Shepherd Neame, like most British institutions, is quite happy thank you very much doing things the way they’ve always been done. It’s the reason why, when you open a bottle of their beer, a puff of Kent countryside fills your senses and sipping one of their traditional ales is like drinking in an early morning walk through muddy green woodlands, a Sunday afternoon cricket match and an evening swapping tall stories in a local pub.
Shepherd Neame is, quite rightfully, fiercely proud of its brewing heritage and has never once in its illustrious history set foot over the fence of the Garden of England to brew a beer. Until last September that is, when long-serving Shepherd Neame brewer Stewart Main popped up suddenly at Sigtuna Brygghus near Stockholm to brew their first ever off-site collaborative beer.
It was hardly surprising the two breweries would pick a traditional English beer style – a barley wine laced with generous helpings of English hops, but to give it the twist everyone seems to expect these days they then aged it in Blanton’s bourbon casks until recently. Now captured in an understated and elegant bottle and box set I was lucky enough to get the first chance to try the beer before it has its first public outing at the Malmö Beer and Whisky Festival later this month.
It’s a beer that’s been over 300 years in the making, but has it been worth the wait?
Pouring it into a large cognac glass (you really need to give this type of beer some air) this russet coloured barley wine manages to build an impressive head, despite resistance from its robust 10% of alcohol. To look at this beer it oozes class.
However lifting it to my nose and taking a deep sniff I knew instantly that, for me at least, the wait for this beer is not over. Not quite yet.
Barley Wine, one of the booziest styles of British beer, is often accompanied by fusel alcohol notes, boosting the raisin and fig characters of this malty beer style, turning them hot.
By ageing it in bourbon casks Shepherd Neame and Sigtuna have turned the gas up even higher, with distinct whiskey notes and vanilla from the wood combining in a alcoholic hit so powerful that should you be wearing contact lenses when sniffing it you may be in danger of melting them.
Push past the alcohol and there’s a refined beer below, with soft chocolate, nuts and candy flavours courtesy of the East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops. There’s a syrupy malt sweetness there too (I actually got a lot of Belgium quadruple associations) which with time will hopefully embrace the alcohol and in a very polite and British way tell it to kindly calm down.
As always tradition can’t be rushed and neither should this beer be. My recommendation is to buy this as a keeper and age it for as long as your willpower will allow.
However if you can’t wait then after Malmö the first keg will be tapped at the Flying Elk on March 29th and 4500 bottles will go on sale at the Systembolaget from May 2nd, priced at 69.90SEK a boxed bottle.
Text and photo: BeerSweden Darren
Category: Om BeerSweden