I remember my Mum telling me about the mysterious chef from Southampton that was coming to Cartmel to open a fancy restaurant in the old antique shop. I would have been about 14 years old. That was 21 years ago now. She sat on a table with her friends on the opening night and came home to tell me about all the amazing dishes they’d eaten.
I remember me and my friend David treating ourselves on A level results day to have the lunch menu at L’Enclume. It was the first true fine dining experience I ever had. We sat in the corner, slightly in awe of our surroundings, when a couple at another table, guessing the occasion, treated us each to a glass of champagne.
I remember working in Rogan and Co behind the bar during my summers while studying at university and I remember encountering the inner circle of the L’Enclume world back in 2010. Fell Brewery was just an idea back then. It was a musing to fuel my desire to escape the real world and return home to pursue a career founded in my love of food, drink and flavours. I’d watch the L’Enclume chefs having a quiet pint after their shifts out by the river, and be envious of the world they got to inhabit. Mine was filled with designing distillation columns for oil refineries at the time. There’s looked much more up my street.
I remember the day Andrew and I were awarded the funding we needed to get Fell off the ground a year later. Being the naïve, ignorant idiots we were back then, we took advantage of a cancellation at L’Enclume to spend a chunk of the money we’d just hypothetically received. That was the best meal I’d ever had in my life at the time; course after course of unbridled discovery and deliciousness, a glimpse of a new dimension that was to be found just over the hill from the house I grew up in.
It’s safe to say that the world of Simon Rogan has loomed large in my life and has had a profound impact on me as a person. The Cartmel valley has always been where I feel most at home and it has of course also been the home of Fell for the last 11 odd years. It’s safe to say that brewing is very different to the work of Simon’s chefs. However, at the heart of both is a relentless effort to cajole a desired profile of flavours from ingredients that don’t immediately present themselves as delicious. Vast skill is required, along with huge care, utter dedication and extraordinary consistency. This is more familiar for us as brewers. Grains and hops don’t immediately present their value, as we are so well aware.
I remember chatting with one of the L’Enclume chefs a decade ago about the struggles he was having to recreate the desired flavours from the strange selection of herbs, barks, berries and so on off the farm in the dish he was working on. “Why don’t you just use this” I said. He proceeded to explain the fanaticism with which the team at L’Enclume stick to only using the ingredients they can find from our shared home. The easy option was not an option, and yet they knew that the enormity of the task at hand in doing it the hard way was how they produced things that were truly special. I’ll never forget it.
Consequently, when approached by Simon’s team to see if we could incorporate some of these classic Rogan ingredients into a beer, I saw the value straight away and understood entirely. At Fell, we are striving to embrace our surroundings more in everything we do, to be a brewery that is truly of this amazing place. What better place to learn than beside the team that puts that at the very heart of everything they do.
This Woodruff Stout in so many ways embodies what Simon’s team and their food is all about. It’s mysterious. It doesn’t taste quite like anything that you’ve had before. It evokes memories and ideas that flicker on the edge of familiarity, but somehow it remains utterly new. This has not been an easy beer to make. This ingredient has provided us with a real challenge to get our teeth stuck into, one which so vividly reminds me of the conversation I had with the chef all those years ago. It’s been a huge privilege.
I remember (last one, I promise) being lucky enough to dine at Aulis on the chefs table 2 years ago. L’Enclume was just months away from learning the news of its extraordinary achievement. I was utterly engrossed in watching Alex, the chef, prepare us the extraordinary meal that he did. I remember feeling a certain familiarity with the cooking from my previous visits. However, this time something different stood out. There was a vivid confidence to the dishes we so enjoyed that night. A profound feeling above all else that this team had achieved utter mastery over these ingredients and had found enlightenment in this special valley we get to call home. For the second time, I had the best meal in my life. As Fell grows, we are pursuing our own journey towards making peace with our surroundings and becoming truly of this place. There couldn’t be a better example for us to aspire to just 3 miles up the road. I hope this is just the beginning.
Founder and Director