We’ve had an interesting and rather educational experience with Shepherd Neame in the last few weeks which all started with this review of their Christmas Ale. We thought there was something wrong with it – something beyond a matter of house style or ‘characterful’ yeast. SN’s ever-patient in-house marketing man, John Humphreys, was disappointed we hadn’t liked it and asked if he could send us a few more beers to try, which is how we ended up with samples of the new India Pale Ale (6.1%), newly brown-bottled 1698 (6.5%) and Double Stout (5.2%).
Unfortunately, whatever it was that we found ‘wrong’ in the Christmas Ale was also present in both the IPA and 1698: neither of us could stand to drink them and they ended up down the sink after about half a bottle of each. At this point, we contacted John to break the bad news and let him know that we thought there was a production issue.
This troubled him and he decided to investigate. In a very civilised exchange, we shared the batch numbers of the bottles in question, along with more detailed notes on the ‘off’ flavours (‘bad breath’); he initiated the quality assurance (QA) process at their end; and kept us informed of progress. The conclusion, after bottles from those very batches had been retrieved from the QA ‘archive’ and tasted by brewers and QA managers, was that there were no detectable faults, and that the beers in question were excellent.
It’s possible that something went wrong on the long journey down to Penzance, though it seems unlikely. Far more likely, as John has suggested, is that Shepherd Neame beers have an intrinsic character we not only dislike but read as ‘off’.
Beers we do like, such as those from Harvey’s, have flavours that might be considered off – we’ve occasionally referred jokingly to Sussex Best as ‘the English Orval’ – and other bloggers and writers have certainly enjoyed these particular SN beers.
We can’t change our minds – we still found them undrinkable – but maybe we need to think a bit harder before calling ‘wrong’ in future, and perhaps also get our hands on something that can help us understand off-flavours in a more scientific manner.