Nelson Brewery Visit

On Saturday 25th April the branch visited Nelson Brewery who are based in the Historic Former Naval Dockyard in enterance1Chatham. Sixteen branch members travelled to Chatham by train and after a short walk through the town centre found ourselves at the impressive, entrance arch to the dockyard.

Entrance to the Historic Naval Dockyard

We had no difficulty in locating the brewery which is housed in one of the former workshops of this sprawling site. We were met by brewery owner Piers MacDonald, and his partner Val, and were each given a pint of Nelsons Trafalgar Bitter (4.1% abv), with instructions to help ourselves when our glasses were empty! Later on we sampled the Purser’s Pussy Porter (5.1% abv), a traditional-style dark beer with lots of roasted malt flavours.

phoneboxOutside the Brewery – Did Some Members Arrive By Extra-Terrestrial Means?

Piers apologised for the slightly chaotic state of the brewery; as he in the process of moving things around inside. He has recently acquired a 10-barrel plant, which will double the size of the brewery and help ease the pressure somewhat, but his problem at the moment is finding the time to install the new equipment. Nelson are struggling to keep up with the demand for their beers which, although a nice position to be in, allows virtually no time for the planned improvements.

Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar was, of course HMS Victory, and Victory was constructed at Chatham. The brewery started life though as Flagship brewery back in 1995, but changed its name to Nelson in 2004 following a change in ownership. Piers acquired the business in 2006, and since then has re-vamped some of the beers and has tweaked the recipes of others to ensure a more consistent product. No brewing sugars are used in the beers, and only the finest pale malt, produced in a traditional floor-maltings at Warminster, together with whole-leaf hops are used to brew the beers. All the Nelson beers have a naval theme to them, with names like Powder Monkey, Dog Watch Stout, England Expects, plus probably their best known beer Friggin in the Riggin!

Val told us of the importance of bottled beer to the company. She should know as she personally fills and caps each bottle by hand, and what’s more she hand labels them as well! Bottled beers account for some 20% of Nelson’s trade, with ASDA taking the lion’s share. Piers talked us through the brewing process, with particular emphasis on how Nelson brew their beers.

I am not quite certain of the time we left the brewery, but before we departed we were each presented with a souvenir glass. Having thanked our hosts we made our way to the King George V pubkinggeorge1 in nearby Brompton, where most of us took advantage of the excellent value for money lunches on offer, as well as sampling the interesting range of beers on sale. The Harveys Mild, plus Wychwood Dragon’s Bite were especially good, as was the Good Beer Guide-listed pub itself. There is also a selection of over 40 bottled Belgian beers available, together with a large range of single malt whiskies. I just wish there was a pub as good as this in Tonbridge!

King George V, Brompton

Leaving the King George, we headed into Rochester; some by bus whilst the more active
amongst us made our way foot. Passing through the rather run-down and depressing centre of Chatham (which incidentally is very unfriendly towards pedestrians), we headed over the hill and down into Rochester. En route we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Medway Estuary. The contrast between bustling Rochester High Street and its Chatham namesake could not have been more striking; the former full of interesting shops and crowded out with tourists and shoppers, whilst the latter – well, enough said really!

Our next port of call took a bit of finding, but was well worth the effort. Tucked away on a housing estate, the GBG listed Good Intent serves all its real ales by gravity, drawn direct from casks stillaged behind the bar. Brews from 1645 Brewery featured strongly on the beer menu, along with a guest ale from Cotleigh. The pub is run by an enterprising Greek landlord and attracts a loyal band of regulars.

Gravity Dispense – Good Intent, Rochestergravity

After several pints it was time to move on the short distance to another GBG listed pub, this time the Man of Kent. The MOK has an attractive tiled frontage advertising Style & Winch Ltd – Fine Ales & Stout. This former Maidstone-based brewery disappeared many years ago, having been absorbed into the Courage empire. As befits a pub with this name, the MOK specialises in beers from Kentish micro-breweries; in fact it offers the widest selection of local ales in the county. At the time of our visit, beers from Gadds, Goachers, Millis and Whitstable breweries were on sale, alongside two draught German beers and three draught Belgian ales. Here we met up again with the two members from South-East London CAMRA, who had joined us on the brewery visit.

Man of Kent. Rochestermok

For me this back-street pub, with its slightly off-beat, Bohemian atmosphere, combined with a good mix of clientele, was the find of the trip on a day that had already highlighted two other excellent pubs. I will certainly be making a return visit next time I am in Rochester. The Gadds beers in particular were very good, and I also tried the Dark Lager, brewed by Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. One member was even brave enough to order a pint of Goachers Old Ale, dispensed from a small pin on the bar. He didn’t realise at the time that it was 6.7% abv!

Eventually it was time to leave and make our way back to the station. We had one other pub to visit before the day was over, but this pub was quite a train ride away and much closer to home. Most of us had travelled to Chatham via the Medway Valley line. For the return trip we caught the London Victoria service, changing at Swanley onto the Darenth Valley line. Our destination was the Crown at Otford, which just happened to be holding a beer festival! This was taking place in the garden at the rear of the pub, and being the closest weekend to St George’s Day, beers with England’s Patron Saint as their theme featured prominently on the list. Other attractions included a barbecue (which was very welcome), a better than average pub band, (with a guitarist complete with leopard-skin trousers!) and a fire-eater!

We left the Crown round about 10.30pm, arriving back in Tonbridge around 11.15pm. It had been a long, but very enjoyable day out, and our thanks must go to Piers and Val at Nelson Brewery, plus branch chairman, Ian Fielder for organising the event.

Paul Bailey – Traveller in both Time and Space!