Since Shepherd Neame first started brewing beer at their Court Street site in the sleepy English village of Faversham France has had a revolution (and America too), the electric light bulb was invented, along with cornflakes, cars and the atomic bomb, and we have become hopelessly addicted to the internet, mobile phones, Wiki and Google.
And yet while all this was going on not once did it occur to Shepherd Neame to brew a beer away from their own brewery. Until this past weekend that is.
Almost exactly 315 years after they were founded Shepherd Neame chose an industrial estate under the flight path of Arlanda Airport to break their away-day duck.
Sigtuna Brygghus will never have the charm of Britain’s oldest brewer, but in some strange way this modern Swedish brewery occupying a building that resembles a car showroom made this landmark event even more intriguing, mixing tradition with contemporary and decades of experience with new-found curiosity.
It was Shepherd Neame’s enigmatic long-serving brewer Stewart Main whose task it was to brew the UK brewery’s first ever off-site beer together with Sigtuna’s young brewer Emil Lindén.
And even here, as the two brewers stood side by side, the difference between the characters of the two breweries became personified. Stewart is the wily brewing veteran, having been raised in the craft by his father and with over 40 years of experience under his belt.
Stewart radiates enough energy to power a small town, and positively crackles with curiosity, never walking but always running up and down the brewery steps, examining equipment, firing out questions. His enthusiasm is inspiring. I can only hope I have the same genuine passion for beer as he does in 40 years from now.
Emil on the other hand is far younger, quieter and more reserved. In his relatively short time at Sigtuna he has stepped into the void left by Mattias Hammenlind and already produced a number of exciting brews, including his latest creation, a powerful yet refined imperial stout aged in Kentucky bourbon casks. As it turned out these casks would come in handy later on.
The beer they had chosen to brew together grew out of an email exchange and turned into a ‘British style’ barley wine, bittered with Magnum (one of Sigtuna’s ‘house’ bittering hops) and finished with the UK classic varieties Challenger, Fuggles and East Kent Goldings.
Of course being a barley wine means the grain bill was massive, with pale ale malt forming the base, layered on top with Vienna, biscuit, brown and carabohemian malts to produce a wort that will eventually power the beer up towards 10+ procent of ABV.
This will make it not only the first beer Shepherd Neame has brewed away from its own site but also the strongest, just passing its celebrated Generation Ale – another Stewart Main labour of love.
In itself this barley wine already has all the makings of a great beer (barley wines are a rare and welcome sight in the Swedish beer market) but Emil’s ‘twist’ of aging it in 200L bourbon casks from Kentucky-based Blanton’s distillery promises to add even more intrigue and complexity.
This will be the second filling of these casks after Emil’s own imperial stout, but the two brewers were confident they would still infuse their collaborative creation with the warming alcohol notes and woody vanilla flavours they are after.
Just how long the beer will mature in the casks has yet to be decided.“That’s part of the fun of this beer”, said Stewart. “seeing how it evolves, how all the elements work together to produce something new”.
“The idea is to age it somewhere between 3 to 6 months” confirmed Emil, although he added the only way to really tell if it is ready is to regularly draw off a sample and taste it.
“That’s something I’ll gladly volunteer to do”, interjected Emil, with a broad smile on his face.
So now all we’ve got to do it wait along with Emil and Stewart. And seeing as it’s taken 315 years for Shepherd Neame to reach this point I don’t suppose another few months is really going to hurt.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Shepherd Neame brewer’s Swedish collaboration - Beer Today | oktober 13, 2013
- Shepherd Neame/Sigtuna Barley Wine – Worth Waiting For? : BeerSweden | mars 18, 2014