Best warming winter beers from Kent

The clocks have gone back, the mercury has plummeted and those long summer evenings are nothing more than a memory – in other words, it’s beginning to look a lot like winter! This year, give the mulled wine a miss and say hello to the festive season with our county’s traditional tipple.

As you would expect from the land of oast houses and hops, we have no shortage of great local breweries right on our doorstep. But with so much choice, deciding what to try first can be tricky. So, here are five great winter beers to get you started.

 

Snow Top

photo of old dairy beer and crops
Image Source: Old Dairy Instagram

Brewery: Old Dairy
Location: Tenterden – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 6%

Old Dairy have brewed the perfect ‘winter warmer’ – if they do say so themselves – with their award-winning Snow Top beer. This rich, dark delight is packed with the taste of Christmas; it is full of fruitcake and marmalade flavours and topped off with some spicy notes.

 

Godswallop Winter Ale

Brewery: Westerham
Location: Westerham – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 4%

Making full use of the local crop are Westerham with their Godswallop Winter Ale. Six Kent hops combine with pale ale, dark crystal and chocolate malts to create a traditional ale style beer that is both complex and comforting. This slightly sweet, smooth caramel, gentle hoppy traditional old winter ale will keep your mood up as the temperature drops. Oh! and making the most of the season, Westerham have also launched an awesome 2020 Beer Advent Calendar featuring a mixed case of 12 different beers – because a beer a day keeps…. your problems away?

 

Porter

a pint glass of larkins porter ale in a pub
Image Source: Larkins Brewery

Brewery: Larkins
Location: Chiddingstone – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 5.2%

Is there anything more quintessentially Kentish than oast houses and crop fields? Local brewery Larkins still produce their real Kentish ales in a traditional oast house, which we love – obviously! Included in Roger Protz’s acclaimed guide, ‘300 Beers to Try Before You Die’, the award-winning Larkins’ Porter is the perfect choice for those long dark evenings, with a deep, rich and warming taste.  

A curiosity about The Larkins Oast House – it was built in 1935 but bombed by a V2 rocket in 1945 and then rebuilt in 1948. It has a kiln, a drying room, cooling and pressing machinery for the traditional processing of hops from drying, preserving to storing. Using traditional tools and methods they ensure their characteristic Larkins quality and flavour!

man drying hops at larkins brewery
Image Source: Larkins Brewery

 

Christmas Jumper Ale

mad cat brewery christmas ale label
Image Source: Mad Cat Brewery

Brewery: Mad Cat
Location: Faversham
Alcohol by volume: 4.4%

Based at Brogdale Farm in Faversham and set up by father and son in 2012, the Mad Cat Brewery is a micro-brewery providing fresh and quality craft ales. They have very quick turnarounds – they can pick and have the hops brewed in under 12 hours for its beers – but when it comes to seasonal beers, they only release a small number of batches, so you have to keep an eye not to miss them! Every year they release a Christmas-themed ale featuring their famous creative cat designs and for this year they’ve launched the delicious Christmas Jumper Ale which promises to be rich, nutty and decidedly festive!

Christmas Ale

close up image of shepherd neame christmas beer
Image Source: Shepherd Neame

Brewery: Shepherd Neame
Location: Faversham – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 7%

A winter beer often means a stronger beer. Of course, it’s not hard to see why cold weather would make a stronger drink more appealing – nothing seems to heat you up more than shot of the hard stuff. But there is another reason these beers are a pinch more potent than their counterparts. Traditionally, winter beers were usually brewed during the harvest and the season of plenty probably encouraged brewers to be a little more bountiful with the malts, meaning a higher alcohol content. When it comes to alcohol proof, Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale beer packs a punch.

Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale beer is brewed using mineral water from their own well. This Christmassy concoction combines notes of fruits and spices and is packed full of some great local crops. The beer itself is delightfully packed with a Dickensian style label and a traditional pump lid.

Enjoyed our roundup of Christmas beers? Why not following us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to keep up with all Dude & Arnette’s updates

Bespoke outdoor sitting project: A cowl seat

Did you know we also do bespoke features? That’s right. Every so often we get requests from clients to build something unique for them and it’s always great fun. This, not only allows us to put our tried-and-tested skills to good use but also to flex our creative muscles to bring ideas to life.

First things first

When Russel C. approached us to do some work on their estate, we packed our van and headed over to assess the work that was needed. They had heard of us working on some other oast houses and they were keen to get in touch. We firstly worked on building fresh new oast cowls and also carried out some roof repairs to ensure all the roofs are set and ready for the upcoming autumn and winter months.

But there was one last request. We got chatting, as we do, and the conversation then led on to creating something new… and the idea for a cowl seat was born!

A seat with a twist

But what’s special about this artefact? Well, it’s something we’ve always wanted to do, but most importantly – it’s something that has never been done before to such high standards.

The base of the chair was made out of steel at Laddingford engineering. The oast cowl was made out of wood, using our perfected, oast cowl construction methods, and then we fibreglassed it over the outside. Want to see the end result? Here are some snaps! Needless to say, our client was over the moon with his new cowl seat – the perfect place to read a book, or to enjoy a good cuppa!

Make an oast house your home

In an age where homes are built using the same templates as their neighbours, and roads are filled with rows of identical houses, it can be difficult to truly stamp your own individuality on a property.

As you look further afield, leaving the purpose-built communities, take a look at the could-be’s and what-ifs. The buildings that have been abandoned, the structures filled with potential. This is what we see each time we visit an old oast house: the potential for repairing and rebuilding a family home, returning it to its former glory.

Building or converting your own home can be a daunting project, but oast house conversions can create a truly personal space. Each oast house is unique, and therefore each project requires an individual assessment and detailed preparation, including planning permission, assessment of whether your oast house needs a replacement oast cowl or whether it just needs cleaning and painting.

At Dude & Arnette our family have been repairing and restoring oast cowls since 1937, helping hundreds of people realise their dreams and working with them to truly create personal place to call their own. To organise a free consultation and quotation, call Dude & Arnette on 01622 725 898 or visit our Contact page, fill out our contact form, and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible.

oast house conversion

What you should know before converting your oast

Converting, restoring and repairing an historic oast house can be a rewarding and enjoyable process. From your initial consultation to seeing the stunning results at the end of the work, there are few projects more satisfying. This process should be carried alongside a team of experts, and here are a few tips on how to approach converting or restoring your oast.

Submit an application to the council before any work is carried out

Around 1 in 10 oast houses are listed buildings, and therefore permission needs to be granted by the council before any restoration work can begin. You’ll also need to carry out a survey to check for any animals that may have made your oast house their home! There are other factors that should be taken into consideration, and our expert team will be able to make sure that all the boxes have been ticked before you begin the application process.

Assess access

Our director Darren Hole attends every initial visit to discuss the requirements of every project Dude & Arnette work on. He will gather together exactly what you need, check access for removing the cowl, and will collate all of the information into a written quotation that breaks down each cost, and organise a timeframe for your work to be carried out and installed. Generally, this takes around four weeks, depending on the house.

Retain original features

With any restoration and repair work on an old building, it’s important to retain the integrity and original features of your oast house. Our family have been restoring and repairing oast houses and cowls since 1937, and provide expert knowledge and superior workmanship on every building, and can advise on the best possible way to use your space.

To arrange a free quotation, or to discuss your individual requirements in more detail, visit our Contact Us page, or call us on 01622 725 898.

 

Time to get your oast cowls ready

After having Covid-19 throwing any routine or normality out of the window, we’re pleased to announce that following Government advice – Dude & Arnette are back in action.

Normally we wouldn’t necessarily do a maintenance update but we felt it was necessary, as a lot of the oast cowl maintenance and repair work that would take place in early spring had to be paused completely due to lockdown.

So if you have an oast cowl, here’s what we’d recommend:

  1. We’ve seen a lot of rain this winter so a safety check would be the first thing to do to ensure there are no damages to the cowls and the roof
  2. After a safety check, you’ll get an idea of what might need to be done (oast cowl repair, clean, paint, re-build etc)
  3. The best thing to do if there aren’t any issues? Get your cowls freshly painted. This helps to weather-proof your cowls and makes them look their best. You might have done some indoors redecorations during lockdown, now is the time to give your home’s crown a bit of TLC!

Why you should have them painted, you ask? Well, oast cowl repairs can be costly, so avoid leaving it too late. When it comes to oast cowl maintenance, prevention is key, folks.

If you want to read more about how to clean an oast cowl, please head over to our blog for more oast cowl cleaning tips.

Want a non-obligation assessment? Contact us or call us on 01622 725 898 for an honest quote from our director Darren Hole.

 

COVID-19 Update

Following guidance issued by the Government on 20th March 2020, Dude & Arnette has temporarily paused all working activity for now.

If you require emergency work, please call us on 01622 725 898 / 07973 332 790 so we can support you in the best possible way.

Rest assured any work will be carried on with the utmost hygiene precautions and social distancing measures in place.

Stay safe,

~The Dude & Arnette Team

Make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to follow the latest updates.

oast cowl repair

Oast cowl types: The story behind the styles

Oast houses have played a huge roll in shaping the history of Kent and Sussex and they have become a symbol of the counties they inhabit. These much-loved buildings are a familiar sight throughout the countryside, their iconic bright white sails rising up across the landscape.

But these beguiling buildings are more than just a pretty façade. For centuries, Kent’s famous beer industry depended on oast houses (read our article on how oast houses used to work) and as many great things in life, their cowls came in different size and shapes!

So… Are there different types of oast cowls?

While there was certainly no standard blueprint for an oast design, they mostly fall into two categories – the circle kiln and the square kiln. Even within these two basic oast cowl designs, there was a huge degree of artistic license used by builders – meaning that each oast house has its own truly unique design. Some oasts, like Great Dixter in East Sussex, ditched the rulebook entirely, combining both square and circle designs.

Square Kilns

The very first oasts were simply barns with a kiln added to them. Unsurprisingly these rudimentary attempts at an oast house were far from safe and the substantial fire risk of these soon led to the introduction of a purpose-built, external kiln.

These square kilns were the all-original oast design. The first ones measured about 15 feet across, but as oast houses grew in popularity, they also increased in size.

Square oast houses by Dude and Arnette

While roundel oasts eventually found favour in Sussex and Kent, the square design would remain a firm favourite of hop growers in Hampshire, Herefordshire and Worcester.

In the mid-20th century onwards, the square design shot to popularity again as a surge of innovations in oast designs took hold (likely encouraged by the 1850s abolition of brick tax). Farmers realised it was easier to install a roller in the square kilns, which meant that the delicate hops could be removed to the cooling room without workers trampling on them. The popular mod-con of motorised fans were also better suited to the square design.

Nowadays, square kilns provide the perfect shell for conversions – no round furniture required in these ones. In terms of construction, the square kiln oasts consist of four sides with ridges or hips going to each corner of the kiln. The straight edge design of these means that only square tiles are needed, not tapered ones, potentially making any oast cowl repairs a bit more straightforward.

Circle Kilns

The iconic round kiln is probably the most recognisable oast cowl type in Kent, and in fact, the majority of the oasts still in existence today are the circle kilns. It was originally thought that the round kilns would be more efficient at heat distribution and more cost-effective.

Round oast houses by Dude and Arnette

When it comes to restoration, the circle kilns pose some different challenges to that of the square kiln. The circular shape means that tapered tiles are needed to swing the square tiles around the structure and a lathe is used to hang the tiles on.

Whether you have a square kiln or a circular one, we can assist with all types of oast cowl repairs and maintenance. Have a look at all the ways in which we can help you.

Oast Cowl Motifs: More Than Just Decorations

A cowl is an oast house’s crowning glory. But did you know that fitted to the kiln roof, cowls allowed the hot air to be drawn up through the hops and out through the roof? As they rotated in the wind, hot air was given the clearest escape path and the hops were kept safe from the infamous English rain. PS: If you want to read more about what is an oast house we tell you all, about it here.

A quick look up at the cowls might give you a clue as to where in the country you are though.

While Kentish cowls tend to have a flat cap, cowls in neighbouring Sussex have additional blinkers attached. Oast cowls within Herefordshire and Worcestershire follow a very different style with a pointed top and no cap. But, don’t ditch the map and compass. These rules are not set in stone and all styles have been known to travel beyond their home counties. To help the cowl do its important job and turn in the wind, a distinctive finger, fitted to the centre post and attached to the backboard, juts out from the cowl. It is on these that many owners place a delightful oast cowl decoration – a motif.

Duck motifs

These charming motifs are often more than just an aesthetic addition, they tell a tale of the history and heritage of their county. The original farmers who used the oast houses began adding these as a kind of brand identity for their farm. Hop picking season was short and most farmers would have had various sources of income, and a clue to their other activities can often be found in the oast cowl decorations.

Common motif designs range from horses, cockerels, hunters and pheasants, ducks, swans, deer and fish to relatively modern agricultural symbols like tractors. Many other historical moments are also celebrated through the motifs; one oast house features a motif of Winston Churchill on one cowl then a spitfire on the other.

The motifs also reveal the county’s history. The most popular motif is that of the horse, and the popular Invicta horse is an important symbol in Kentish heritage. The emblem exults the fact that during the invasion of Britain, William of Normandy was unable to subdue the county and so Kent negotiated favourable terms for itself. But this celebration of British heritage and culture has travelled into the modern-day. While some oasts still defer to their original owners for their motifs, as part of the oast house restoration, many owners decide to stamp their own family traditions on their oast cowls.

Malcolms brand new Cat Cowl

It has been a while since the majority of oast houses have been used to dry hops, but they have certainly not outgrown their use as a business premise. Many oast cowls are now fitted with motifs that represent their new business owners, with company logos adorning the cowls, showing that these beautiful buildings still have a place in Kentish life.

Detail of oast cowl motifs

Fancy giving your oast cowl that extra pizzazz? Our experts can craft and fit new support arms, arms, motifs and fingers for GRP cowls – perfecting the look and structure of your cowl, simply get in touch with our expert oast house Team for a consultation.

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.