Thursday, 9 August 2012

09/08/12 - Ode to Beer

I grew up in east Kent, land of hop poles, oast houses and wafting malty aromas. If you’re from this part of the world, a certain significant percentage of your bloodstream will be pure Shepherd Neame; indeed, my school was next to the brewery – decent beer was a normal part of life. And you’ll feel oddly proud when you see Sheps pubs in other parts of the country too.
Faversham, the home of Sheps, has dozens of pubs, as you might expect from a town that proudly grew around Britain’s oldest brewer (established in 1698, doncherknow), and they range from the warm and welcoming to the frankly terrifying; new visitors to the town would do well to make a beeline for The Sun, which is a quaint and happy little place, or perhaps The Phoenix (although this weirdly isn’t a Shepherd Neame pub, despite being across the road from the brewery) as it has a nice garden and does reasonable grub. The Bear and The Anchor have their charms, but tread very carefully with The Hole in the Wall and The Swan & Harlequin…
If you’re not from Kent, you may still be familiar with Shepherd Neame’s beers, particularly Spitfire which enjoyed a brilliant and somewhat controversial ad campaign a while back (‘rear gunners drink lager shandy’, ‘downed all over Kent, just like the Luftwaffe’, ‘not for Schlossers, Wagners & Kuntz’, ‘no Fokker comes close’ etc – I used to have them all up on my bedroom wall). Other offerings include Bishop’s Finger (aka ‘Nun’s Delight’), Master Brew, which is something of a local hero, 1698, which is a bottle-conditioned celebration ale, the fashionably organic Whitstable Bay, and a variety of seasonal offerings including Early Bird, Late Red and Tins’Ale. And every one of them’s a cracker.
So, for my Sheps-quaffing chums, here’s a handy JuicyPips beer guide to help broaden the horizons of the palate a little – just for those days when you fancy something different. After all, you need to know what the rest of the country’s drinking, to reinforce your local pride and sense of general ale superiority. (The rest of you, ignore all of this and go and get yourself a bottle of Spitfire or two. This horizon-broadening is entirely dependent on having been raised on Kentish hops; if you weren’t, you’ve got some more work to do first.)

Innis & Gunn Rum Finish

Innis & Gunn are a small Scottish brewer who age their beer in oak casks. How does it stay fresh while they do this? Christ knows. Gaelic witchcraft probably. The highlight of their range is the Rum Finish, which is aged in used rum casks. It doesn’t really taste that much of rum, more of caramel, honey and cinnamon. It’s really quite smooth too, distracting you from the fact that it’s 7.4% abv. It tastes almost like a soft drink, you have no concept whatsoever of just how smashed you’re getting. Brilliant.

Badger – Hopping Hare
Dorset’s Badger Brewery have a whole range of delicious beers; to be honest, it was hard to narrow it down to just one for this list. (Which is why there’s a second one coming up in a bit.)
Hopping Hare is an excellent session beer; robust enough to really feel that you’re drinking a traditional ale, yet light and crisp enough to enjoy all afternoon without yearning for something less heavy-going. Rather like Spitfire, in fact. It’s hopped three times throughout the brewing process with different kinds of hops each time, which gives it a peculiar complexity. Tastes kind of citrusy, and slightly floral.

Brewdog – Punk IPA
Brewdog are an angry bunch of Scottish bastards, and proudly so. The labels on their beers don’t so much describe the product as berate you for your pathetic lack of beer knowledge. If they caught you with a Fosters, they’d slap you.
Punk IPA is a brutal thing. IPAs in the traditional sense were beefier than the average ale as they needed to retain their strength while they were shipped to India; ‘India Pale Ale’ was an export product for the colonies.
Punk IPA takes all of the in-your-face elements of an IPA and smashes you in the throat with them: tropical fruit notes combine with unexpected hints of resin – it’s kind of like drinking a tree, then being forced to chew the bark. But in a nice way. A very tasty beer, although not one you could drink all night. It’d make you cry.

Adnams Broadside

They describe it as ‘a ruby red beer like no other’. It’s a really chewy one, this; a bit like eating a cake that’s 6.3% abv. It was first brewed in 1972 to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Sole Bay, although it wouldn’t be altogether surprising to learn that some of the ingredients actually were three hundred years old and infused with gunpowder.
I mean this in a positive way, of course. It’s strong stuff. You’ll feel tremendously manly drinking it.

Old Crafty Hen
Old Speckled Hen – named after an MG, fact fans, hence the octagonal label on the bottle – was first brewed in 1979, and has been a British staple ever since. Recent varietals expand the versatility of this delicious beer, with Old Golden Hen being particularly refreshing on a summer’s day. However, it’s with the Old Crafty Hen that we find the real magic: it’s a super-premium version of the Hen, offering an abv of 6.5%, with an extended ageing process that means the intensity of the flavour varies noticeably from one batch to the next. A true connoisseur’s project – buy a load of it, then see if you can spot the difference between them. (The more you drink, the more you’ll be able to convince yourself you’re able to.)

Badger – Poacher’s Choice

Another Badger beer, and a very weird one at that. Poachers are, of course, wily and unscrupulous characters who play by their own rules, so this is a confusing and odd beer brewed specifically for such types. It’s a robust dark ale that tastes strongly of damsons and liquorice. Just the kind of thing to keep your taste-buds entertained as you crouch in a bush, waiting for pheasants.
…like I said, there are many other great Badger ales - be sure to try the Golden Glory, Fursty Ferret, Tanglefoot, Blandford Flyer and Golden Champion too! Lots to enjoy there.

Young’s London Special
It would be churlish to ignore the capital’s fare in light of the wonderfully diverse and exciting year London is having. So this is a rather special effort from Young’s, a brewer which was based at the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth from 1831 until 2006 when they, er, decided to move to Bedford. Hmm.
It’s a live beer, matured in the bottle, so you have to be careful not to get yeasty bits stuck in your teeth. It’s rich, malty, dry, fruity, and really quite strong. Drink this while you’re re-watching the Olympics opening ceremony or the Jubilee flotilla, it’ll fill you with Thamesy pride.

Lager exists. There’s no getting away from that. But if you’re going to insist on drinking light, fizzy beer, please at least do it properly. Fosters is piss-weak, Carlsberg is like licking a dog, Stella Artois is hugely overrated… stop mucking about and go for the good stuff. The Germans have this area covered.
Warsteiner Premium Verum is a light, fresh pilsner that tastes ever-so-slightly honey-like; it’s a lager that doesn’t need to be chilled (but can be, obviously), and should really be served in a vast metal tankard for maximum effect. If you have to drink lager, drink this.

Rather than be overly complex and geeky with this guide, I’ve kept it simple – all of the above can be easily sourced in Sainsbury’s or Tesco. But if you really want to expand your beer knowledge and pick the twigs out of some properly growly ales, go to a CAMRA event. The Great British Beer Festival is on at Olympia right now. Or click here to immerse yourself in a world of thick jumpers, bushy beards and unashamed beer snobbery.

Oh, and most importantly… Faversham hosts a Hop Festival every year. The town centre is shut off to traffic as stages are erected for various local bands to play, and the town throbs and swarms with countless revellers wearing hops on their heads. Every pub is stuffed to the rafters, the streets are lined with beer tents, it’s a magical experience. This year it falls on the weekend of the 1st & 2nd of September, and you’d be an idiot to miss it. An actual idiot. Details here:
Start off early and get a seat in the garden at The Sun, then move off down Court Street to see some interesting bands and grab a beer or several from outside the brewery. Circle back to Ossie’s Fish Bar on Preston Street for lunch – best chips in town - then head over to the other side of the creek, where The Albion will have laid on huge beer tents and you can relax in the sunshine. Then amble back to the marketplace for the main stage, and just stagger randomly from pub to pub. Ace.
Shepherd Neame is the best, you see. Anything else is just a distraction. No Fokker comes close.
Now, who wants to join me for a Late Red…?

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