If you like ale, Dougie Dick has your dream job. As business development manager at Kent brewery Shepherd Neame, he’s the man behind Ramblin’ Man’s hugely popular Real Ale Tent. It’s his job to make sure that everyone who turns up isn’t just nicely refreshed, but nicely refreshed on the best quality local beverages he can find. We caught up with him to find out exactly what’s involved in being the festival’s unofficial Master Of Beers…
Tell us about your involvement in the festival?
For the last two years we’ve been the beer supplier for Ramblin’ Man – everything apart from the Iron Maiden beer and the guest ales comes from us. We spend a lot of effort in making it happen – from the equipment that goes in the real ale tent to the vintage vehicles we take down there to decorating the real ale bars. It’s a big event for us. It gets mentioned in the magazine we produce for our annual review!
Is it you that chooses the guest ales?
Yeah, it’s basically us that chooses them. What’s great about Ramblin’ Man is that it’s not just about making money – the team behind it genuinely want to make it as brilliant as possible for the people who go, and that extends to the ales.
They could easily be dealing with one of the big national breweries like Carlsberg or Heineken. They’d just chuck a load of cask ales on which would have no relevance to the local area at all. But we source real local ales – I normally pick out two local breweries in Kent, close to Maidstone. We do have a great relationship with Brewhouse & Kitchen, but the others are all local. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to start getting beers from Sussex or Hertfordshire or Essex or anywhere else. We try to keep it as Kentish as possible.
How many ales will be in the real ale tent this year?
That’s up to the Ramblin’ Man team. In terms of the real ales, the first year we had something like ten. Last year it was fourteen. The more ales it is, the more work for me. But I don’t mind.
Do you get to taste all the beers beforehand?
No. I don’t taste them all personally beforehand. Obviously, I have tasted some – Rockin’ Robin, they’re good ales. The one at Chatham Dockyards, similar.
So that means your job doesn’t involve drinking beer all day?
No, definitely not. You couldn’t! My job involves a fair bit of driving, so I very rarely drink during the day. If you’re working in the brewery, producing the beer, yeah, you probably do drink – you have to taste it. But there are very few people in the company doing that.
Beer and ale seems to be having a real resurgence at the moment…
Actually, it’s interesting. Ale volumes are in decline but there’s more people making ales – the ale trade was bigger 30 years ago than it is now. But you’ve got all these microbreweries popping up. People are drinking more at home, and they’re drinking different things.
Is the industry in a healthy place?
Shepherd Neame as a company are in a healthy place. But there are a lot of companies of a similar size to us who, if they don’t change and move forward, they’ll struggle. Microbreweries don’t have the same overheads as bigger companies, and they don’t have the same duty that we have. But people will always want a quality ale, and that’s what we provide.
How old is Shepherd Neame?
We are Britain’s oldest brewery still standing. We brew in the same place, in Faversham. It’s been there since 1698. That’s official. There are other breweries that go back further than that but they’ve either been bought up or closed down. Truman’s say they’re the oldest brewery, but they stopped brewing for years and don’t brew in the same place any more, and it’s not the same company. So no one can beat us.
What makes the perfect pint?
It depends on the individual. I can’t say that it should be cold, because some people like their ale warm. I’ll answer what I like – something that the taste buds would enjoy, something that goes down smoothly, and something that reaches a temperature that’s appropriate to you. To us, this is a huge festival – it’s all about attention to detail. Credit to Ramblin’ Man – they ensure the standards are as high as possible.
And the $64,000 question: what’s the best hangover cure?
Another beer. Actually, no. Another several beers.
Check out the Ale Tent at Ramblin’ Man on Saturday June 30 and Sunday July 1.