As regular readers of this blog will know, my art has ended up in places I’d never imagined.
It’s been on fabrics for Liberty London, https://www.libertylondon.com/a book cover for Faber & Faber, https://www.faber.co.uk/9780571355075-milkman.html pencil cases in Japan and shirts in Russia. And this week it is appearing on beer cans in Gravesend, courtesy of the Iron Pier Brewery and Taproom https://www.ironpier.beer/
Iron Pier Brewery
I’ve been drinking at the Iron Pier since it opened in 2018 and they’ve hosted a couple of exhibitions of my art. Tucked behind Perry Street on a small industrial estate, it’s a fantastic place with a great community atmosphere – and the beer is even better!
The brewery is run by head brewer James Hayward, who used to run the Caveman Brewery in Swanscombe http://www.cavemanbrewery.co.uk, and his business partner Charlie Venner who, previously, ran The Compass Ale House, in Gravesend http://thecompassalehouse.co.uk/ which James used to supply.
At Iron Pier they produce a range of cask , keg and barrel-aged beer to their exacting standards – as they say on their website, it is ‘lovingly crafted, full-flavoured and perfectly conditioned’. https://www.ironpier.beer/beers
The brewery is named after the Gravesend town pier, which is the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world. And many of the beers brewed there, such as Rosherville Red and Perry Street Pale, have names drawn from the local area.
‘We always knew that we wanted to be part of the community in Gravesend,’ says James. ‘So having the taproom on the same site as the brewery gives us a real link to that community. But we also wanted to be a brewery that went beyond the local market. We supply pubs locally and in East London, and we do brewery swaps, where we’ll send our beer up to Yorkshire or Manchester and they’ll send theirs down to Kent. Last year , we took our beer out to a beer festival in Germany. And it’s really nice, being in Germany as a brewery from Gravesend.’
Brewing in Gravesend
Iron Pier is the first brewery in Gravesend for nearly 90 years. In 1932, Russell’s brewery, in West Street – famous for their Shrimp Brand beers – was acquired by the London brewing giants, Truman. By 1935, brewing had stopped on the site, although it was used as bottling plant for about 50 years after that.
If you’re familiar with Gravesend, you can still see evidence of the Russell brewery down by the River, near Asda. Most of the old brewery buildings were demolished, but the original maltings – the building where grain is converted into malt for brewing – still survives, although it has been converted into flats now. The big square section of The Maltings with its triangular roof was part of the kiln used to heat the barley.
Hops are a key ingredient of traditional brewing, and hop-growing has always been an important agricultural activity in Kent, which is still the biggest hop-growing county in the country. At the end of the 19th century there were about 200,000 acres of hop fields in the UK, now there are only about 6,000 acres.
‘It has shrunk pretty much every year from 1897 to 2017 because of lack of demand,’ explains James Hayward. ‘Beer styles change. Most people now drink so-called continental lagers and those don’t use many hops really, so the hop market completely crashed. But it is coming back a bit now because small brewers like us tend to use a lot of local hops.’
There are many different hop varieties and new hop strains are being bred all the time, in England and in other hop-growing countries like USA and Slovenia. Every month Iron Pier brew a different Joined at the Hop beer, where an English hop is partnered with a hop from somewhere else.
‘It’s a form or research and development for us, ‘James explains. ‘It gives us a chance to see what works well, and we’ve found a few that we really, really like. There’s a Slovenian hop, Styrian Cardinal, which we used in a Joined at the Hop beer and that is now in our Session IPA.’
Although much farm work is now mechanised, in the UK hops are still mostly picked by hand as they always have been. I was talking to my mum, who is ninety in a couple of months, about when, as a child, she used to go hop-picking with her family. The Kidd family lived locally to the hop fields so, for them, hopping was a series of day trips over the two or three week harvesting period. But some large hop fields had accommodation on site and families, particularly from East London, used to stay on site to pick.
My mum dug out a couple of battered black and white photos and agreed to talk about her experiences for the blog. Friend and composer Ian Kirton kindly offered to edit it altogether. If you like the music, which Ian composed, you can listen here: https://www.pond5.com/royalty-free-music/item/104662981-mind-and-body-gentle-warm-emotive-inspirational-instrumental
Anyway, here is my mum, Kathleen Grant (nee Kidd) reminiscing.
Thinking outside the taproom
Before the coronavirus emergency, Iron Pier were planning for a busy summer – full tap rooms, more community events, beer tents at local festivals, as well as providing beer for pubs and festivals across the country. So when lockdown started, pubs closed overnight and summer events were cancelled, James and Charlie had to come up with a Plan B to keep their business afloat.
Plan B (part 1) was a socially distanced, takeaway service. If locals weren’t able to pop out to the taproom or a local pub for a few drinks with friends, at least they could enjoy a pint or two of Iron Pier beer in the comfort of their own home. And, as James explains, it is all going very well.
‘When the virus first struck and the pubs were closed we were terrified, because selling our beer to other pubs was such a big part of our business. But our take-away 4-pint and 2-pint carry-kegs are going insanely well – even better than when we had the bar open. We started with two hours on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but we’ve had to extend Fridays to three hours now because the queues were just getting too big.’
If you fancy a carry out from Iron Pier you’ll find collection times on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ironpierbeer/
It’s in the can
Plan B (part 2) swung into operation last Tuesday, as Iron Pier started canning four of its beers – Keller Queen, Session IPA, Rosherville Red and Breezy Day IPA – to sell through the takeaway service and its new online shop. https://www.ironpier.beer/cans.
‘We always had this idea in our heads that we were going to put our beer into cans,’ James explains. ‘It was originally part of our third year plan, but when this all kicked off it was like, well we’re not making beer for pubs any more so let’s do this canning thing now.’
James and Charlie and I had already discussed the possibility of putting my artwork on the cans about a year ago, so they were able to move from idea to product really quickly. ‘Yes,’ James laughs. ‘We didn’t need to find a designer, so for us it was just finding somewhere on the can to put our logo so it didn’t get in the way of the artwork and we were done!’
While the beer is brewed on site, Iron Pier brought an external contractor into the brewery to can the beer. In the future, if the new cans prove popular, the brewery might consider purchasing its own packaging line.
By the end of Tuesday, the brewery had three out of the four beers ‘in the can’. But there was a small technical hitch with the fourth.
‘A new process in the brewery always involves a bit of a learning curve, and something usually goes wrong,’ James explains. ‘We brewed all four beers for the canning day but when we began filling the Breezy Day we noticed that we were still pulling through hops from the fermenter, so we decided not to can it that day.’
The team is going to polish up the Breezy Day ready for when the canners return in a week or so. In the meantime, the other three canned beers are for sale. You can buy them in cases, or individually, through the take-away service or via the online shop.
‘We were really happy to see some great dissolved oxygen numbers in the can,’ James says, ‘so the beer should have a decent shelf life, which was the main thing I was worried about.’
In normal times, Iron Pier would have held a big knees up to launch their new cans, but since these are not normal times, you are invited to a Virtual Launch/Meet the Brewer/ Beer Tasting event, this evening (17th May 2020, @ 7.30 – 8.30pm) hosted by the Admiral’s Arm micropub http://www.admiralsarm.co.uk/ Follow this link for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/241388767208060/
Hope to see you there. Cheers!
My original ink drawings, as well as digital prints, of the art used on the beer cans and in this blog are available from the gallery on this website. https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/
Keller Queen (Small Town #141)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-141/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-141-print/
Rosherville Red (Small Town #132)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-132/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-132-print/
Session IPA (Twenty-eight poplars)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/twenty-eight-poplars/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/twenty-eight-poplars-print/
Breezy Day IPA (Breezy Day)
Original ink drawing: SOLD
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/breezy-day-print/
Russell Brewery (Brewery)
Original ink drawing: SOLD
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/brewery-print/
Hops and blueberries
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fruit-series-hops-and-blueberries/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fruit-series-hops-and-blueberries-print/
Hop pickers – SOLD