situated between the imposing parish church and its Town Hall. We only had time for one beer, but we liked what we found inside the pub, with uneven bare wooden floors, low ceilings and several different rooms, it was the pub I could quite have got comfortable in. Beer-wise there was Harvey’s Sussex Best, Timothy Taylor Golden Best, Old Dairy Up and Udder (brewed specially for the Six Nations Rugby), plus Sharps Atlantic Pale Ale. I went for the latter, as I only knew it as a bottled beer, and had not come across it in draught form before. It was very good, and certainly knocked spots off Sharp’s normal offering of Doom Bar.
After drinking up, we headed back off along Tenterden’s wide High Street, and then turned into Station Road. The road leads downhill towards Tenterden station, home of the preserved Kent& East Sussex Railway. The latter forms part of the original line, of the same name, which once ran from Headcorn down to Robertsbridge. Although the original line was closed to passenger traffic in 1954, over the years, parts of the railway have been brought back into use by a dedicated group of volunteers, and it is now possible to travel from Tenterden, down to Bodiam. Work is progressing to restore the section down to Robertsbridge, thereby re-connecting the preserved railway with mainline services. The K&ESR were certainly busy when we walked past, as they were running one of their “Days out with Thomas” events, to coincide with the end of the school half term break.
Old Dairy Brewery occupies a couple of converted World War II Nissen huts, over-looking a yard on the other side of the railway. The brewery moved here in 2014, from their original former milking parlour home at nearby Rolvenden, where they had begun production in 2010. The move included switching from a 5 barrel to a 30 barrel plant, with all the scale-up problems this entailed. We were welcomed to the brewery by Sean Calnan, who is one of Old Dairy’s directors, and by the company's Head Brewer, Glenn Whatman.
Glenn gave us an informative and interesting talk about the brewery and its beers, as well as providing answers to some of the technical questions we asked him. For example, the brewery do not culture and reuse their own yeast; instead they use bought in, freeze dried yeasts, tailored to meet the characteristics of the style of beer they happen to be brewing. Most of the bottling is done off-site, at Eddy Gadd’s Ramsgate set-up; although Old Dairy have the capacity to handle bottle-conditioned beers, as these are produced in limited quantities. Glenn also told us about how he became interested in brewing and spoke with real admiration about Ed Wray, who was Old Dairy’s former Head Brewer, and said that many of their beers had been formulated by Ed during his spell with the company.
No brewery visit is complete without a tasting, or three, of the finished product. The bar, in the reception area, had Red Top and Dark Snow on hand-pump, plus Gold Top and a new brew, produced with New Zealand hops on key-keg dispense. Dark Snow btw, is a blend of Snow Top and Dark Side of the Moo. It came out at 6.5% and worked really well as a blend. The company had also laid on a buffet, for which there was a small charge, but the spread they put on was more than plentiful and certainly helped soak up the beer.
Old Dairy have won numerous awards for their beers, as evidenced by the number of certificates adorning the walls, and we were pleased for them to be adding ours to the collection. We had the obligatory photo opportunity outside, whereby branch chairman, Craig presented Glenn with the Certificate for Green Hop Beer of the Festival.
|Glenn (left) recieving Old Dairy's award|
Afterwards there was time for a look around the brewery shop, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us bought a few bottles to take home with us. After that it was time to thank Sean, Glenn and the other members of the team who had looked after us, and make our way back up to the High Street in time for the bus back to Tunbridge Wells.
Most of the party alighted outside the Halfway House at Brenchley, for both a comfort stop and a top-up. They were then planning to catch the last bus at around 6.20 pm. I would have joined them, were it not for the fact that later today I am flying out to Munich with my son and his friend to spend a few days unwinding in the Bavarian capital. Apologies therefore, if this post seems somewhat rushed, but I wanted to get it up on the blog before we dash off to the airport.