A Toast to Kent
Not content with simply being the Garden of England, Kent has upped its game with a host of independent local producers who are taking the alcoholic drinks sector by storm. Here is insideKENT’s toast to some of our favourite Kent tipples and the producers behind them.
The brainchild of two scientists, Dr Andy Reason and Dr Norman Lewis, Anno Distillers, Kent’s first gin distillery in 200 years, was founded in 2011 in the quiet, picturesque village of Marden. Utilising both their established scientific knowledge and the unique Kentish produce on their doorstep, Anno began their spirit-making journey with the aim of producing intense flavours, subtle notes and true quality products.
Research and development of their Anno Kent Dry Gin took a painstaking 18 months before the multi-award winning formula was achieved, whilst their gleaming 300-litre copper still is still named Patience due to the arduous wait it took to get their spirit licences. Fast forward eight years and a Gold Award at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards, and Anno – who still make all of their delicious spirits in Patience – now boast an extensive selection of award-winning gins including their flagship Anno Kent Dry Gin, this season’s popular Anno Sloe Gin, the overproof Anno602Gin, as well as the fresh and smooth Anno Elderflower + Vodka.
Biddenden Vineyards, Kent’s original commercial vineyard, is a true multi-generational family affair, currently managed by Julian Barnes and his son, Tom. The 23-acre secluded estate, located just outside of the picturesque Wealden village of Biddenden, was originally home to the Barnes’ 40-acre apple orchard. Faced with the declining price of apples in the late 60s and inspired by a BBC Woman’s Hour programme about English Vineyards, Mrs Barnes turned to viticulture; and in 1969, 1/3 of an acre of vines were planted, and Biddenden Vineyards was born. Since the first Biddenden wine was bottled around 1972-3, production – with all vine work, including pruning, canopy management and picking still done by hand – has now grown to produce some 80,000 bottles a year!
Today Biddenden Vineyards produce an array of award-winning white, rosé, red and sparking English wines, all of which demonstrate their grape-to-glass philosophy having been produced with one of the 11 varieties of grapes grown on the estate (including their signature Ortega). They’re also still harnessing their apple roots with a wine-like, truly Kentish cider perfected over 40 years from a family recipe, along with a range of much-loved, farm-pressed apple and pear juices.
From its roots in 22 acres of vineyard, just outside of the market town of Tenterden, Chapel Down is now recognised as England’s leading wine producer as well as one of the UK’s most exciting drinks brands, with awards not just for their world-class wines, beers and ciders, but also achieving “cool brand” status for the last three years and having been identified as one of the UK government’s 50 Food and Drink heroes to represent the British food and drink scene internationally.
Established in 2001, Chapel Down is now the market leader in English wines. Their sparkling wines are created using the same traditional method as Champagne with fruit sourced from its Kentish vineyards as well as its other South East England locations. It is the official supplier to No 10 Downing Street, the official sparkling wine of the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race and the first English Wine to be served at Ascot. As well as wine, Chapel Down also produces the highly acclaimed and award-winning range of Curious beers and cider, with their new £1.3million Curious Brewery set to open in Ashford this month.
Situated at Burnt House Farm in Chartham, just below the North Downs Way and close to the historic City of Canterbury, Chartham Vineyard is one of East Kent’s newest vineyards having planted its first vines on over two hectares in 2012. The family enterprise is owned by Dr Roz Waller, husband Richard Goodenough and managed by their son Andy, who are all keen to harness traditional farming values with a modern eco-friendly approach.
From those initial vines, which were machine planted in just one day, through two years of dedicated cultivation, and an additional planting of Pinot Noir vines in 2014, the family yielded their first 1/2 tonne harvest in 2015. 2016 saw that rise to nearly 8 tonnes of grapes and a Bronze Award for the first Dovecote White 2015 vintage. In 2017, it jumped to 11 tonnes and saw the opening of the wine store and shop at Burnt House Farm in time for their second vintage of over 4,000 bottles of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Bacchus. Last year saw the launch of their first sparkling white wine, a newly renovated cow barn opening as a tasting room and gallery, and a collective effort from family and friends to harvest 23 tonnes of grapes!
The family view the cultivation of wines and winemaking as a journey of discovery with an aim to produce high-quality fruit and top-quality wines which reflect their distinctive Kentish Downs location, with a long-term plan to build their own winery.
Copper Rivet Distillery
Located on the banks of the River Medway in Chatham’s Historic Dockyard, Copper Rivet Distillery, set up by Bob Russell and his sons Matthew and Stephen, and named after a copper rivet found in the building, is one of only six UK distilleries to control the whole distribution process from grain to glass.
Within weeks of the grains arriving by boat (which are all grown and harvested on the Isle of Sheppey or Canterbury by Kentish farmers the Burdens), they will have been ground, mashed, distilled and introduced to their chosen botanicals before being bottled as Copper Rivet Dockyard Gin.
From their initial dream to establish their own distillery in the Chatham area, the Russells renovated Pumphouse 5 to create a stunning distillery with three stills, all designed in-house and locally crafted: ‘Janet’, the Gin still; a column still called ‘Joyce’; and the whisky still, ‘Sandy’ – all named after the boys’ grandparents. These stills are used to produce their award-winning range, crafted in small batches of 900 bottles, which now extends beyond their renowned Dockyard Gin first distilled in 2016, to include their Vela Vodka, which achieved Double-Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards, and a cask-finished grain spirit, Son of a Gun. Joining the range in 2020, as soon as they have matured in the barrel, will be the Malthouse Whiskies.
Named after the hills that surround the Weald where they source their flavours, Greensand Ridge is a true micro-distillery on a mission! Located in a Victorian coach house, with soaring beams, an enchanting courtyard and sweeping vistas of the open countryside beyond, Greensand Ridge aims to develop breathtaking, flavoursome spirits, the slow way.
Specialising in gin, fruit brandies and rums, Greensand make spirits with a local influence and a focus on sustainability, and at the heart of their business are the award-winning products they make, some of which (like their Gin and Eau de Vie) are ready to go in weeks, whilst others like their Apple Brandy won’t see the light of day for years!
The Gusbourne Vineyard vision is simple, but not easy: to create the finest wines in the world. To achieve that goal, Gusbourne embraces tradition, challenges convention and adds a focused dash of attention to detail in order to elevate its wines from great to exceptional, from its beautiful location on the original Gusbourne Estate located in Appledore.
The estate, taken over by Andrew Weeber in 2004, planted its first vines that same year to begin the journey to creating English sparkling wines that would stand up to the finest global offerings.
In a clear nod to its heritage, each and every bottle of Gusbourne wine, from its debut vintages of Brut Reserve in 2006 and Blanc de Blanc 2006, which were released to critical acclaim in 2010, carry a contemporary goose crest not only identifiable as an honour to the Gusbourne Estate’s de Goosebourne family crest, but also as a mark of trust and uncompromising quality.
Old Dairy Brewery
From the immediate success of the original micro-brewery set up in early 2010 in an old milking parlour, The Old Dairy Brewery now operates from its purpose-built expanded brewery inside two WWII Nissan Huts featuring an impressive 30-barrel brew kit (that’s 9,000 pints!) that opened in 2014 in the Jewel of the Weald town of Tenterden.
From its picturesque location of rolling hills and views, and relaxed yet creative working environment, the Old Dairy team now brew everything from their range of national award-winning traditional beers and ales through to modern artisan and speciality beers utilising the best and freshest local ingredients, including their Hukins Hops grown just three miles from the distillery.
Combining their approach to ingredients and creativity with an unwavering commitment to producing enjoyable and drinkable beers, The Old Dairy Brewery has built a loyal fan base who appreciate their finely crafted recipes which span bitters, pale ales, American pale ales, stouts and IPAs as well as an array of seasonal speciality brews, Imperial Russian Stouts, Double Hopped IPAs, vintage and historic recipes.
Wise Owl Cider
Wise Owl Cider is a great example of a passion-turned-business. Richard Wise has worked in the fruit industry for over 20 years, and he and his wife, Paula, after visiting the West Country and attending cider festivals to scope out the best of the best, decided, ‘Why don’t we just make our own?’ And that’s exactly what they did.
They made their very first cider in 2012 and their first commercial batch was bottled in 2014, made from apples sourced from nearby Pluckley, and some bittersweet cider varieties from near Bodiam Castle. Approximately eight varieties go into the crisp and fresh Dry and Medium Ciders produced by Wise Owl – and all of the fruit is milled and pressed themselves on-site.
Wise Owl Cider has gone from humble home-business beginnings, to now having a solid customer base and plenty of awards to boot, including a Taste of Kent Award for Best Kentish Cider or Perry, and Cider of the Festival Award in the Campaign for Real Ale competition.
Shepherd Neame has been based in the market town of Faversham, Kent for over 300 years. Perhaps best known for Great British classic ales such as Spitfire, which carries the Royal Warrant, its diverse portfolio includes Five Grain Lager, Bear Island East Coast Pale Ale, and the Whitstable Bay Collection.
It also brews international lagers under licence including Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The independent family business boasts an award-winning visitor centre and more than 300 pubs and hotels throughout London and the South East.
From their boutique, family-run four-acre vineyard, with rolling views across the Channel from its location just north of Folkestone on the Kent North Downs, Terlingham Vineyard is passionate about producing unique and delicious wines with integrity.
Using natural farming techniques and a great deal of time, effort and love to cultivate their vines, all of their wines are made from the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Bacchus, Dornfelder and Rondo grapes grown on their south-facing chalky soil slopes. Managing the whole harvesting and pressing process allows Terlingham full control, with an end result of exciting and varied wines, each with a story to tell.
Want to get into the Tipple Business?
Have you been inspired by Kent producers? Keen to step up your home-brew efforts or move into viticulture or distilling? Or simply love a Kentish tipple?
Here are some hints and tips – the ‘4 Ps’ – to help you break into the tipple business from those in the know.
“At Copper Rivet Distillery, we are extremely lucky that our home of Kent, the Garden of England, is abundant with the highest quality natural produce that can be used as the base ingredients for so many food and drinks. My tip for anyone starting out is please do not take the easy route of buying the cheapest ingredients. Put the effort in and spend some time looking around your local area. If you put in the hard work you will find what you are looking for, just as we did – excellent farmers growing world-class produce right here in Kent. Not only will this give you the knowledge of what you are buying and how it has been grown, you will have the provenance that the customer enjoys and, over time, you will build a great relationship with your partners that provides you with the stability of supply that is essential as you grow.”
Matthew Russell, Co-founder, Copper Rivet Distillery
“There are plenty of ways to bring a new product to market, but the easiest way is to start small, have someone else produce your product so you’re not having to wade through all the relevant regulations at the outset, and test the market with your idea. Also, try to anticipate the market; gin is all but out now for new product development, so where is the market going next?”
Will, Greensand Distillery
“It is VERY hard work, but if you have something you believe in, then go for it. You will have sleepless nights, but it will be worth it!”
Paula, Wise Owl Cider
“Have fun! Wine making is a real art, especially if you are trying to do it naturally, without adding artificial chemicals and preservatives. But with a bit of trial and error you’ll soon be making something you can really enjoy and be proud of!”
Jackie, Terlingham Vineyard