Me: Yes. Shall we go?
Beau: Beer. I mean, yes
…..The conversation sounded longer in my head.
Little will dissuade me from visiting Le Mouton RougeWine Merchants in St Dunstans of an evening, and an email promising an evening of sampling various locals ales and chatting to brewers for a mere £15 was almost too much to handle (I had lie down on my fainting couch for a bit until I realized we don’t have a fainting couch and decided to climb off the kitchen counter).
There has always been a wine merchants in the same spot in St Dunstans since the 1800s, but two years ago, independent retailers and liquor experts Jamie and Marion took over the site, and the Mouton Rouge was born.
It is a fine figure of an establishment with a grand selection of wine, beer, whiskey, gin, brandy, tequila, and many other liquid delicacies. Should you need a beautiful bottle of red, a Scotch with a story, or if you just want to stare at the humidor of Cubans*, there is no better place in town.
Jamie and Marion are also exceptional retailers – they are extremely laid-back and friendly with not a hint of wine snobbery about them, but they know more about alcohol than anyone I’ve met in my travels. They put a lot of effort into their stock, and know the story behind every distiller, brewery and producer. And honestly, isn’t it nice when buying booze for a dinner party or a friend to hand over a bottle that’s been lovingly picked and is bursting with flavour, instead of just flinging a bottle of Black Tower at their face while shouting ‘it’s wet, isn’t it?!!’
Mouton Rouge will also serve you well if you’re hunting for an extra special gift. For example, one day, while I was stocking up on precious Wansum Pilsner (for tis most good), Jamie called me over to the counter and dug out a rather grand looking box from the recesses of the shop. He opened it to reveal an excruciatingly elegant bottles of cognac. Barely labelled, prone on a bed of satin, all curves and honey hues, she was the fabled Hennessy Paradis, a very rare blend of more than 100 eaux-de-vie, some of which (as Marion later explained) were distilled before the phylloxera epidemic destroyed most of France’s vineyards in the late 1800s.
Sadly, I could only look and not sip. The cost of the botttle? £800 minimum. And it was gone within three hours. I’d show you a picture, but it’s so rare that it repels photography.
But don’t let such talk of super brandy frighten you from stopping by for your Friday night bottle of red – the shop’s selection is wide, well priced and quality is assured, and they have a regular offer of four bottles of ale for £10 on selected brands, including Kent favourites Wantsum, Canterbury Ales, Gadds and Old Dairy.
But back to the beer tasting!
We huddled in the warmth of the shop on a Saturday night, surrounded by small group of beer fanatics, drinkers, brewers and (as I later found out) Ingress fanatics*. We were to try upwards of 11 different ales from around Kent, most of which were seasonal, and including four from co-hosts and Deal microbewers, Time and Tide.
We were given a sheet of tasting notes for each beer, and Ben and I were careful to make our own notes too (until we got to chatty and tipsy to remember what we were doing).
Highlights were as follows:
We started out with Gadds Big Cracker 7.5% (a strong starter!) I’ve never been a big fan of Gadds as I’m more of light girly pale ale drinker, but Ben adores their bitters. This one, though, wasn’t half bad at all and not as hoppy ass their other brews. Ben promptly wrote on the sheet: “Big flavours, Sinead liked it #gaddsshocker.
Next came the Wantsum Figgy Pudding 4.5%, which was much more my cup of ale. Quaffable and as delicious as any Wantsum offering, it was a chestnut-y number with appropriately festive dark fruit flavours.
|All for Silas, all for Silas…
Then there was the Canterbury Brewery’s Christmas Pudding…I feel I need to tell you a wee story about this. You may not like it but dammit I’m not shouldering the burden alone any longer.
The beau and I used to be big fans of The Foundry Brew Pub in Canterbury, the bar and craft brewery behind the Canterbury Brewers range of ales. It was a great space with nice people and a delicious range of beers brewed on site. Then, about a year ago, it dipped in quality. The beer prices went up yet the brews become grim. One night the beau left nearly an entire pint of beer untouched (at exactly the same time in a small village in South America, the Antichrist was born). We could no longer endure it and left the pub forever. (I stress this is entirely down to personal taste and that many people love The Foundry, so do go along for a visit to test it yourself).
So when the Christmas Pudding ale came round, we weren’t surprised that it paled in comparison to the other brews. It was thin, and watery, and nothing special.
Then we started chatting to the Time and Tide’s head brewer about his brewing techniques, and suddenly uncovered a shocking secret: he was once master brewer at The Foundry…and he left around a year ago.
THE PIECES OF THE PUZZLE HAVE FINALLY FALLEN INTO PLACE!!!!!
Clearly the man brought his brewing secrets with him to his new home, for the Time and Tide beers were splendid on all counts. The Calista IPA 6.1% was bursting with aroma and tropical fruit flavours (in a good way), and the two trappist-inspired beers were very impressive – the mighty Tripel 9% was a very Belgian number resplendent with apricot tones (Ben simple wrote on the notes ‘MASSIVE’), while the darker Dubbel 7.1% had more chocolate and liquorice flavours.
But it was the Smugglers Stout 5.2% that was a revelation for me. I like stout but I usually avoid it as it’s often too heavy to quaff without feeling like you’ve had an entire meal in a pint glass. Yet this number was light without being watery, rich with dark roasted malts and the right balance of burnt toffee flavour. I bought four bottles there and then.
We continued down the tasting list, and quaffed a great deal of The Host’s Ale 4.7%, the seasonal offering by The Canterbury Ales. This is an excellent Kent brewery, possibly my second favourite and their long crafted festive ale was full of spiced fruit, ginger and star anise.
As the evening skipped along, Jamie topped up our glasses and all the guests talked long into the night about beer, bars and other frivolous things. The beau listened intently as the various brewers described how they jacked in miserable corporate jobs and started their own microbrewery and found true happiness. By the end of the night, Ben had a pretty solid business plan for how his band Green Diesel could run their own pub and brewery, and all live together for ever and ever. At this stage, my tasting notes had turned into scrawled instructions for making sock puppets.
|Jamie (in the scarf) doing his thing
Eventually we decided to let Jamie & Marion sleep, and we peeled off around 10.30pm to meet some friends in the pub. For the rest of the night, the beau and I kept turning to each other to say ‘what a really great evening’.
And it was. It was.
Plus we got chicken later. I like chicken.
*Cuban cigars. Not…not people.