Shepherd Neame. A brewery that proudly wears the tag of Britain’s oldest brewery, having been founded in 1698, and still run by the long-standing family to this day.
So how did this relationship start? (1) Well records show that the town of Faversham in Kent was first associated with brewing as early as 1147 when monks at the abbey, one-third of a mile from the brewery today at 17 Court Street, produced beer. In 1525 William Castlock, the brother of the last abbot of Faversham, was exporting and importing beer. The brewing operation remained within the Castlock family before being passed to Thomas Hilton in 1653.
In 1678, Richard Marsh, one-time Faversham mayor, leased the brewery from the Hilton family, before buying it from the family’s executors in 1698. Marsh died in 1726 but the brewery continued under his daughter in-law Mary and her new husband, a Mr Hilles Hobday. By the time Hilles Hobday died in 1731, the brewery owned two Faversham pubs, The Castle and The Three Tuns (the latter is still part of the brewery’s pub estate). In 1732, Mary married Samuel Shepherd who took over the running of the brewery, introducing a new era of growth, which included the acquisition of 21 pubs, five of which remain with Shepherd Neame.
The brewery passed to Shepherd’s sons, John and Julius, in 1755. John would eventually withdraw, while Julius continued to develop his father’s entrepreneurial flair. Julius was succeeded by his son Henry in 1819 who ran the brewery for the next 25 years. Upon his retirement, it passed to Henry Jr and his son-in-law, Charles Jones Hilton, but Hilton withdrew four years later and Henry Jr took on John Henry Mares as his partner.
In October 1864 Percy Beale Neame, a 28-year-old hop farmer and brother-in-law of John Mares, joined the firm as a partner, only two months before Mares’ death. It was here that Shepherd Neame & Company was born. Henry Jr died in 1876, leaving Percy Neame the sole proprietor. He was joined by his sons, Harry, Arthur and Alick about 20 years later. Percy Beale Neame died in 1913. A year later Shepherd Neame became a limited company, with all of Percy’s children as the shareholders. Tragedy struck the family when, in 1916, Arthur died of pneumonia, to be followed by Alick only three months later. Harry became the sole managing director. The Second World War saw the brewery depleted of staff due to military service. Seventy-five were away by 1940, though production continued as beer was not rationed as it was regarded as a moraleboosting essential. Shepherd Neame was now largely managed by Harry’s sons, Jasper and Laurie. Harry died in 1947 and nine years later, Jasper’s eldest son Robert, known as Bobby, joined the company. In 1958 Shepherd Neame produced one of its most distinctive beers, Bishops Finger. The strong, typically Kentish ale was named, according to folklore, after a signpost that pointed the way to Thomas Becket’s tomb in Canterbury. Upon Jasper’s death in 1961, at the age of 56, Laurie became the sole MD.
In 1968 Shepherd Neame demonstrated the innovation for which it has become renowned when it became the first regional brewer of lager in the UK when it started brewing Hurlimann, eventually coming to own the popular brand. Laurie died in 1970 and Bobby became chairman, a position he held for 35 years. By the end of the decade the brewery had acquired 65 pubs in total and Bobby reported an eight-fold increase in profits. In 1990 Shepherd Neame produced Spitfire to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Spitfire took off thanks, in part, to its cheeky Dads Armystyle humour. In 1991 Bobby’s son, Jonathan Neame, joined the company. He was appointed managing director in 1999, before becoming chief executive in 2003. Bobby Neame stepped down as chairman in 2005 – he was succeeded by Miles Templeman – and retired from the board a year later. He is now Shepherd Neame’s first company president. In 2004 the company undertook a major upgrade with the installation of a new keg plant and the opening of a new distribution centre. It followed that with a new cask packaging operation in 2007 and bottling line in 2009 respectively.
Steeped in history and tradition, Shepherd Neame is one of the most well-known breweries in the UK, especially around Kent, London and South East England.
I was lucky enough to sample some of their well know bottled ales recently, so I give to you my tasting notes and a brief history on each –
Christmas Ale – 7%
An instant nose of dried raisins with spice notes swirling gently around. Soft malt flavours linger gently on the palate, mixed with dry fruit to create a mourish flavour that has a slight dryness on after-taste. The experience falls very quickly, but the roasted chestnut will have you finishing the bottle.
1698 – 6.5%
Originally brewed to celebrate the tercentenary of Shepherd Neame and winner of a silver medal in the Taste of Britain Awards, included in the International Beer Challenge’s World’s Top 50 Beers and won a Gold Award from the British Bottlers’ Institute.
Ripe fruit flavours on the nose with citrus notes flying in later on. On the palate, it enjoys mild offerings of caramel and Seville orange that culminates in a slight dryness and a very short after-taste, but it does leave your mouth feeling fresh.
Late Red – 4.5%
The nose enjoys a good mix of caramel and tropical fruit with hints of dried fruit like raisin following closely. A hot, fresh hop finish contrasts well with the forerunner of caramel and nut leading to a lingering sweet fruitness.
Bishops Finger – 5.4%
Bishops Finger was the first strong ale to be brewed by Shepherd Neame after malt rationing was eased in the late 1950s. It is also one of the UK’s oldest bottled beers, brewed since 1958. It also hold EU Protected Geographical Indication, recognising its unique provenance. It is brewed to a charter which states it can only be brewed by the head brewer on a Friday and that it must be brewed using 100% natural ingredients, Kentish hops and barley, and the brewery’s own artesian mineral water.
Both the nose and palate enjoy lashings of ripe fruit and dried apricots with subtle hints of cinnamon and pepper thrown in to create a long-lasting refreshing ale. An orange finish results in a small dryness on the tongue.
Spitfire – 4.5%
First brewed in 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and won medals at 2009 Monde Selection Grand (gold) and 2010 Brewers Association World Beer Cup (bronze).
On the nose, swirls of red grapes, marmalade and cracked pepper dance around, whilst the palate enjoys slow flavours of malt with a soft fruity finish, a sense of delicate fizz is detected on the after-taste.
OTHER SHEPHERD NEAME EXPRESSIONS
Master Brew – 4%
Good kick of Kentish hops on the nose with malt and vanilla mixing well soon after. Lots of hops dominate the palate, with hints of malt lingering. Slight bitterness before a long finish.
With around 360 Shepherd Neame pubs in the UK, you will more than likely come across the wide range of ales in both bottle and cask form, with personal highlights of Spitfire and Christmas Ale being recommendations. I’ve also come across gift sets in local supermarkets of the Shepherd Neame range which would be a perfect present for any budding ale drinkers!
So if you’re looking for drink that is steeped in history, tradition and bursting in flavours, look out for the Shepherd Neame logo, you can’t go wrong.
(1) The history of Shepherd Neame reproduced from Shepherd Neame website.
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