Don’t really know Kent. Seen more of it from the window of a Euro-star than anything else, though went through Canterbury many years ago and saw it through the glass of a ferry-bound coach. Never been to Faversham but I have been to Whitstable; I managed to avoid the oysters; never been to that seaside place where whelks are definitely the dish to die for either. Been to one brewery. Back in 2006. It was Westerham Brewery for the MOS Live magazine; wasn’t used in the end though they paid me handsomely and sent a snapper out there (it happens, ‘the mix isn’t right’, ‘our competitor just ran the same story’, ‘the editor doesn’t like men in beards’ etc).
‘It’s a wet, grey winter’s day in the heart of rural northern Kent. The trees are bare and lifeless, buffeted by a freezing wind hurling itself straight from Siberia. The fields around Grange Farm at Crockham Hill are ridged and furrowed, waiting for the first shoots of spring. Ahead of me lies an elegant Queen Anne farmhouse and behind it a jumble of barns and stables. A brace of horses are led steaming to their quarters after an early morning gallop. It’s a timeless, comforting scene – a little piece of old England untouched by modern life.’
So that was my vision of Kent and the article continued.
So Kent, why Kent? I recently bolted down Gadds’ Dogbolter with the ferocity of a man whose first name is Thirst. I’ve enjoyed Shepherd Neame’s Celebration. Kent continued to hove into view with the arrival of Shepherd Neame’s Double Stout and IPA in the postbox (the postman won’t deliver to the door anymore because of our dogs, one of which, a 10 year old horror of a Parson Jack Russell, has a penchant for biting packages). Two beers, both of which I am told are just the first of the brewery’s trawl through the archives.
In the silence of a late Sunday afternoon, I poured a glass of the Double Stout and it was a soothing and smooth cranial massage on the temple of the weekend’s end. I loved it. I loved the chocolate (milk) and creamy coffee nose; I also loved its undertone of raisin/current fruitiness. I loved the luxurious mouth-feel with more chocolate, coffee and dark fruit. I loved its darkness and its sense of the earth at night. I look forward to more.
As it happened Westerham also sent me something of Kent, a mini keg of British Bulldog, which I haven’t had for several years — but looking at my tasting notes then I espie: ‘Earthy, oily, citrusy, hint of tropical fruit, cereal crunchiness in background. Dry, bitter, hangs onto the throat.’ I have yet to open it but I will be interested to see what I get. I was also sent a mini-keg of Spirit of Kent, which, during the summer, became the brewery’s first permanent beer for several years; it uses nine different Kent bred and Kent grown hops. This I did breach last night, aiming to bring some Kent to the dark Exmoor chilliness of night. There was a distinct swing of the compass about the nose, as it touched all points citrus sweetness (mandarin), earthiness and pungent hop sack. The palate carried a refrain of similar mandarin sweetness (orange jelly for adults), a muscular earthiness (think big Burgundies), a slight of almond and a dry bitter finish. A Spitfire garnishes the pump clip and I can think of no better analogy for this beer than the purring beauty of that aircraft’s Merlin engine when in full flight.
So do I know Kent? Probably not, but it’s a bit clearer now.