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Classic Beer of the Month August 2016: Shepherd Neame Master Brew Bitter

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Shepherd Neame Master Brew Bitter, 3.7%

Shepherd Neame’s Master Brew Bitter is not a beer, I’m sure, that is widely discussed in the hipster bars of London and other cities.

Shepherd Neame Master BrewAttention there probably revolves around southern hemisphere hops, saison yeasts or the latest mouth-puckering sour beer.

But I do hope, once all the justifiable excitement over the latest brewing trends dies down a little, that attention is once again given to the beer that, for me, defines what makes British brewing great, and that is the humble pint of cask-conditioned bitter.

I marvelled at the paradoxical nature – simple and yet gloriously complex – of this great British creation on a recent visit to Kent.

I stepped into the bar of the New Flying Horse at Wye and ordered a pint of Shepherd Neame Master Brew. It was perfectly served in a branded glass, glowing a rich amber colour with a light, bubbling head. It was my first pint of the day – the first pint for several days – and it slipped down a treat.

There are, undoubtedly, more sophisticated beers to be found in Britain today as Master Brew is by no means a challenging ale.

It’s not extravagantly hopped and it’s not overly malty but it does have a teasing, moreish flavour that skilfully balances nutty crystal malt flavour with the sappy, spicy tang of fragrant Kentish hops – Admiral for bitterness and then Golding late for aroma. Golding is also used for dry hopping in the cask, along with First Gold.

Rather Delicate

At only 3.7% ABV, the beer is slender bodied and rather delicate. Bittersweet in the mouth, drying and bitter in the finish, it seems to encapsulate the spirit of Kent with its acres of hopgardens and long brewing traditions.

I noticed three groups of foreign travellers – Germans, French and Dutch – staying at the pub, fresh off the Channel Tunnel or the Dover ferries and enjoying their first night in Britain. This traditional ale, brewed locally, offered them a great introduction to cask conditioning.

They would surely have been impressed by the freshness of the beer and could only have marvelled at the way the living yeast provided a natural soft carbonation, bringing forward a subtle interplay of flavours that all too often gets quashed by filtration, pasteurisation and the overuse of the CO2 canister.

I downed my first pint and asked for another, despite being tempted by a decent selection of other beers, both on draught and in bottle.

It’s not very often I do that these days. It must have been a good pint.

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