Monday, 1 May 2017

London brewery visits - Part One Kew Brewery

CAMRA Brewery visit - or pensioners' day out?
For anyone who enjoys good beer, what could be better than a brewery visit? Two brewery visits, perhaps? This was exactly what my local West Kent CAMRA Branch had organised for Saturday 29th April, when a group of 15 of us travelled up to London in order to visit the Kew Brewery and also the By The Horns Brewery.

Both breweries had picked up awards at last year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival; the event which is run jointly between ourselves and the Heritage Railway. Kew Brewery were awarded “Beer of the Festival” for  their Nightshade Porter, whilst By The Horns were runners up with their Old Smoked Tea Bitter.

It has become something of a tradition for the branch to visit those breweries which pick up an award at our festival, although preference is understandably given to those who worked at the event, or contributed to its success in other ways. Previous years have seen us making trips to Tillingbourne, Caveman and Black Cat breweries; although in the latter case, they ended up coming to us.

Our branch chairman arranged the visits, whilst our recently resigned social secretary (who still seems lumbered with the job), handled the logistics. The latter were slightly complicated in so much that they involved sorting out a suitable route which would allow us to visit both breweries, and also allow time for a spot of lunch in between. There was also the matter of train and bus times and, in the case of the latter, what particular bus route we needed to take.

By taking advantage of a London Travelcard, we were able to journey up to the capital, by train from West Kent (either Tunbridge Wells or Tonbridge), change trains, then hop on and off the relevant buses. Those of us above certain age and in possession of a Senior Railcard, were able to do this for the princely sum of £13.25, which was an absolute bargain given the amount of travelling we did.

So it was train to Waterloo East, then a short walk across to Waterloo mainline, followed by a train to Barnes. It was then a ride on the No. 33 bus through East Sheen in the direction of Kew. I must admit I would have walked straight past the brewery, as it is housed behind an anonymous looking shop front. Fortunately a couple of sharp-eyed individuals noticed the pallet leaning against the window, along with the boxes of bottled beers stacked the other side.

Kew's Dave Scott (right) receives his award from WK Chairman Craig
We were met by brewer and owner Dave Scott, who was expecting us, and ushered inside. There was only just enough room for us all to squeeze in amongst the fermenting vessels, stacks of boxes, casks and key-kegs, but we just about managed it. After a short welcome and introductory talk, Dave got straight down to the nitty-gritty. He rightly assumed, quite rightly,  that we would be thirsty after our journey, and with not much to look at in the way of brewing equipment, he told us there were two draught beers available for us to try, plus some bottles in the fridge for those wishing to sample something different.

There was a small pin (4.5 gallons) of Join the Kew; a 5.9% ABV IPA, plus on keg, Nightshade Chilli Porter 4.5% ABV. The latter was the beer which scooped the top award at our festival. I tried both beers, I found them equally enjoyable. Some members thought the Porter was on the cold side, which is because it was dispensed through one of those portable keg machines which are an increasing common feature at craft beer events. The unit does chill the beer prior to dispense, but I didn’t have a problem with this.

Kew Brewery is an award-winning new craft brewery, less than a mile from, and inspired by, the world-famous gardens at Kew. The company’s aim is simple – to make great tasting beer as sustainably as possible.

The brewery is owned by Dave Scott and his wife Rachel, both of whom are long-term Kew residents.  Brewing started in May 2015, so the brewery is now approaching its second anniversary. Head Brewer Dave hails from Kent, and had previously worked at Weird Beard Brew Co , as well as helping out at two breweries in Kent; Old Dairy Brewery and Canterbury Brewers.

Dave has created a strong and varied core range of beers at Kew, with occasional unexpected twists inspired by nature. He told us that he wants the brewery to act as a showcase English hops, in order to demonstrate they can compete with New World hops for both  flavour and aroma; if used the right way and in the right quantities. What few of us realised is the wide variety of new breeds of English hops which have been developed in recent years, and which are now coming onto the market.

Beer of the festival
All of Kew’s beers are unfiltered and unfined, keeping them as natural and  flavoursome as possible. With the exception of the milk stout, they are suitable for vegans. Dave did say that even if he were to fine his beers, the high-levels of dry-hopping, would almost certainly interfere with the action of the finings, and in many instances, the beer would still end up hazy.

We didn’t really see much of the brew-kit, which was behind the shop section, in what appeared to be an integral garage unit. A couple of colleagues and I walked through for a look, but like the rest of the set up it was very cluttered. I have to admit that the whole brewery was not at all what I was expecting, and without wishing to appear unkind, it did seem slightly chaotic. However, I’m sure Dave is in control and knows where everything is.

Several other members present were no doubt thinking the same, when they asked him about plans for expansion, and somewhere with more space. Dave replied that he would obviously like more room to manoeuvre, but industrial units in the locality were few and far between. He didn’t want to move out of the immediate area, as the name Kew Brewery, and its connections with the local area, were very important.

I’m not quite sure what time we left. A few brave souls were getting stuck into some of the bottles, but I quite wisely bought a few to take home with me. There was another brewery to visit, and a pub lunch in between as well, so I didn’t want to overdo things. Dave  was obviously pleased with his award, and we enjoyed meeting him and tasting some of Kew Brewery’s products. We thanked him for his hospitality and retraced our bus journey back to Barnes station, for the next stage of the day.

There will be a couple of additional posts to cover this, but on the way back a few of us had a chat about Dave and his situation with Kew Brewery. Whilst appreciating the importance of his connection with the local area, some of us thought he could perhaps relocate elsewhere, but keep the shop and expand that side of the business as well. That way he would have a guaranteed outlet for his beers, and still maintain the company’s links with Kew. 

We all wished him well, as it must be both lonely and vulnerable running an operation like this on his own. His father helps out with the odd delivery, with a wife  who has both a full time job, plus a young family to look after, it can’t be easy.

Having run my own off-licence business for six years, I know that it’s easy to feel isolated at times. However, with a shop I got to serve a variety of different customers every day, so still maintained social contact with the outside world.  Running a brewery single-handed takes a special type of person, so I take my hat off to Dave.

What I will say is do look out for Kew Brewery’s beers. They are available in cask, key-keg and bottle and, as mentioned earlier, they have impeccable green credentials. What’s more they are bittered entirely with English hops, and as someone who lives in a hop-growing part of the country, that's very important.

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