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Classic Beer of the Month June 2018: Shepherd Neame 1698

Shepherd Neame 1698, 6.5%

Shepherd Neame lays claim to being Britain’s oldest brewery.

Shepherd Neame 1698Brewing on the site in Faversham is said to date back to the sixteenth century but the earliest precise year the brewery nails its origins to is 1698, when the roots of the present business become clear.

Three hundred years on, Shep’s celebrated its tercentenary by brewing a strong bottled beer (10.5% ABV) on which, fittingly, it bestowed the name 1698. That was a one-off creation and it was filtered and pasteurised.

But the name 1698 seemed too good to abandon and seven years later the brewery came up with a new beer that honoured its heritage just as well but was also a more sustainable product for the longer term.

The new 1698 was brewed to a more modest strength of 6.5% and, for freshness and subtlety of flavour, was bottle conditioned.

A deep amber ale, it was produced from pale and crystal malts with a little glucose syrup and hopped with Kentish Target and Golding hops. Indeed, much play was made of that hopping process, with the words ‘thrice hopped’ bandied about in all the marketing.

This terminology – it was explained – meant that the Target hops went into the copper for bitterness, Goldings were added late for aroma and then more Goldings were introduced in the whirlpool, as the beer was spun to remove unwanted solid matter.

Subtleties and Nuances

In the hop-crazed beer world we inhabit today, you could be forgiven for thinking that ‘thrice hopped’ would mean that 1698 was a particularly bitter or at least profoundly aromatic beer, bursting with pungent oils and resins.

That's just not the case, though – something that underlines the great subtleties and nuances of fine English hops.

The Targets and Goldings do not bark like a demented dog but purr like a contented cat, bringing to the palate delicate berry and floral notes to counter and enhance the smooth, sweet, buttery flavours of the malt and the delicate suggestions of pear drop that the fermentation introduces.

In its restraint and finesse, 1698 – still bottled conditioned and thrice hopped with those glorious English varieties – is a fine tribute to 300 years of British brewing and, being a Kentish ale, has even been afforded PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status by the EU.

Like Parma ham and Champagne – it cannot legally be produced elsewhere.

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