Saturday, 11 March 2017

Westerham "Tap Takeover" at Old Fire Station

I have written before about Tonbridge’s Old Fire Station, a facility which offers refreshments, beer, and cider along with space for holding communal events. The latter normally take the form of pop-up restaurants where some of the country's finest chefs present their food offerings in the informal surroundings of this atmospheric old building.

The other type of events the Old Fire Station is known for are “Tap Takeovers”, where a local brewery will take over the facilities for a long weekend (typically Thursday – Saturday), in order to showcase its beers. Several breweries have done this during the past 16 months that the OFS has been open to the public, and this weekend it was the turn of Westerham Brewery.

The present Westerham Brewery was established in 2004 by former city-trader, Robert Wicks, thereby bringing brewing back to the historic town of Westerham and reviving memories of the Black Eagle Brewery, which closed in 1965. The sign of Westerham Ales was once a common sight outside many pubs in West Kent, and indeed further afield.  Unfortunately a series of mergers and takeovers led to the closure, and subsequent demolition of the Black Eagle Brewery, which stood on the western side of Westerham, and that would have been the end of the story were it not for the actions of the company’s head brewer.

Following the takeover of the Black Eagle,  first by London-based Taylor Walker in 1948 and then the subsequent takeover of Taylor Walker by Ind Coope in 1959, the head brewer deposited freeze dried samples of the brewery’s yeasts with the National Collection of Yeast Cultures, fearing that they might be lost forever. 50 years later, the current Westerham Brewery acquired the sole rights to these yeast strains from Carlsberg UK, the successors of Ind Coope, and revived these yeast cultures.  

Twelve years on from its formation, Westerham Brewery produces a wide range of respected beers, including a core range of seven cask brands and an equal number of seasonal varieties. A small number of “craft” beers are also produced, which include a couple of lagers. Many of the company’s beers are also available in bottled form. In addition, Westerham have two tied pubs.

Since their inception in 2004, the company has brewed its beers at Grange Farm near Crockham Hill, but in a few weeks time will be moving into a new, purpose-built facility on the edge of Westerham, thereby returning brewing to the town, after a gap of over 50 years.

I am obviously familiar with Westerham Brewery beers, having drunk them in pubs throughout west Kent. I have also visited the brewery, but it was good to see them being showcased at Tonbridge Old Fire Station. There were six cask and three “craft” beers on sale, when I popped in early on Saturday afternoon. The place wasn’t packed, but there were a steady stream of customers- mainly family groups with young children. The staff behind the bar told me the previous two evenings had been busy, and they were expecting a good crowd for the final session, where there would be a selection of meats available, barbecued outside in the yard.

I sampled a couple of the beers; Family Stout - a 4.5% ABV cask beer, based on an original Westerham Brewery recipe from the 1930's, and Bohemian Rhapsody - a 5.0% "craft keg" Pilsner, flavoured with Saaz hops from the Zatec region of the Czech Republic. So one modern beer and one from 70 years ago, and both good in their own right.

As I have written before, the Old Fire Station has proved a hit with local townsfolk, adding variety by presenting quality food and drink to Tonbridge.  In May, the venue will play host to a cider festival, which will form part of the Tonbridge Food & Drink Festival. Watch this space for further details.


Matt said...

I'm sure you know this already, Paul, but Westerham appears in the first paragraph of Richard Boston's book Beer and Skittles, and is where I first heard of the place.

Paul Bailey said...

Reading Richard Boston’s excellent book, “Beer & Skittles” was one of the reasons I became interested in beer and pubs in the first place. An absolute classic, written by someone with a real understanding of the human condition; and yes Matt, Boston does mention Westerham and its ales early on in the book.