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.
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.
The main front label is a little different
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.
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.
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.
Have you tried Spitfire? What did you think?
Got any corrections, criticisms, ideas or requests? Then leave a comment now.