Posts Tagged ‘Kentish ale’

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.

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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.


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