Published: 11:30, 13 December 2019
| Updated: 14:38, 27 January 2020
Many years ago, in another life, I was called upon to organise a p*ss up in a brewery and given one week to rise to the challenge. Well, I’m pleased to say, I proved myself capable in a small, but beautifully formed, brewery in Swanscombe.
This week I wasn’t a million miles away and found myself in another fantastic small brewery called Iron Pier in Gravesend – and the coincidences don’t stop there. I was contacted via Twitter by a big fan of decent beer and a true supporter of small businesses trying to make their way in the world. He persuaded me to get along to the May Avenue Industrial Estate in Northfleet.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, this wasn’t at the top of my ‘must visit’ list but when I drove up the first thing I saw was a sign telling me I was about to be redeemed and enter a palace of glory. It went on to say the king reigns in supremacy and if you want to dig deep you should do it on a Wednesday. It was Sunday but fortunately I realised I was in the wrong place, unless of course I was looking to get my soul saved.
Leaving the Redeemed Christian Church of God behind I instead followed a gaggle of folk led by a powerful-looking guy with a Mohican haircut who was struggling to hold onto an even more powerful beast at the end of a leash.
And round the corner I discovered an entirely different type of chapel – one where the followers choose to worship beer.
Seldom, if ever, has an industrial unit been put to better use, the whole back end of the place has been transformed since it opened last January and four large brewing tanks were installed.
The front end has been lovingly, and painstakingly, turned into a wonderful bar for punters to drink proper beer, meet decent folk and totally relax.
It’s sparsely decorated as you would expect, with tables made from old cable drums and no frippery in sight, although the beer gods have allowed a darts board on a stand and a single Sonos speaker, although the level of chatter dominated to such an extent I’m pleased to say it was impossible to tell what music was playing.
Realising this could be a serious afternoon session I’d already enjoyed a pint of the 4.5% Big River before moving on to the slightly more powerful 4.8% Roshville Red. I assume it was this second glorious pint which kicked my brain into gear and made me realise I knew Mohican man. Within seconds of recognising the main man James - the nicest man you’ll ever meet in brewing - he had shaken me firmly by the hand and led me proudly around his new playground. You have to meet him in person to understand his passion and realise he loves his chosen life.
Already doing brewery tours and taking on new challenges, he made his first lager in the summer (even though he can’t justify the expense of having a brew in the tank for eight weeks) he loves doing new things.
And, the powerful and loveable beast who holds a special place in James’ heart, only just behind brewing, is Hooch the French mastiff. Like true beer lovers, he didn’t seem too keen on darts being allowed either and howled at the quality of play.
I accept this place won’t be for everyone – you do need to love beer and you do need to enjoy the craic more than you do flashing lights and thumping music. But don’t be deceived into thinking you must have a beard, wear a heavy rock T shirt or even have a belly of a certain size – and that goes for the men and the women. The fact is, everyone will receive a warm welcome and they’ll be honoured you’ve taken the trouble to seek them out.
You’re unlikely to find a more wonderful little corner dedicated to beer than this back end spot in Northfleet and you owe it to yourself to visit. The taproom’s only open 19 hours a week spread across Friday, Saturday and Sunday – so, check times on the website ironpier.beer
Iron Pier Brewery – Units 6 & 7, May Avenue Industrial Estate, May Avenue, Northfleet, Gravesend DA11 8RU
* I must give a special mention to The Horseshoes in East Farleigh which has been completely renovated and reinvigorated by Mitchells & Butlers. By complete chance I was invited to join a group of lucky diners to sample its brand new menu. The place looks amazing and the food was superb – well done guys, you’ve created an absolutely fantastic pub. It reopened officially on Saturday, December 7.