Driving through the Sussex and Kent countryside you’d be forgiven for wondering just what the funny looking conical roofs peeking from the old stone buildings were for! Even those who have grown up around them often will have a blank face when asked about Oast Houses, but to the keen historian, they play a big part in England’s heritage, with some of Kent’s famous Oast Houses dating back to the 15th Century.
So what on earth were they used for? You’ll like the answer we’re sure - brewing beer. Yes, that’s correct, we can thank these fine Oast Houses for playing a part in creating some of the most delicious ales ever to pass the lips of a thirsty, hardworking pub patron.
Oast Houses were traditionally used to dry out the hops equipped with a fiery kiln, a drying room and a cooling room. The conical kiln roof was topped with an oast cowl to create a draft that kept the fire alight and was fueled by wood until the 17th Century when charcoal took over.
Although arguably most famous in Kent, hop farming in Oast Houses occurred around the country, most noticeably in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, all of which grew and dried their own hops to turn into deliciously golden ales. Although most of these Oast Houses are now retired from their boozy brewing days, many are still open to the public to visit and learn more about their hop-filled history.
Fancy checking out a real-life Oast House? Of course you do! Here’s our guide to where to visit in Kent…
Hop Farm Country Park, Tonbridge (Image via: www.geograph.org.uk)
Originally owned by the Whitbread brewery company, The Hop Farm in Kent operated as a fully working farm before opening its doors to the public and hosting family-friendly events throughout the year. Boasting the largest number of Victorian Oast Houses in the world the farm’s history spans five centuries and was a popular holiday destination of Victorian families who would ‘hop down’ to Kent to take part in the 6-week harvesting each summer. Well worth a visit - check out their website for event listings, ranging from concerts to firework displays.
Shepherd Neame, Faversham (Image via: kentattractions.co.uk)
Recognise the name? Well, you’ve been outed as a seasoned beer drinker then! Shepherd Neame is the Uk’s oldest brewer and has been based in Faversham, Kent since 1698. You might have heard of some of their brews which include Spitfire, Bishops Finger (oo err) and Master Brewas. Water from the artesian well deep beneath the brewery is used as one of the main ingredients to this day and the brewery runs tours so that you can learn more about what it takes to make traditional British ale…
Kent Life, Maidstone (Image via: www.kentlife.org.uk)
Celebrating all things traditional, Kent Life has the last working coal-fired Oast in Britain. You can visit the Oast as part of their farm tour, and when you do - take a look at the material as it is made from rag stone, a traditional Kentish material which is rare to find. For those who are fond of the fluff, hang around the cuddle corner and you may just get the chance to get hands on with some of the animals, perhaps even their newest additions - alpacas!
Get the real experience...
And if you want to try something really special, why not book an overnight stay in a traditional Oast House? And whilst you’re at it, pop along to the local boozer to try a pint of their finest local brew - cheers!