A CATHEDRAL OF CURIOSITY
Curious hops on to the taste-trekker radar with new destination brewery in Ashford
The sunshine plays off the gleaming steel while a rainbow of waterfall mist engulfs the foot of the recognisable question-mark logo. Bloody hell, even Willy Wonka would be up for this factory tour!
The new ‘cathedral of brewing’, as it has been dubbed, is just yards from Ashford International train station and belongs to Chapel Down’s bubbling beer brand Curious Brew.
Placing a brewery back in the town centre, just like the good old days, could be the latest masterstroke from these clever Kentish folk, who are pitching a state-of-the-art, multimillion-pound brewery complete with tasting lab, merch shop, restaurant and gardens right at the gateway of Europe and London.
The new brewery will take inspiration from the tourism experiences offered at its parent Chapel Down winery, with the team hosting small group tours that will tell the full field-to-throat story of their premium beers and ciders – don’t worry, the visitors will get to taste the core range and any limited-batch beers straight from the tanks as well.
The man with one of the best jobs in Kent, Matt Anderson, has been nabbed from brewer AB InBev (Stella Artois, Beck’s, Budweiser); he is the head brewer and forced to taste all of the beers all of the time.
“I probably drink slightly less than a pint over the course of the day in tasting,” says Anderson, disappointingly. “If you have to come in at 4am to taste-test something that is 10% ABV strength, it isn’t always the dream job. But I can’t complain!”
The building, set in a 1.6-acre site, houses 19 fermentation tanks, with a total capacity of 2,900hl, meaning the brewery can hold almost 500,000 pints of beer at any one time.
Beer will be kegged and bottled on-site, producing more than 4,000 bottles per hour, while unpasteurised beer will be piped directly to the restaurant, ensuring the freshest and best-quality beer to visitors.
“The lager has been around since 2011 and the Session IPA not long after that. And the volume growth over the last three to four years has been very good, almost 50% year on year,” says Anderson.
“The brewery was also about creating a brand home. We have the Chapel Down vineyard and winery in Tenterden, so it made sense to do the same for the Curious side, a cathedral of brewing.
“We have really spent the money on something that is going to deliver us a quality product and our lab is going to be on a par with some of the big guys, and not something you would associate with a craft brewery.”
By January 2020, the full-capacity brewery will be able to dish out 15 million pints a year of Curious Brew, Curious Session IPA, Curious Apple and up to 10 special batched beers per annum.
With the Chapel Down vineyard drawing in up to 80,000 visitors a year, the new brewery is also looking to its restaurant to add a pull factor.
Its menu is made up from snacks, sharing bowls and beer food through to main meals and desserts. Look out for the items created in-house using splashes of Curious Brew and Chapel Down products such as the beer Bitterballen – bite-sized slow-cooked beef and Curious Porter croquettes; rock oysters with Chapel Down Pinot Noir dressing; Kentish rarebit with melted Lord of the Hundreds cheese on toast with local Curious apples; the Curious IPA-battered fish and triple-cooked chips; or the 8oz Crouch’s rib-eye steak with caramelised shallot, portobello mushroom, Chapel Down Pinot Noir sauce and triple-cooked chips.
An outdoor area complete with Curious Brewery Land Rover (which dispenses beer) is another touchpoint, while the history of the site runs throughout. It had been occupied by Beaver Road School until it was demolished by a Second World War bomb on 24 March 1943. Thankfully, all the children at the school had been evacuated to safety at a nearby shelter by head teacher Miss Adams, which is now the name of the brewhouse in her honour.
“It is a cathedral of brewing in every sense,” says Curious Brew managing director Gareth Bath. “The soaring point of the roof has spire-like qualities; the people who work with and for us have a devotion I’ve not come across before and we hope the congregation of Kentish and British beer-lovers will come and visit regularly. We are here to serve.
“We want Curious Brewery to be both a one-off experience and a much-loved and much-visited local venue.”