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Iron Pier Brewery: The Art of Brewing

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!

Iron Pier Brewery: Charlie Venner & James Hayward
Charlie Venner & James Hayward

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 standardsas 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.’

Duncan Grant: Brewery
Russell Brewery, 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.

Truman bottling plant, Gravesend
Truman bottling plant, 1950s

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.

 

Duncan Grant: Hop picking
Duncan Grant: Hop picking

Hops
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.’

Duncan Grant: Hops and blueberries
Duncan Grant: Hops and blueberries

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.

Iron Pier Brewery: Take-away service
Take-away

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.

Iron Pier Brewery, Gravesend‘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 QueenSession 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.’

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendJames 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.

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendBy 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.’

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendIn 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!

 

You can follow Iron Pier on:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ironpierbeer/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ironpierbeer
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ironpierbeer/

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

 

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Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Vigo RFC

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When I was a lad, before I went to college, and again during the 80s, I used to play rugby for Vigo RFC https://www.pitchero.com/clubs/vigorfc. I started out playing on the wing and then moved forward as I got older and slower.

Vigo RFC 50th anniversary book
Lineout at Sunset

Well, this year marks the Club’s 50th anniversary and to celebrate that they’ve brought out a limited edition book, charting the history of the club, edited by Trevor Newnham. I was delighted to be asked if I’d do some artwork for the book, based on old photographs. You can see one drawing on the cover, and three others inside.

The club, originally based at the Vigo Inn, near Fairseat in Kent, on the top of the North Downs, has an interesting history. This brief account is based on information from the 50th anniversary book and from Trevor’s article for the Stansted and Fairseat History Society https://stanstedhistory.org/groups-vigo-rfc/ Both contain some fascinating old images.

Rugby wasn’t always the game of choice at The Vigo Inn, formerly called The Upper Drover. Once upon a time, punters used to play ‘daddlums’ a form of table skittles. But everything changed one Sunday lunchtime in 1968 when a group of well-oiled local rugby players – regulars at the pub – came up with the idea that the field at the back of the pub would make a pretty good rugby pitch, and as such would offer ‘an ideal opportunity to combine beer and fitness’. Despite the field in question being ‘none too flat’ and more than somewhat muddy, their beer fuelled vision gradually turned into a plan. There were meetings, a committee and, in 1969, with telegraph poles as goalposts and a disused chicken shed to change in, Vigo RFC was founded. Lillian Ashwell, the pub’s landlady was elected as President – probably the first woman President of a rugby club in England.

Vigo RFC 50th anniversary
Tackle

A couple of players from nearby Gravesend RFC were persuaded to provide some coaching – a necessary first step as many of the prospective players had never touched a rugby ball before. But the team was enthusiastic and willing to learn and most players were soon judged to have ‘mastered basic rugby techniques’ and despite being ‘a little raw in one or two specialist positions, such as hooker’ were ready for fixtures with B teams from other clubs. In their first serious match, away to Deal in 1969, Vigo RFC recorded a ‘resounding’ 3-1 victory.

As the rugby became more serious, the club moved several times. Ten years on, it settled in current home at Swanswood in Harvel, not far fromthe original Vigo Inn.  A club member who was also a builder, supervised the construction of a clubhouse, with the players acting as labourers. And, over the years, through a number of fundraising initiatives, the clubhouse was improved and floodlights were installed.

Since then, the club has gone from strength to strength. It now fields four adult teams, a juniors team, and two junior mini-rugby teams.

Vigo RFC 50th anniversary
Try

As Trevor Newnham writes:
From the grassiest (and muddiest) of grassroots, the Club – Vigo RFC – came into being.  A pub side at heart, a determination to be independent of any brewer, professionalism, and a club that would offer a warm home to anyone who loves this great game.’

The 50th Anniversary Book: Vigo Rugby Football Club 1969-2019 is available now from the club at a cost of £10.

The originals of my drawings for the book and digital prints are available on my website. Just follow the links below: