Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale

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.

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6 Responses to “Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale”

  1. Scott-TheBrewClub Says:

    While I haven’t personally tried it, our man in England did and if you’re interested, here’s the review….

    http://thebrewclub.com/2008/09/05/shepherd-neame-masterbrew-review/

    Bob really liked it, and again great review here with wonderful pictures!

    • Agus Says:

      This is the subject of a Mrs Merton-type ‘heated dabete’ at Stonch’s blog, and probably elsewhere in the London Beer blogoverse.I suppose the heart of the question is in the strap on your picture. Does it matter?I think it must. Any interaction with a retail ‘offering’ is transitory, so if your aficionados are right, the problem lies in being required to separate the ‘offering’ from the ‘experience’. Culturally, we don’t ‘use’ pubs this way. Does that make JDW the same as any theme pub, only with better beer? And then, what about the beer. I haven’t asked any small brewers how they feel about dealing with JDW. Are they getting a fair price for their product, or does the comparison with retail extend to pinching discounts out of them in exchange for shelf space?I don’t visit JDW as a rule, but wanted to try these ‘international’ beers. You’re right about the Stone, but I haven’t tried the Yo Ho yet. Why? Well, the pumpclip indicated it was on at the Crosse Keys on Thursday, but when I asked, it had kicked. It’s a small thing, but one of the reasons I won’t visit JDW pubs. Every other pub can turn the clip round, so why not them? Irritating.How credible is Cask Marque?

    • Vinu Says:

      Hey Pete (and Chris and and Sid all you other ‘blokes’ I met while over there)!Pete, it was actually Mitch Steele and me (Greg Koch) that you met last Thursday. It was Mitch and my foiudnng partner in crime at Stone (formal title: President & Brewmaster) Steve Wagner that came over in February to do the brewing.By the way Sid, I didn’t say that the reaction of many UK brewers was ‘Aggressively negative’ — I did not get any negativity at all really, especially from the polite British! What I did say was that I was a bit surprised that they weren’t keen on even sipping a half-ounce of some of the bottles of special strong beers that we had brought to share. That, and the fact that I asked them many more questions about what they did, than they did of me. Being the lone US brewer participating, I was quite surprised that I was not peppered with questions about the US Craft Brewing movement in general, and Stone in bit in particular.So, I termed it ‘Aggressively disinterested.’All in all, a great time and I thank everyone for their generous hospitality and for taking us out for (more) beers, great Indian food, and a LOT of camaraderie!Cheers,Greg Koch, CEOStone Brewing Co.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I have a bottle standing before me. ONE QUID from Morrisons. It has to be sampled at that price.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    3.9 out of what 4, 10 or 100 ????

  4. Eser Says:

    Hey Pete (and Chris and and Sid all you other ‘blokes’ I met while over there)!Pete, it was actually Mitch Steele and me (Greg Koch) that you met last Thursday. It was Mitch and my foudning partner in crime at Stone (formal title: President & Brewmaster) Steve Wagner that came over in February to do the brewing.By the way Sid, I didn’t say that the reaction of many UK brewers was ‘Aggressively negative’ — I did not get any negativity at all really, especially from the polite British! What I did say was that I was a bit surprised that they weren’t keen on even sipping a half-ounce of some of the bottles of special strong beers that we had brought to share. That, and the fact that I asked them many more questions about what they did, than they did of me. Being the lone US brewer participating, I was quite surprised that I was not peppered with questions about the US Craft Brewing movement in general, and Stone in bit in particular.So, I termed it ‘Aggressively disinterested.’All in all, a great time and I thank everyone for their generous hospitality and for taking us out for (more) beers, great Indian food, and a LOT of camaraderie!Cheers,Greg Koch, CEOStone Brewing Co.

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