Posts Tagged ‘Faversham’

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale

24 June, 2009

AN important gap is being filled this time. So far, I’ve tried Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale and Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale. All of which were high-quality and unmemorable. So will the missing piece of the jigsaw, Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale keep the mould or break it?

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale bottle

It looks much like its cousins. Helpful if you want to catch ‘em all. You also have to love the long thin neck. It is the Cynthia Nixon of beer bottles.

The neck label is much the same as the other Shepherd Neame ales. But it’s still worth looking at because the one fact on it is so impressive.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale neck label

If you were “Britain’s Oldest Brewer” dating back to 1698, you would want to advertise the fact prominently too.

With no more facts to read on the neck label, the front label is the next place to look.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale front label

Well, it’s a roundel. Not much to say about it. Master Brew is, apparently, a Kentish Ale and a “Local Hero”. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds good.

It’s a contemporary take on the traditional roundel, but I can’t help feeling that they’ve missed a few important things. Things like the alcoholic volume and what the beer is like. Hopefully the back label will have some actual information on it.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale back label

Out of portrait and into landscape for one of the widest beer labels out there. In one of the most terse “back-label stories”, they tell of how well loved Master Brew is in Kent, and that they sponsor Kent County Cricket Club. Depending on which former colony my overseas readers are from, you will either be thinking “how quaint and English” or “what a waste of money because we always beat you at the game”.

Under that are some truly useful tasting notes by someone called Andrew Jefford. He uses words such as “amber-russet”, which I think is about the colour. To describe the character, he uses words such as “invigorating” and “mouthwatering”, which he puts down to “pungent Kentish hops” and “crystal malts”. I don’t know about you, but I’m still confused.

It is nevertheless the “Local Hero” of Kent, and the Kentish people who know about beer. If you want to grow hops, Kent would be one of the best places in the country in which to do it.

Over on the smaller-print side are the vital statistics. This 500ml bottle (why not a proper pint?) has a 4% alcoholic volume which weighs in at exactly 2 UK units of alcohol. All rather ho-hum. The European Geographic Indications adds a little bureaucratic glamour to the mix. And if you want to read more, the website printed on the label in tiny lettering is www.shepherdneame.co.uk. To save you time, the homepage for Master Brew is at http://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/beers/index.php?master_brew.

Right at the bottom is a huge block of tiny, multilingual text. But don’t bother squinting to read it. The only even slightly interesting detail is the postal address of Shepherd Neame in Faversham, Kent.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun bit. What does Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale taste like? How good is it and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale poured into a glassPOURED PHOTO

From the moment the top pops off, we’re odd to a good start. You can start to smell the pungent Kentish hops, and it pours very satisfyingly indeed. The neck comes into play by making it very difficult to pour without glugging. Normally a bad thing, this time it’s good, because it leaves your pint glass with a thick layer of froth. Shame it doesn’t fill the whole glass though.

You also have to like the copper colour. Or “amber-russett” as they call it. Whatever it is, it looks the part of an English ale.

What does Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale smell like? You can smell something from the moment you pop the cap. But figuring out what you’re sniffing takes a little work. My nostrils detected the likes of malt, vanilla and something tangy. But you’d be advised not to trust my nose. If you can figure out what the odours are, leave a comment at the end of the post. Whatever the smell is, it’s complex, not too strong and quite nice.

What does Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale taste like? Straight away, the first sip tells you that this ale is all about hoppiness. A couple more sips reveals that there is very little flavour in the palate before the big hoppy aftertaste hits. It’s not devoid of flavour. It’s just very hard to notice the slight maltiness.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale is a hoppy tasting. That means you’ll find the interesting part in the aftertaste. Usually, the experience is like drinking a hedgerow. If they choose some unusual hops, like the Ruddles County I tried a few days ago, it’ll be different again. Well, Master Brew tastes different again, this time thanks to those Kentish hops. It’s still like drinking grass, leaves and twigs, but this time from a hedge in a well loved garden. There’s some bitterness, but not that much. What lingers is the taste of arable fields, and boy, does it linger.

What do I like about Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale? I like the taste. It’s a slight variation on the old hoppy English ale, so it scores half a point for distinctiveness. Like its cousins, it is very well made. You can tell that natural, good quality, things went into it. All of which make it satisfying and drinkable.

There are however, one or two drawback to Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale. For a start, it’s not a complex and mysterious. There aren’t hundreds of flavours and tastes to leave you deep in thought. They describe it as “invigorating” which I took to mean the same things as “refreshing”. No, it isn’t refreshing. Or light. And that makes it less than easy for the novice to drink. Even though it does the “hoppy ale” thing very well, it doesn’t exactly push the envelope of originality. And that, like its cousins, might possibly make it less than memorable. Lastly, it is on the gassy side.

How can I sum up Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale? Maybe I’m being harsh on it. It’s probably supposed to be a straightforward, traditional, hoppy Kentish ale. And in that, it is excellent. I’ve enjoyed this almost-a-pint of Master Brew. It’s a thoroughly satisfying, uncomplicated ale.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale? Do you want to? If so, do please leave a comment. Share your opinions, corrections, expert advice, recommendations, requests and places to buy in the box below.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale

28 January, 2009

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.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale bottle

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.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale neck label

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.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale front label

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.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale back label

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.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale poured into a glass

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.

Rating: 3.8

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?

Beer Review: Sun Lik Beer

20 September, 2008

THIS is Sun Lik Beer. It’s from the far east, that’s for sure. But where exactly? Time to look for clues.

The whole package is building an oriental theme. But to find out which oriental country is going to need some detective work. Not being an expert on East-Asian calligraphy, the words on the neck label are a mystery to me. All I can say at this point, is that they don’t look Korean or Japanese. Does that make this a Chinese beer? The two dragons that appear everywhere on the labels don’t answer many questions either.

In contrast to the near empty neck label, the front label is busy. Very busy. There’s symbols, and writing and imagery all over the place. It’s one of the most hectic roundels you’ll find anywhere.

Sun Lik Beer front label

Around the top, they describe it vaguely as the “Premium Beer of The Orient”. At the bottom of lots of writing a can’t understand, the name that I can understand and a dragon is something else. It turns out that this wasn’t actually imported. Instead it was “Brewed and Bottled Under Licence in the UK”. I feel a big cheated by that.

It also adds another layer of mystery to this bottle. Hopefully the back label will hold some answers.

Sun Lik Beer back label

They open with a slogan: “Distilled with Life and Energy”. That’s good because I’m feeling close to death. This could be just what I need.

Then they have a couple of sentences about what the drink will be like. They describe it as “a premium quality, refreshing beer with an unmistakable Oriental taste.” Quality and refreshment are all good. But unmistakable oriental taste? All the other oriental beers I’ve had, have tasted adequate and indistinctive. So what are they on about?

In the next sentence, they cleverly incorporate a short list of their “finest” ingredients. These are malt, rice, hops and “natural spring water”. Nothing too unusual there apart from the rice. Which is a good addition. Trust me. All the other lagers I’ve tried, most of which from Asia, that include rice, taste better for it. For reasons I don’t understand, they always have a richer, better balanced taste than those that forgo the rice. See Cobra Extra Smooth for example.

This is an export bottle, so there’s a lot on there that will be meaningless to you. Carefully picking through the writing, and one part of the mystery is solved. This was brewed under license by Shepherd Neame Ltd of Faversham in Kent. The same brewer behind the very good Bishops Finger and Spitfire.

Under all the usual multi-lingual details are the vital statistics. This is the standard 33 centilitre bottle. And the drink within is the standard 5%. Both of which cause it to have 1.6 UK units of alcohol. Absolutely nothing unusual there.

Under that though, is a surprise. It has the name San Miguel Brewing International Ltd. That must be the same company as behind the bland, Spanish San Miguel. The final detail is the web address. The one printed is www.sunlikbeer.com. Unbelievably, it takes until you get arrive at their homepage before you learn the origins of Sun Lik Beer. According to their website, my hunch was right. This is Chinese. Specifically, it’s brewed under license from the Hong Kong Brewery Ltd. Chaps, this really is the sort of thing you should be printing on your bottle labels.

Enough chit-chat. It’s time to crack open this bottle and answer some questions. Questions such as what does it taste like? And is it any better, or worse, than all the other Asian, and particularly Oriental beers on the market?

Watch out for the head if you decide to pour it. It froths up eagerly. Fortunately, it settles down almost as fast. A minute later, and it’s now a thin layer of froth. As for the colour, it’s got some amber. But not very much.

It smells as good as most other Oriental or rice based lagers. You get a nice, rounded smell of malted barley. It’s much the same as other Oriental lagers that include rice. And not at all bad for it.

But how does Sun Lik Beer taste? A couple of gulps in, and it tastes a lot like any other Oriental lager that includes rice. For the unfamiliar, it tastes like lager, but richer and better balanced. There’s no flavour. Because it’s a lager. But that void is smoothly filled by a rich, bitter “bite” of an aftertaste. That aftertaste arrives smoothly. It doesn’t hit you roughly. And it leaves you with mild, lingering aftertaste.

What is there to like about Sun Lik Beer? Quite a lot if you like lager. And some things, even if you don’t. If you like lager, you’ll like the smooth, light taste. The Sun Lik take on the familiar lager formula is a good one. And it must be down to the rice. It seems well balanced and richer because of it. Qualities that make it quite refreshing and drinkable. We know that Shepherd Neame can do quality, and Sun Lik Beer maintains that reputation.

What won’t you like about Sun Lik Beer? There’s no escaping the lagery roots of Sun Lik Beer. And that means it has no taste. Sure it has aftertaste, but it has no flavour. Next, I like the taste, but it’s not exactly distinctive. It tastes much the same as other lagers, particularly those from Asia and the Orient that happen to include rice. That’s nice enough, but I’m struggling to find a compelling reason to choose Sun Lik over the competition. If won’t be because it’s easily available. And it won’t be because of the packaging. A regular green bottle and often baffling labels are a turn-off. It’s also quite gassy, judging by all my burping.

To conclude, Sun Lik Beer is an easy to drink, well made imitation of an Oriental lager. It does its job perfectly well. There just aren’t enough reasons to recommend it over the competition. This is one to order from the menu to go with your Chinese meal.

Rating: 3.05

Have you tried Sun Lik Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions, requests and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer

31 May, 2008

WHEN I looked at Indian beers at the beginning of the month, I thought I had done them all. There was Cobra, with its interesting if average taste. And there was Tiger which was simply average. Both of which are sold nearly everywhere. But they aren’t the only games in town. In the off-licenses of Brick Lane, and, seemingly nowhere else, is another Indian beer: Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer bottle

There aren’t many green hued glass bottles around these days. This means that Kingfisher has a unique look. This one is the small 330 millilitre versions, but in the same chiller cabinet was an enormous 660 millilitre version.

The neck label is… well, it has a neck label.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer neck label

It has the Kingfisher logo. Which features a kingfisher. And the description “Premium Lager Beer”. High expectations aren’t going to be a problem here.

The front label is nearly as uninspired, apart from one or two points.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer front label

Around the top border, it reads “India’s Premium Lager”. And around the bottom border, “The Finest Malted Barley & Hops”. No, wait, that’s not special at all. Maybe it’s the alcoholic volume? Next to the “330ml”, an in tiny writing, we’re informed that this has 4.8% volume. At 0.2% less than both Cobra and Tiger, that’s not working to Kingfisher’s favour either.

Under all of that though, is one small detail that does raise Kingfisher above it’s Indian counterparts. It’s heritage. Dating to 1857, that blows its twentieth century competition out of the water.

The back label holds a few more interesting facts. Some in it’s favour, some not.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer back label

First, it tells us that Kingfisher is the world’s number-one selling Indian lager. A surprise to me. Especially as I hardly ever see Kingfisher on sale anywhere. Then we’re told that Kingfisher has won “several international awards for its quality and taste”. Again though, we don’t know what they were. Come on, tell us what awards you won exactly.

Then, we learn that Kingfisher is a brand of the glamorously named United Breweries Group of Bangalore, India. Sadly, here’s were the news turns sour. Kingfisher wasn’t imported. Instead, it’s been brewed and bottled under license by Shepherd Neame of Faversham in Kent. The same Shepherd Neame behind the rather good Bishops Finger and Spitfire Kentish Ales. I hope they’ve not skimped on the quality just because it isn’t their name on the front of the bottle. This could be quite good after all.

That’s about it from the back label. Apart from the ingredients which include barley malt. And the UK units of alcohol. Which are 1.6. Only 1.6? Either drink a lot of this, or get yourself a decent bottle of ale. Then again, 4 units of alcohol isn’t supposed to be a target. Is it?

Now time to answer the important questions. Is Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer any good? Or will it be another bland and average Indian lager? Or will it surprise us all?

In the glass, you hope that it’s going to have a head. And there is one for a few moments. But give it a minute, and it becomes nearly as headless as a cider. The colour is like most other lagers. That is to say, bright and yellowy. And it looks very carbonated. Not a good sign.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer pourd into a glass

The smell won’t inspire you. Like most lagers, it has that ‘sharp’ blend of malted barley in the smell.

And the taste isn’t any better. One gulp in tells me that this is another indistinctive lager. It has the same ‘sharp’ malted barley blend of flavours as nearly every other lager. This brings with it that familiar, lagery bitterness too. No points for originality then.

Putting my anti-lager prejudices aside for one moment, I’ll try and find some positives to report. Well, if you do as the label says and serve it cool, it can make a refreshing beverage. Good for those hot and spicy meals as all Indian beers seemed designed to be. Along with that comes refreshing-ness as well.

The blend isn’t as yucky as some lagers out there. This isn’t a cheap lager, which is a big plus. Normally, I ignore the word “Premium”. In most cases it’s meaningless, but some quality does shine through in this case. Even if it is a lager. And that makes it easy and even slightly pleasant to drink. It’s not as gassy as I feared, either.

On the debit side, it is still a lager. That means it’s lacking in taste. It’s hard to have character, a full-body or full flavour from a lager. Even Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer is no exception. There’s little distinctive or unique here either.

Maybe I’m judging Kingfisher too harshly? All most people want from an Indian lager is a refreshing drink to go with their curry. That might be true, but Cobra did it with some character. And as this is my blog, it comes with a healthy dose of anti-lager prejudice. Do yourself a favour and buy a proper beer.

Rating: 2.45

Have you tried Kingfisher? What did you think?
Got any corrections, opinions, ideas or suggestions? Then do please leave a message in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale

2 May, 2008

Shepherd Neame’s Bishops Finger which I reviewed a few days ago wasn’t bad. In fact, it was pretty good, but it didn’t hit the spot for me. So it’s with a mixture of caution and optimism that I reach for a bottle of its sister beer, Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale bottle

A lot of the bottle and labelling design is the same as for Bishops Finger. So to avoid repeating myself, now would be a great time for you to read that review now, if you haven’t done so already. Go. Do it now. This post won’t be going anywhere while you do…

The shape of the bottle is the same. The neck label has the same, reassuring “1698” heritage and it’s origins in Faversham, Kent.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale bottle neck

The main front label is a little different

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale front label

The “Shepherd Neame” name, and the funny symbol in-between the text “Since” and “1698” stay. But the peculiar purple style of Bishops Finger is replaced by a good, patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme. The “Spitfire” name jumps out at you. It’s neatly surrounded by the proudly displayed description that it is “Premium”. And not only that, it is also a “Kentish Ale”.

I’m rarely a fan of slogans. Usually they’re an incomplete pun. Or they’re so uninspired that they’ve received less thought than council planning application. But Spitfire’s slogan of “The Bottle of Britain” managed to raise a smile even from me. Good play on words chaps.

The big, wide, rear label is again divided into two sides. One of which has the small print details. The other has a story the length of a medium-sized encyclopaedia.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale back label

Starting with the small print, this beer, like its sister, Bishops Finger, has EU Protected Geographical Indication. This means you won’t find, say, the French, selling their own Spitfire Kentish Ale. Why we need the European Union’s help to protect our own food and drink remains a mystery. Surely that would be like getting Enron board members to decide who knows your bank account pin number.

The other main small-print details are that this is a 500 millilitre bottle. Its contents have a alcoholic volume of 4.7% which translates to 2.2 UK units of alcohol for this bottle. For such a patriotically themed ale, making it a full British pint would have been the right thing to do instead of a Euro-half-litre. What do you think?

Over on the story side, we learn that this ale has only been going since 1990. Not well established then, by anyone’s standards. It goes on to say that it was brewed to celebrate the Battle of Britain, which played out in the skies over Kent, fifty years before-hand.

The story goes on to praise the Spitfire aircraft. About how it was designed by R J Mitchell. About how it was essential to victory in one of the Second World-War’s defining moments. And about how Shepherd Neame keep the spirit alive with advertising and fundraising for veterans’ charities. All very good.

As with Bishops Finger, Andrew Jefford turns up on the back label again, describing what the drink will be like. He describes the colour as “deep amber”. And smell as being of “tangy malt”. And the tastes and flavours as being of “spicy hops” with a “complex finish”.

Lastly, the postal address in Faversham, Kent, England, is on there. As is the web address of http://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/. And now, it’s time to see if Spitfire is any good.

In the glass, the colour is indeed a deep amber. It also has a good, consistent, yet not excessive head.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale poured into a glass

The smell is mostly of malt. Whether I’d call it “tangy malt”, I’m not sure. There’s definitely a layer of something spicy or fruity on top of the malty smell. I’d go with calling it “malty and hoppy” in its smell. And I like it.

After a few gulps, the taste, as I see it goes like this… The first thing to hit you is the bitterness. Then you notice the maltiness. And that gets swiftly followed by a hoppy-sour after taste that lingers in the back of your mouth. But does so in a tingly, tangy way.

There’s no doubting that this is an excellent example of what ale is all about. It has lots of strong, complex flavours. It has them arranged in a way that surprises you. And it’s easy to drink.

There are one or two drawbacks however. While, over the course of a few glugs warmed to Spitfire’s big, bold flavours, they won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The initial bitterness will be a big hurdle for some people. And there’s the body. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by live beers with yeast floating around or darker ales that have the consistency of crude oil. But the flipside to its ease of drinkability is that there is something very slightly watery in its lightness. Besides these, it is a little on the gassy side. But these are minor drawbacks.

Spitfire doesn’t apologise for being a bold, flavourful, premium quality Kentish ale. It’s an ale, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. If, like me, you love your ales to be bursting with flavours and patriotism, Spitfire is worth your time and money. Some of you will adore these qualities, others will find it a bit too much. I grew to really enjoy Spitfire, but its strength of bitter-maltiness means I won’t drink a lot of it very often.

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Spitfire? What did you think?
Got any corrections, criticisms, ideas or requests? Then leave a comment now.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale

28 April, 2008

THIS one has been in my sights for a while. Regularly stocked at Tesco, this is a modestly priced bottle from a fairly local brewer in Kent.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale bottle

What with the large, wide base, and long thin neck, the bottles from this brewer stand out on the shelf. It’s the giraffe of beer bottles. It’s also completely transparent glass, revealing the dark liquid within.

The neck label looks very promising indeed. We all know that age and heritage are no guarantees of quality. But it’s still nice to know that it’s from a brewer that can trace its history back to a Mesolithic tribe. This one doesn’t go quite that far, back, but it does claim to be Britain’s oldest brewer. And that counts for something.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale neck label

The date “1698” is proudly displayed. As is an “Over 300 Years” banner running across it. Underneath that, is the nearly as prominently named origin of Faversham, Kent.

The main front label keeps things simple and traditional. And purple. It’s an unusual colour scheme, but purple is the colour scheme of Biships Finger. Fortunately, it doesn’t detract too much. The text is stylised, yet readable. The 1698 date is proudly displayed again

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale front label

But what is that text across the top of the label? The text “Shepherd Neame” is unusual. But with no other indication of the brewers identity, Shepherd Neame is, presumably, it. On the bottom part of the roundel, we’re told that this is “Kentish Strong Ale”. Strong ales are good ales in my book. How the Kentish origin changes that, is something I’m looking forward to discovering.

On the other side of the bottle is a long with label. And that label is split between the ‘story’ text and the small print details.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale back label

The ‘story’ opens by telling us that the original Bishops Finger was a Kentish signpost, pointing the way to Canterbury. And that this particular ale dates back to 1958. Apparently celebrating the end of malt rationing. An essential ingredient if you intend to brew your ale strongly.

Then the eccentricity of Shepherd Neame kicks in. Bizarrely, Bishops Finger is produced according to a “Charter”. This stipulates that it may only be brewed on Friday’s, by the Head Brewer with local, Kentish barley malt, hops and water from their well. Crikey. What the benefits of this are, I’m not entirely certain, but I hope it’s reflected in the taste and drinkability.

The last of the paragraphs of small, white text talks about the fact that this is the first beer in the UK to have been awarded Protective Geographical Indication status by the EU. And that’s important. It means nothing else can claim to be a Kentish strong ale. In the same way that only genuine Champaign can use that name, and not any old sparkling white wine. And that gives Bishops Finger points for being distinctive.

The paragraph on the back label continues with a description of the beer by someone called Andrew Jefford. Whoever he is, he describes Bishops Finger as having “fruit notes”, “roasted malts” and a “lingering” “orange finish”. How true all of that is, we’ll discover soon enough.

This side of the back label ends with the slogan “At 5.4% it’s near the knuckle”. Do you get it? Near the knuckle and it’s called Bishops Finger? Side splitting. There’s also a web address printed just under that in utterly minute writing. www.shepherdneame.co.uk takes you to a decent company website.

Over on the small print side are the basics. Above the barcode are proof that this is indeed a 500 ml bottle. That is has a 5.4% volume that provides 2.7 of your UK units of alcohol. Importantly, and unusually, there’s also the small logo proving that this beer has Protected Geographical Indication status. The Faversham, Kent, postal address of Shepherd Neame Ltd is on there. The ultra-brief ingredients is a little unusual though. Most give the chief ingredient as being “malted-barley”. Not Bishops Finger though. That would be much to normal. This goes with “Contains Barley Malt”. And with that out of the way, we can finally see what this beer is actually like.

Coming from a transparent glass bottle, the colour wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s as dark brown as it looked on the shop shelf. It also has a pleasingly thick head. And one that stays around after it’s been in the glass for a couple of seconds.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale poured into a glass

The smell is good too. In a word, it smells of quality ale. The rich smell of malt and hops is delightful.

A couple of gulps down, and the first tastes to hit me were of bitterness. And, sadly, rather more bitterness than I care for. Andrew Jefford described this as having fruity, malty, orangey tastes and flavours. Well the malt is definitely there. Working with the hoppiness, it gives it a rich, strong bitter character. I’m not so sure about the fruits however. I’m not picking them up, but that’s not to say that they aren’t in there. Your name just needs to be Andrew Jefford for you to notice them.

Nearly half-way through, and I’m delighted to report that this beer has not yet been decapitated. That is to say, it still has its head, which I’m pleased to see. The bitter and sour aftertaste really does stay with you, too.

Working through this strong ale, and it clearly has plenty of pluses. It has rich, strong flavours. These give it a full-body and escape from the weak, watery beers and lagers I’ve endured over the last few days. The proportions of everything that’s in it is unusual enough to score it marks for character and distinctiveness. And, importantly, it’s quite drinkable.

It’s not without its minuses however. It’s not quite as distinctive and different as the label leads me to hope it would be. It’s a little on the gassy side. It’s not terribly complex in the make-up of its flavours. And that rich, strong, lingering bitterness. Some of you out there. In fact, probably a lot of you reading will adore that about it. Me however, found it made Bishops Finger less palatable and accessible. And, ultimately, not as interesting or easily drinkable as it could be.

To sum up, Bishops Finger is a high-quality strong ale. It’s got a rich, deep, bitter taste, distinctiveness and a good history behind it. But, it’s not unusual, interesting or drinkable enough for it to score very highly. This is one for people who like their bitters. The quality was in abundance – just not to my tastes.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Bishops Finger? Or any others of the Shepherd Neame brewery?
What did you think? And recommendations?
Comments, corrections, ideas and insults in the little comments box below please. And thank you for reading.


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