Sunday, 4 January 2009

A Curious Brew

Kent has long been known for its beer, with the pointing white tops of the oast houses popping up throughout the countryside. It’s probably hops which Kent is most known for beer-wise. It was there, in the 15th century, when hops landed in Britain from Europe. They weren’t taken to kindly to begin, but growth soon spread and fast-forward over 500 years and the county is still growing them now. With the abundance of hops it’s no surprise that many breweries operate in Kent, ranging from the grandaddy of English brewing, Shepherd Naeme, down to the idyllic Swan on the Green brewpub in West Peckham, with other notable examples being Westerham, Hopdaemon and Ramsgate.

All this beer is a wonderful thing (and I say this as a born and bred Man of Kent) but recently the grapes of the county have been receiving their own recognition, particularly Chapel Down Winery, near Tenterden, which is rapidly gaining an excellent reputation, especially for their sparkling wine. I visited the winery (a very handsome place indeed) because I was told something pretty exciting about them… they brew their own beers too!

Chapel Down is the name of the winery; the beers are made under the name of Curious Brew. They have three beers so far - Cobb IPA, Admiral Porter and Brut – served in 330ml bottles. Their design is the first thing that points you towards their wine heritage, with a simple logo and a blurb of wine-like information on the back; it’s cool, classy. All three of the beers are truly excellent examples of their style, brewed exceptionally well.

Brut 5%
Lager fermented with French sparkling wine yeast and hopped with Saaz and Cascades. A pale amber colour with plenty of bubbles. Simple aroma with some apple and grain. It’s rich and full flavoured, creamy and incredibly light with a tickle of fizz. There’s loads of caramel and biscuit from the malt, then a crisp finish with apple fruitiness. It’s a fantastic lager, one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

Cobb IPA 5.6%
Brewed with rare Kent Cobbs and hopped at 4 different stages, it’s a light amber colour with a nose of tropical and citrus fruits. It’s a classic IPA in taste: creamy toffee malt underneath a big hop finish. There’s loads more tropical fruit inside with some papaya and melon. The sweetness is gorgeous and it’s all so well balanced. Fresh and refreshing.

Admiral Porter 5%
Matured in oak and unpasteurised. Black with a creamy head. Dark chocolate, smoke, wood and berries in the nose – a great aroma. It’s bitter from the roasted malts with coffee and dark chocolate, more smokiness, a berry sharpness and an underlying woody sweetness. Roasty and toasty, light and easy drinking: as porter’s go, this is a beauty.

The beers are also very food-friendly, in fact whatever flavours you can’t find in the Chapel Down wines you’ll be able to get out of these beers. Have the Brut where you would choose champagne – it’s perfect pre-meal or with a light fish starter. The Cobb IPA (with its underlying caramel sweetness – wait, you mean wine can’t achieve a caramel flavour?!) with more robust chicken or fish dinners, or when you would otherwise choose a light, zingy-fresh white – the inherent sweetness works perfectly with spice or Asian foods. And have the porter (which has roasted flavours… hold on, wine can’t do roasted either?!) with roast or barbeque meats or even a light chocolate dessert or post-meal instead of a port.

If you go down for some wine then be sure to pick up some beer too. You will hopefully be surprised by just how good they are – especially if you try them with your dinner.


  1. This is very exciting and a brewery which had completely escaped my ale-dar. All 3 sound great and only £1.49 a bottle!

    Only problem is it's a bit out of the way. I might see if they would consider sending me a mixed case - otherwise I may have to combine a trip to the shop with a first visit to the Red Lion at Snargate.

  2. Yeah I hadn't heard about it until my boss went down to get some bubbly for his girlfriends' parents! I was very impressed with the beers though. The location is in the middle of nowhere, but worth a drive. The do some good cheeses too and I love cheese!

    The Red Lion has been on my to-do list for so long now. It's another on eof those out-of-the-way places but I must try harder to go there!