For the 400th post on Fuggled, I decided to go almost back to the beginning for my Brewer of the Week, to the makers of the beer that got me into properly made beer, and the beer that even today is still one of my favourites. The beer was Bishop's Finger from Shepherd Neame in Faversham, Kent.
Brewery: Shepherd Neame
How did you get into brewing as a career?
I was born and bred in Edinburgh, which, in its time was one of the main Brewing centers in Britain. There were 18 breweries in the city in the 1940/50s, so the industry was a fairly large employer, indeed my father, mother, both grandfathers and various uncles worked in the brewing industry. I started at Drybroughs Brewery in Craigmillar in January 1973 in Quality Control . I did an HNC Biology then a BSc in Brewing at Heriot Watt University and over the years gained experience in every department . Did my Master Brewer examinations during my time at Drybroughs and moved south to Burtonwood Brewery in Warrington in 1986. Hook Norton Brewery followed and now I am happily brewing at Shepherd Neame .
What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?
A number of skills are needed to make a “complete “ Brewer . A complete understanding of the science behind what is happening in the mash tun , copper and fermentation vessels, so that the effect of time, and temperature means something to you, otherwise you cannot control the process. Microbiological understanding and therefore the importance of hygiene is paramount. Good interpersonal skills and man–management ability is key to building a strong team around you. The love of the product comes near the top of the list!
Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?
Never did any home brewing, although I remember my father having a go when I was young. Plastic dust bins in the lounge etc. I never encourage home brewing. Far rather people went out to the pub, drink my beer and keep me in a job!.
If you did homebrew, do you still?
Over the last couple of years I have started to make my own liqueurs. Bramble Gin, Sloe Gin, Coffee, Orange, Lemon and Galliano . Always looking for something new. Make very acceptable Christmas presents.
What is your favourite beer that you brew?
Spitfire is a favourite. The aroma in the Brewhouse as the combination of pale and roasted malts mixes with our pure well water in the mash tun is amazing. The fact that the tun is made of oak and of 1914 vintage and we are Britains oldest brewer always makes it special and actually makes me feel quite honoured and proud.
If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?
This is easy. Burtonwood Dark Mild will always be my favourite. A classic dark Northern mild, only 3.0% abv but packed full of fantastic roast, black malt flavours. It had a good bitterness for a cask and was not sweet. Happy memories of a fine cask ale, sadly no longer brewed. The first brew I ever put through our Pilot Brewery was based on this beer, it was called Old Faversham Dark and I continue to brew it from time to time. Now a favourite in the South!
Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to
A great, naturally conditioned bottled beer, 1698. 6.5% abv packed full of fruity, malty, flavours. The higher alcohol just fills it with character. Goes fantastic with, strong, mature, cheddar cheese.
How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?
I create a lot of new beers both in the Main and Pilot Brewery and I really believe that using the best malts and hops produces quality beers. There are a huge range of malts and hops to choose from, you are only limited by your own imagination. I do believe in telling people what malts and hops go into the brew, it makes the drinking far more pleasurable.
If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?
It could never happen, but I would have loved to have brewed with Campbell, Hope and King in Edinburgh. My grandfather was a Cooper there, and my father and uncle also. It was right next door to Heriot Watt University in the heart of the city. A truly traditional old Brewery now sadly no more. Closed in the 1960s by Whitbread. Over the last few years I have collaborated with quite a few American brewers, brewing their beers here at Faversham for the Wetherspoons cask beer festival. American IPA type beers and others more English in style.
Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?
Have never wished I had invented anybody elses beer. Over nearly 40yrs in brewing I have created very many beers and am proud of them all. Each has its own special place in my memory.