Companionable Silence With Westerham

Westerham beer bottle cap on a map of Kent.

Westerham Brewery of Kent share with their bigger neighbours, Shepherd Neame, an apparent fixation on World War II, and a certain conservatism in their style of brewing.

Based on the five bottled beers we’ve tried this week, however, we’d say Westerham has one big advantage over SN: a superstar yeast strain. It was cultivated from a 1959 sample from Westerham’s original Black Eagle Brewery, taken over by Ind Coope and closed down in 1965, sleeping peacefully while other breweries’ yeasts were ‘cleaned up’ and so lost their character. It seems to add layers of complexity to even fairly ‘standard’, cleanly made beers.

William Wilberforce Freedom Ale (4.8% ABV, bottle-conditioned) is sideboard brown and offers lots of toffee and caramel, but is also notably clean. The use of (Fairtrade) sugar (an inexplicable taboo in self-consciously ‘craft’ brewing) adds some dryness that is missing from some similar beers. It is not exciting, as such, but we found it extremely satisfying.

Scotney Pale Ale (4%) is the palest beer in the range — lighter than, say, the amber of Young’s Ordinary, but certainly no ‘pale’n’hoppy’ lager-alike. There are ghosts of tangerine and pine from the hops, but it stops short of flowery or perfumed. It has a fairly intense bitterness which sucks the cheeks in. Overall, we’d call it clean, spicy and English.

We’ve been conditioned to expect from an IPA either (a) huge amounts of citrusy hop aroma or (b) no hop aroma at all (Greene King). Viceroy India Pale Ale (5%) is somewhere in the middle, alongside Worthington White Shield. The bitterness is pronounced — almost too much, but not quite — and with a tannic quality we associate with properly brewed tea. We also got more spice, this time almost Christmassy (cinnamon?). There was the faintest hint of a not-quite-right savoury flavour as we neared the end of the bottle, but the big hops defeated it.

Scotney Best Bitter (4.3%) was, for us, the only clanger: all toffee and caramel, and not much else, along the lines of Sharp’s Doom Bar. If you like this style of beer, however, you might appreciate that this is more bitter than many examples.

British BulldogBritish Bulldog (4.3%, bottle conditioned), with Winston Churchill on the label, was, in some ways, the most interesting of the bunch. Ostensibly similar to Scotney Best, it seemed paler in colour and was far more complex. Bottle-conditioning gave it an extra zing and extremely draught-like. It took a moment or two before we realised: it’s a dead ringer for cask Fuller’s London Pride at its best. We detected a very faint roastiness, a spot of green apple, some sweet orange peel, and numerous other flavours and aromas which, dialled right down and blended together, made it subtle and fascinating. Our clumsy pouring gave it a slight haze but no ‘floaters’. One to buy by the case.

These are beers that, on the whole, don’t demand your attention — they are neither hard work nor aggressive — but, at the same time, are from from bland. They keep a companionable silence.

DISCLOSURE: Robert Wicks at Westerham sent us samples of his Audit Ale and Double Stout because we’ve expressed an interest in beers brewed to historic recipes in the past. We’ll be writing about them in a future post along with some similar beers we’ve accumulated. The beers mentioned above were included to fill up the box.

9 thoughts on “Companionable Silence With Westerham”

  1. They’re really good from the cask. Bottled beers are invariably a shadow of the actual beer so quaere whether reviewing them is terribly useful. A bit like picking up one of those Pizza Express pizzas in a Saino’s and judging the restaurant on the basis of that innit. Just my opinion. As a publican clearly have a vested interest in people not being nerdy at home with booze.

    The only booze you need at home is a good bottle of champagne in the fridge for happy emergencies and a bottle of brandy for less happy ones.

  2. Can’t help but smile, companionable silence makes me think of those couples you often see in the pub sitting there with their drinks and not saying anything to each other, as if they ran of subjects years ago but still keep each other company cause there’s nothing better to do.

  3. On the whole I like Westerham beers; although I do feel their range is a bit too extensive, particularly on the cask bitter front.

    I don’t agree about them having a Second World War fixation; certainly not in the same rather childish and jingoistic vein that Shep’s have. Like the above correspondent has pointed out, Churchill lived just outside Westerham, and whilst their excellent Spirit of Kent beer does feature a Spitfire on the pump-clip/label, this is surely a tribute to a magnificent and iconic aircraft rather than something which glorifies war.

    On the whole, the company’s beers are bittered with Kentish hops, grown on a National Trust owned farm. Westerham currently have two pubs, and I believe there are plans to relocate the brewery closer to the town itself, and also expand at the same time.

    ps. Give the 1965 Special Bitter Ale a try, (draught only, I’m afraid). It’s brewed to a recipe from the original Westerham Brewery. The Audit Ale is a personal favourite of mine, but I’ll leave you to form your own opinions when you get round to trying it.

    1. We certainly do not have a WW2 fixation. What we have is a belief that every beer should have a sense of place, an association with a person and should be authentic. All our beers are associated with a person and a place.

      Winston Churchill is a local hero and is commemorated as is General Wolfe.

      We commend Finchcocks hop garden with the Finchcocks’ Original. Sir John Gresham, local landowner and founder of the first Stock Exchange is commemorated with Grasshopper (the family crest and weathervane on the Royal Exchange.

      William Wilberforce was a slavery campaigner who sat under a tree with William Pitt and committed to abolish the slave trade – 5 miles from the brewery.

      The Spirit of Kent was the lead plane in the Kent Squadron. It is kept at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar and we remember the filling of auxiliary fuel tanks with beer to send to the troops on 10 June 1944.

      1965 Special, Audit and Double Stout are all based on beers that were brewed in Westerham, a town with over 400 years of brewing history.

      I would suggest that authenticity is at the crux of craft beer. If you are not authentic about what you do then its not craft. What we do is authentic hence why we focus on Kent hops.

      Robert Wicks founder and head brewer – Westerham

  4. I’ve ordered Westerham’s beers online before and always been happy with what i’ve tasted. I don’t want to use the word ‘solid’ too much because it occasionally has a patronising/negative connotation….but they’re very solid. I enjoyed the IPA. and you’re right about Bulldog; a good, er, solid, beer! Not tried the audit ale.

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