Friday, 22 February 2013

A surprise from Sheps

On the way to East Kent to visit micropubs, we hit on a snag with the plan.

Because the micropubs are one-man operations, they open for a session at noon, and close in the afternoons, opening again at teatime. We are leaving London too late to catch the lunchtime session, so we have a bit of time to kill.

Well, we’re passing through Faversham on the way, the home of Shepherd Neame. No beer geeks seem to have anything much nice to say about Sheps’ beers. I haven’t drunk much of them either – the only cask beer of theirs you tend to see in Scotland is Spitfire, which never impressed me, and they also have a bunch of cheapie bottles often encountered in Lidl stores, which don’t inspire either but do the job if you want a beer and only have 99p in your pocket.

But I believe in giving them a fair crack. We’re going to drink Master Brew in Faversham, on the grounds that if it’s going to be good anywhere, it’ll be here, on their home turf.

Faversham is a company town – it seems to be wall-to-wall Sheps in nearly all the pubs. We wander down to the market square, admiring the neatly hand-painted signs that most of the shops seem to have. Just as we pass the brewery itself, a massive roar and a cloud shooting into the sky indicates a sudden release of some sort of pressurised gas.

Hoping we haven’t just witnessed a horrific industrial accident, we take a look in the brewery shop. It has a bar. I like the idea that someone at the brewery was planning this and thought “You know what this town needs? One more place selling our beer!”

I was quite keen to try the new historical recreations Sheps have recently brought out. I already found the India Pale Ale in Morrison’s at home. It was good, dry and minerally as a pale ale should be, but somehow lacked the magic that makes you want to drink another. Here I pick up its partner, the Double Stout.

With fifteen minutes before our train is due to leave, we drop in to the Railway Hotel at the station. On the back wall a banner states, bluntly, “We are not as cheap as Wetherspoons.” Fortunately, I don’t demand that of pubs.

The Railway has etched glass and worn wood, and, if I remember rightly, tablecloths. Not much seems to have changed here since the 1970s by the looks of things. Even the pump clips have the long since superceded Master Brew branding of a generation ago. It is wonderful. I feel like I’m drinking in one of the pictures in Michael Jackson’s New World Guide to Beer.

The grandmotherly landlady greets us with a dazzling smile. Two pints of Master Brew, please. Two pints of bitter, she repeats, gently correcting me. As if in this town bitter couldn’t possibly mean anything else than Master Brew.

Do you know, the bitter is rather good. Perfect condition and nice and cold. Slightly astringent, lightly and mildly yeasty and subtly but freshly hopped. I was right!

We can even get plastic glasses to decant the remains of our pints into before we run across the road to the station. 

At Faversham we jump on the train with a few minutes to spare. Then with exactly one minute to spare we realise we are in the wrong portion of the train. The train splits here with one part going to Dover and the other to Ramsgate. A mad dash gets us to the front part.

The bottled double stout is OK but not great. A big foretaste of roasted grain gives way to a thinnish and disappointing finish. People have told me to go for Sheps’ darker beers rather than the pale ones. My experience here is the opposite: I wish I was back having another pint of bitter, which is not at all the preference I was expecting to have.

No comments:

Post a comment