beer reviews

Strong, fruity, wrong and funky

Two beers: Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale and Bateman's Vintage Ale.

Last night, we got round to drinking a couple of strong beers we were sent by Shepherd Neame and Aldi respectively in the run up to Christmas.

In one sense, Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale (7%) is a cause for rejoicing: it comes in a proper brown bottle, rather than the clear glass they’ve been using to disastrous effect for the last decade or so. This is a huge turnaround and a ‘positive behaviour’ (thanks, Dr Tanya Byron) we definitely want to encourage.

It’s a shame, then, that the beer itself seemed to be… wrong. There was a whiff of elastic bands when we popped the cap, and it tasted waxy, rubbery and, finally, of slightly singed cardboard. An intriguing minty hop flavour we detected early on passed too quickly and, unfortunately, we only got half way through before giving up.

We’re not huge fans of SN’s beers in general (though we have a soft spot for their porter) but this particular bottle disagreed with us on a level beyond ‘house style’ — a technical issue, perhaps? We won’t write off the beer altogether, though we’d want to wait a few months before trying another from a different batch.

Bateman’s Vintage Ale (7.5%) comes in a cardboard box with a sticker sealing the lid — these apparently, thanks to Fuller’s, are the universal indicators of ‘vintagey-ness’.

On pouring, we were immediately reminded of Black Sheep Progress, another strong ‘special’ from a British regional brewer that we got to try at a tasting do run by Darren ‘Beer Today’ Norbury. Where Progress caused one of our fellow tasters to mention “armpits” in his notes, this beer’s aroma gave us (bear with us) old socks and white cheese rind. The taste was similarly odd, with some savoury vegetal character coming up against a tot of salty, coppery sherry-vinegar.

We didn’t love it, and, no, that doesn’t sound appetising, we admit, but the beer’s not wrong, just funky, in the same way Harvey’s or Adnam’s beers can be. If we drank enough Bateman’s, we could probably get to like it, and it certainly kept us interested, if not delighted, to the end.

7 replies on “Strong, fruity, wrong and funky”

It’s disappointing, but sometimes necessary, to bring half a glass to the sink 🙂 Had a recent bout of that, but in fairness, they were bottles well past their best before, and not ones that you’d cellar.

Funky can be good, if at least not wrong. A mate recently described a beer we were tasting as “feet”, but seemed to like it anyway. Sadly, I can’t bloody remember what it was, even though i was drinking it too (it had been a long day on a building site, followed by a long evening in our kitchen).

Sounds like you might have got a duff bottle of the SN – I’ve had a few this year, and I’ve certainly not detected any rubbery / cardboardy nature.

Know exactly what you mean about the Vintage Ale though.

some savoury vegetal character coming up against a tot of salty, coppery sherry-vinegar

Well, I liked it, although I seem to be the only blogger who has done. I kind of know what you mean about the flavours (‘coppery’ is definitely right), although I draw the line at vinegar. Less scientifically, it made me imagine a dry version of a Burton or a sherry-cask Wobbly Bob; it wasn’t a billion miles away from Spingo Middle, come to that. It wasn’t necessarily as good as those are or would be, but it wasn’t a feeble imitation either. They were flavours I’d tasted in beers before, is what I’m saying – and good beers at that.

I tried some of the Shepherd Neame. It wasn’t unpleasant but seemed to combine various flavour elements that didn’t quite gel together. The 1698 is a better beer IMV. I have another one to drink some time over the holiday period.

The good news is, 1698 is going into amber bottles, too. Used to be one we liked until we had a bottle that had somehow ‘gone off’ in a pub fridge.

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