Shepherd Neame is the oldest brewery in the UK. A number of years ago, their marketing department made the mistake of switching to clear glass bottles. This might have increased sales but it sent their "street cred" among beer lovers way down. It's hard to find a non light struck bottle of any Shepherd Neame beer now. I used to quite like their beers but I have not bought one in a while.
I was very pleased to see a few new beers in proper brown glass bottles and very eager to try them out and honestly, I think they look much better than the clear glass bottles. The labels have an old look about them, like something from the early 1900s perhaps.
India Pale Ale is always a funny term in the UK because a lot of IPAs are too low in ABV to be anything other than a regular pale ale/bitter. Not so here, they have gone for a respectable 6.1% ABV making the 3.6% IPA from Greene King to be laughable. It certainly looks good with a fluffy white head with excellent lacing topping a clear amber beer. The aroma is a fruity caramel affair with no real hop aroma but it might have been a little cold at first because a slightly spicy grassy note came later. The same when tasting, it took a while, the hops were a long time coming and when they did, they were fairly subtle. I don't know what hops are used but they seem to be the regular sort you get in most of their pale ales. Kentish hops, nothing wrong with that of course as they are keeping it local. The result is a slightly spicy grassiness. There is also an obvious pithy orange quality which did start to get a little sickly towards the end. I might have to pick up another bottle of this to fully decide if I like it or not.
I rather like their regular stout, despite the rubbish shamrock logo and clear bottle. Like might be a little strong, let's say I don't dislike it. I'm not sure this is much of a double stout being only 5.2% which is regular stout territory to me, albeit on the strong side of that term.
Anyway, the double stout again looks the part, in fact it reminds me of some old bottles of Guinness knocking about in old man pub windows. A large frothy off white head and almost entirely black body greet you upon pouring followed by a waft of roast grains and caramel. The taste was interesting, it started off with a mild lactic sourness that I like in a stout before it morphed in to a milk stout for a moment and then quickly burnt coffee bean, treacle and a nice bitter finish. Actually I was quite impressed by this beer and I will probably buy it again. It also seems like exactly the sort of beer I love on cask.
For the next beer, their Generation Ale, I prepared a nice lunch for myself and my wife. Hot bread rolls and oat cakes with a few different cheeses to go with it along with cherry tomatoes. I'm not a cheese and beer pairer as such. I love beer and I like many cheeses but I have never sat down and tried to pair them. Mature red cheddar and a roasty stout is as much as I have done previously.
The three cheeses I had were a brie, a port (cheddar with porter) and a blue cheese. I don't recall what type other than it was one of the Irish ones. I've had the beer before of course, it was at the beer bloggers conference earlier in the year so I had plenty of it and this was a bottle I brought home. In fact one of the few I brought home. It's a lovely 9% strong ale oozing with raisins and sultana like fruits along with a strong toffee backbone, a slightly winey finish with soft carbonation and a slightly oily feel. It was perfect for sharing and my wife liked the beer a lot.
On a cheese pairing note, the brie and port cheese did nothing for the beer. They were nice individually but neither complemented the other. The blue cheese (green really) on the other hand was awesome. I'm not a big blue cheese fan. I have gone from revulsion to a state of tolerance for the milder sort. I'm trying to get to like it a little and have some appreciation. This pairing went a long way because it was a match made in heaven. My wife agreed. The strong, sweet beer cut through the harshness of the blue before the cheese makes a comeback in the finish accentuating the strong toffee and fruits in the beer with it's own tanginess then coming back in to play.
I'm very interested to try some more blue cheese along with similar strong ales. I wonder how Westvleteren 12 would work? It's a lot fizzier for one thing.... Must try some time.