BACK to the civilised hemisphere and to the county of Kent this time. For here is but the third bottle of Shepherd Neame that I’ve found. This one is called Whitstable Bay Organic Ale and I found it in an off-licence on Kingsland Road where the East End starts turning into North London.
It’s a funny looking thing isn’t it? The bottle is the same bulbous shape as their excellent Bishops Finger and Spitfire Kentish ales. But for some reason, having honey-amber coloured drink in transparent glass, wrapped in matching yellow labels makes it look like the shop shelf-stacker accidentally left jars of maple syrup on the beer shelf.
The neck label sticks closely to the Shepherd Neame style.
And that’s no bad thing. If you were “Britain’s Oldest Brewer” with a brewery dating back to “1698” in “Favershame Kent”, you’d want to shout about it too.
The front-label, again, is exactly the same shape as the ones they used for Bishops Finger and Spitfire.
What can I say about it? It’s got some pictures of small sailing boats on it. It’s a roundel design. Whitstable Bay Organic Ale is “A Modern Ale From Britain’s Oldest Brewer”, which sums up what it’s all about. And it’s very yellow.
That’s about it from the front label. It should say more about the beer to help you make up your mind while you’re in the shop. But it doesn’t. What you do instantly pick up upon however is that this is an organic foodstuff. Now, I’ve got nothing against organic ale. I’m sure that Prince Charles will be delighted with it. There’s just something a little smug about organic ales like this. Every decent bottled ale on the market should be organic by now, not just a few braggers.
If the front-label left you scratching your head about what Whitstable Bay Organic Ale is, then the back label will quell your lust for information.
Let me explain something. Normally when I take photographs of bottles and labels, they’re in portrait. That’s because bottles are normally tall, thin things. This time however, I had to go landscape to fit in this widescreen sticker.To it’s credit there is a lot of good detail in here. Yes, they have their bit about it meeting the exacting standards of the Soil Association. That they have their own well. And that it’s even approved by the Vegetarian Society. But they also have the details that you really want to know when you read a beer bottle label.
For instance, they describe Whitstable Bay as “refreshing”. Someone called Andrew Jefford apparently described it as “a deep sunset gold colour, delicate hints of hedgerow-fresh organic hops… with a tangy malty flavour”. For the very curious, elsewhere, we read that they used Target hops and barley to get it that way. How close his description is to reality, I’m looking forward to finding out. It certainly sounds tasty.
All the way over on the other corner of the back label are those all important vital statistics. Which are surrounded by more symbols than you’ve ever seen on a bottle of beer. All you need to know is that Whitstable Bay Organic Ale has a reasonable 4.5% alcoholic volume. This, in its industry standard 500ml bottle brings it to a nanny-state friendly 2.2 UK units of alcohol. If you want to know more or get in touch with them, the web address they give is www.shepherdneame.co.uk. A surprisingly straightforward website where you can find a page dedicated to Whitstable Bay Organic Ale at http://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/beers/index.php?whitstable_bay.
And with all that out of the way, we can get down to the part that you clicked on this page for: the taste test. Past experience tells me that Shepherd Neame know their stuff when it comes to brewing. Hopes are high for this new addition to the organic ale market. Which, by the way, I’m opening after it’s been out of the fridge for a while, so it’s cool, not cold. Is it any good and should you buy one? Let’s find out.
Thanks to the transparent bottle, the colour doesn’t come as a surprise. And thanks to the sensible head, Whitstable Bay won’t froth over the top of your pint glass. It all looks very nice indeed.
It smells good too. Andrew Jefford describes it as having “delicate hints of hedgerow-fresh organic hops”. I won’t dispute that. It has a delicate smell, not a strong one. And it smells hoppy. In fact, I’ll add to that. There’s something fruity about it as well.
Fine, but what does Whitstable Bay taste like? The first two gulps are pleasant ones. A good start then. But where is the taste? Andrew Jefford promised a tangy malty flavour. I’m not convinced that that’s what’s going on. I’ve swilled a good few mouthfuls now, and I can’t discern what the flavour is, if any. I’ll describe it as being slightly malty.
What you notice most of all is the aftertaste. But even that is subdued somewhat. It leaves you with a not unpleasant bitter aftertaste that’s slightly maltier that hoppier. Tangy, yes, but not as tangy as a lot of other ales.
So the taste is a rather uninspiring bitterness. But there are plenty of very good qualities about Whitstable Bay. For starters, it’s as clean and refreshing as any bottled ale out there. Almost like a light lager or cider. I’m enjoying very much how well made it is and the quality of the ingredients. All of which make Whitstable Bay an easy ale to drink.
What am I not enjoying about Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale? It would be an order of magnitude better if it had an interesting flavour and taste. As it is, there’s little to separate it from the hundreds of other ales that happen to taste quite bitter. Besides that, the only real thing I can think of is that the bitter aftertaste will put some people off. Complaints about how hard it is to find are nitpicking.
To sum up, Whitstable Bay Organic Ale from Shepherd Neame is high quality and refreshing but let down by unimaginative taste. I can’t praise Shepherd Neame enough for how refreshing this is. But that bitter aftertaste seems like an afterthought. I liked it, and you should try it, but don’t go to the ends of the earth to get a bottle.
Have you tried Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale? Then do please leave a comment here. What are your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy?