What is an oast house?

A question we get asked from time to time is, what actually is an oast house?

For us, there couldn’t be a better symbol of Kent than an oast house. Their striking shape dots the countryside skyline, providing some Instagram worthy shots – but what exactly are they?

In a nutshell, an oast house or hop kiln is a building created to drying hops as part of the brewing process.

Oast houses or hop kilns have played a huge part in the agricultural history of both the county and the country. And, at the heart of their fascinating origins is one of the nation’s favourite tipples – beer!

Starting from the top, what are hops? Hops are the flowering clusters of a plant called Humulus Lupulus and they give beer its distinctive flavour and aroma. Like grapes in wine, hops come in different varieties, each with its own characteristic. For centuries, the garden of England produced hops on an industrial scale, bringing life and prosperity to the countryside – and building on mass the oast houses seen all over Kent.

Side note: If you want to know a bit more about Kent’s oast houses, please have a read at our previous blog post.

Ok, but what do hops have to do with oast houses?

After enjoying a long summer basking in the English sunshine (in theory), hops are harvested around September. But, before they can be popped into any brews, they need to be dried. That is where the oast houses come in.

When hops are picked, they have a moisture content of 80% – which is no good for brewing. However, after an oast house has worked its magic, the amount of moisture in them goes down to a tiny 6%.

oast house history

How did a traditional oast house work?

Sitting on the ground floor of the roundel was a furnace, halfway up the tower was a slatted ceiling covered by a horsehair cloth, then above that a cone-shaped roof, and at the very top a cowl.

First, the hops were placed across the slatted ceiling. The furnace was then lit, and as the heat rose through the slatted ceiling, moisture was removed from the plants. The excess steam rose through the conical roof and out through the cowl. Not only did the cowl act as a very effective vent it was also rotated by a wind vane, ensuring that air was always circulating throughout the roundel and that the hot air had a clear path out of the oast.

Henden Manor Oast Cowl image

After the hops were deemed to be dry, they were shovelled out and placed onto the barn floor to cool. Once ready to be packed, they were pressed into large jute bags and sent to market. Just like today, brewers would not just throw any old hop into their beer so, by law, each batch was labelled with the grower’s details. This ensured that the much-loved Kentish beer would never be compromised.

As the hop growing industry in Kent declined and imported hops fell into favour, the use of oast houses declined too. Now, many of these wonderfully clever contraptions have a new lease of life as beloved homes!

Dude & Arnette are the UK’s market leader for oast cowl manufacturing, restoration and repairs. We have been the go-to family business for oast house owners since 1937.

Sue & Les Hart - Cowl

Help! Does my oast cowl need cleaning?

Since 1937, we have been cleaning oast houses across the country, both inside and out. Our specialist team can clean, paint and maintain your oast house to the highest standard, bringing joy to many more generations. So, if your oast house is looking a little drab and dated, maybe it is time to give it a clean.

Why do I need to give my oast cowls a clean?

Oast cowl cleaning can prolong the life of your oast house. Committing to a good cleaning routine for your oast is a great investment for both your oast house and your wallet.

Carrying out an oast cowl cleaning gives us the opportunity to get up close and personal with your oast, spotting potential issues before they arise and making any potential repairs both easier and cheaper!

What should you do if you think your oast cowl might be in need of cleaning? Firstly, give us a call and we will give the cowl a servicing. To avoid issues, we recommend having oast houses serviced every 5 years. This keeps them in good condition, meaning they require very little upkeep.

oast cowl on the floor in need of cleaning

Can you give my oast cowl a wash?

The way we clean your oast cowl depends on if it is a fibreglass cowl or a traditional timber one. If your cowl is made of fibreglass – safe to say, this is not our favourite material – then we can wash and clean them easily. However, we would not want to wash wooden cowls as this can cause them to rot.

In case you are thinking this sounds like fibreglass cowls are a low maintenance option, think again. We actually find these to be a false economy. In time, bolts and fixings frequently rust solid and fungi can creep under the fibreglass top surface and sometimes into the mat – making it impossible to clean the oast cowls back to white. It is worth bearing in mind that often what appears to be an oast cowl in need of a clean is actually an oast cowl in need of a refurbishment.

How do you make my oast cowl look clean again?

The cowl is truly the crowning glory on your oast house and a re-painting can give it a new lease of life. With a bright and clean cowl, your home really will be the oast with the most. Cowls are exposed to the elements 24 hours a day, experiencing the very worse the infamous British weather can throw at them. Unsurprisingly, this onslaught can leave your cowls looking weathered and dull. But, this is not just about aesthetics. Not only does painting your cowls give them a fresh and clean look, but it also ensures that they are weatherproof, stopping rot and decay.

As you would expect from a team passionate about oast restoration, our painting process stands the test of time. After drying out and restoring the wood, we apply five separate coats of beautiful high-gloss paint.

Oast cowls after being cleaned and painted

Do you need to take the oast cowl away?

Our many years spent working on oast houses has taught us that refurbishing an oast cowl properly means removing it. Repairs are much more difficult when the oast is in position, and painting properly is impossible!

Invest in the lifespan of your oast house, and get in touch with our specialist team today for a free consultation and quote.

Client Feedback: Restoring an oast cowl

Since we started in 1937, Dude and Arnette has restored hundreds of cowls around the UK. We approach every job with honesty, dedication and craftsmanship. We’re committed to making sure that our work is long-lasting and that our clients are happy with our work. Every project is approached as unique, so we can make sure we tailor our services to your exact needs.

We recently received a client testimonial and we thought we’d share it with you so you can get an idea of how we roll.

Dude and Arnette came recommended as the country’s top specialists on cowl restoration. Because of our oast’s difficult access, Darren and his team had to use the traditional way of block and tackle to remove our cowl, and what a great job they did with it.

View of two people inside a wooden oast cowl

It was delivered back to us a few weeks later like new. It was a pleasure to know that three generations were restoring our cowl and are keeping the tradition alive.

View of an oast cowl being transported to a roof

Five years later Dude and Arnette returned to spruce up and refresh our cowl. The service and standard of work were top notch yet again. We are happy to recommend the company without reservation.

Dude and Arnette Specialist holding an owl coast

Whether you’re interested in oast construction, installation or kiln roof maintenanceget in touch with our specialist oast cowl build team for a clear, honest and concise quote and we will organise a visit to your oast house at a time that suits you.

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Five Great Pub Walks in East Sussex

East Sussex is not short on picturesque landscapes and country pubs, and now that summer is fast approaching, there is no better time to get out there. East Sussex’s gentle rolling countryside, combined with the promise of a great country pub, could inspire even the most reluctant walker to don walking boots and a cagoule.

While the High Weald AONB (that’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in case you were wondering) might be in the London commuter belt, it is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The rolling farmland is dotted with traditional oasts and cowls so, wherever you end up, be sure to keep a lookout for some delightful oast houses.

The Playden Walk

The Playden Walk is a relatively gentle ramble is a must for oast house aficionados. Beginning and ending at Rye train station (no designated driver necessary if you all fancy a tipple), this trail meanders across fields and farmland, offering views of the picturesque Tillingham Valley.

The Playden Oasts Inn photo
Image Source: The Playden Oasts Inn

The real highlight comes approximately halfway through the walk, where a small detour brings you to the Playden Oasts. This charming inn features three oast houses topped with traditional cowls. As well as two great restaurants, the inn also offers guests the chance to stay the night at the top of an authentic oast house.

The beautifully restored building was actually run as a working oast house until the 70s. Could there be a better place to enjoy a Sunday roast and a traditional pint of English ale than this?

 

Burwash Walk

This six-mile round-robin ramble sets off from the beautiful village of Burwash. The walk kicks off with some fantastic views of the Dudwell valley before weaving its way through the medieval landscape of the valley.

Burwash walk photo by © Fraser Elliott
Image Source: Discovering Britain © Fraser Elliott

The route takes walkers through ancient woods and meadows and past many traditional structures. Want to know what the area looked like 700 years ago? Well, this walk is the one to do.

After all that exercise, enjoy a well-earned drink back at the quaint Rose and Crown Pub.

 

Eridge Walk

Beginning at the nearby Eridge train station, the Eridge country walk passes Harrison Rocks – a must for rock climbers. Remember to look out for the oast house towards the end of the route!

Photo of roast dinner by The Huntsman Pub
Image Source: The Huntsman Pub

The quaint country pub The Huntsman, in the sleepy village of Eridge, certainly packs a punch with its top-notch hearty pub food and quality real ales.

 

Catsfield & The White Hart Inn

When the sun is out, the White Hart Inn’s expansive beer garden is the perfect place to catch some rays. The captivating countryside around Catsfield offers plenty of opportunities for burning some calories – before putting them back on with a long lazy lunch.

This moderate walk begins at the White Hart Inn and takes walkers on a picturesque four-mile hike through forests and rolling countryside. View further information on the Catsfield walk.

 

Marc Cross Walk

For those who enjoy a bit more of a challenge, this walk from the village of Mark Cross should suit. The area boasts oasts and cowls aplenty and walks around here should offer the opportunity to spot many an oast house.

View of the hills around the Mark Cross Inn
Image Source: The Mark Cross Inn via Rotherfield Parish Council

All that exertion and effort deserves a reward, and the Mark Cross Inn certainly delivers. Their menu is created from seasonal and locally sourced produce and is sure to satisfy even the fussiest foodie.

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