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.

    1. We were think­ing of Bak­er Street, Holmes in a ‘brown study’, Wat­son read­ing the Times…

  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.

Comments are closed.