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Eddie Gadd, at the copper, in action at the Ramsgate Brewery.

There is nothing quite like a brisk walk along Tankerton Slopes to focus the mind, especially at this time of year as winter tightens its grip and the wind whips in off the Estuary with renewed Arctic vigour. And what better reward for the plucky perambulator than a pint of something dark and smoky to warm the cockles and stir the soul?

I am someone who drinks stouts and porters whatever the weather, but the autumn and winter months are when these types of beer really come into their own. This is the time of year for beers that are as black as Newgate’s knocker, beers of substance and richness and potency; beers such as Dogbolter from Eddie Gadd’s Ramsgate Brewery.

It is a devilishly drinkable drop that offers peat and treacle on the nose and slight spice on the palette, this is a contemporary porter for our time.

I had Dog one lunchtime as a student. Yup, pretty hazy bus journey home!

Eddie Gadd

Now there are quite a few dark beers of note produced by a number of Kent brewers, and as long as I don’t shuffle off to the great public bar in the sky any day soon I’ll hopefully write about some of them at some point in the future. However, Dogbolter holds a special place in my heart because it’s a brew that seems to have been with me for most of my adult life. It even seems to have moved from London down to the Kent coast at about the same time that I did. Clearly the two of us were destined for each other.

It is a remarkable beer with an intriguing history.

Dogbolter was the creation of David Bruce, the man who gave the world both Bruce’s Brewery and the Firkin chain of brew-pubs. The beer came about, so popular brewing mythology has it, when Bruce took his eye off the ball while brewing a batch of his fabled Earthstopper and, clutching victory from the jaws of defeat, adapted the recipe to produce what would ultimately become Dogbolter. A nice story, for sure, but one best taken with a large dose of Epsom salts.

I was fortunate enough growing up in Clerkenwell to have one of Bruce’s pubs, the Pheasant and Firkin in Goswell Road, just a few minutes walk away and much of my early beer education was undertaken here (it is now a Shepherd Neame pub and has reverted to its original name, the Old Ivy House). It was also in the Pheasant where I first encountered Dogbolter, complete with its trademark blurred pump clip, and I think it’s fair to say that many years down the line we are still very good friends.

The Firkin pubs offered a much-needed outlet for cask ale at a time when it was the exception rather than the norm. Originally much of this ale was brewed on the premises, and I well remember at the Pheasant gazing down through a glass floor at the brewing vessels crammed into the cellar below.

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The Old Ivy House, Goswell Road. Formerly the Pheasant and Firkin.

Alas, in 1988 Bruce sold up and over the next decade or so the Firkin brand went through a number of different ownerships, including a period in the hands of Allied Domecq, its cask ethos diluted with every passing year, until, in 2001, Punch Taverns (mercifully) retired what was by then a rather tawdry brand.

Thankfully Eddie Gadd of the Ramsgate Brewery managed to acquire the rights to Dogbolter and he continues to produce it, both for bottle and cask (it’s worth noting that in May, 2014 the West Berkshire Brewery, of which Bruce is chairman, also brewed a batch).

In Gadd’s hands, at 5.6%, it enjoys a cult following and a formidable reputation. Brewed with six different malts and with a nice dry hop finish – “Fuggles my old head brewer insisted,” Gadd recalls – the Dog seems to have matured nicely since its Firkin days.

Gadd, like myself, has a special relationship with Dogbolter. As a young brewer, learning his trade with Bruce’s in London, it was the first beer he ever made and it seems somehow fitting that today he is its custodian.

It is also nice to learn that before Gadd brewed Dogbolter he had encountered it as a drinker. “I had Dog one lunchtime as a student,” he tells me, “with no intention of getting into brewing. Yup, pretty hazy bus journey home!

“I won an International Brewing Industry Award for it [Dogbolter] in 1994,” Gadd continues, “and brewed it in Holland for the Firkin Brewery from 1996-2000. Punch Taverns bought the Firkin Brewery in 1999 and closed it down, and the Dog became a stray until I found a new home for it at my own Ramsgate Brewery in 2002.”

So more than twenty years since their first encounter, it would appear that Gadd and Dogbolter remain devoted to each other.

“Having been born and brought up in London, spent some time travelling around the UK and Europe, it has been taking it rather easy by the seaside ever since,” reflects Gadd of his old chum. “Beware though, it still bites.”

Brewing in Kent cover

Following the September publication of Brewing in Kent, this is the latest in series of blogs designed to highlight the county’s vibrant brewing scene and the rich variety of beer that it produces. More to follow if I don’t drink too much Dogbolter.

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