If your knowledge of Kent is limited to news items about queues of lorries stacked on the M20, think again. This is the most beautiful county, steeped in hop growing history, dotted with oast houses, and widely known as the ‘Garden of England’. It’s also home to Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame, based in Faversham.
This week’s beer is a long time favourite of mine, loved by the regulars in my old pub as a ‘Here Comes the Weekend’ beer. For me, it has associations with good times, fond memories and life long friends.
Bishop’s Finger may not be the most famous beer in the Shepherd Neame stable (that accolade goes to Spitfire), but it’s definitely one worth seeking out. Before you assume the name of the beer is offensive in any way, let me explain. It takes its name from the finger-shaped signposts which pointed pilgrims on their way to the tomb of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury.
This is a beer that, according to the Shepherd Neame website, “holds EU Protected Geographical Indication, recognising its unique provenance. It is brewed to a charter which states it can only be brewed by the head brewer on a Friday and that it must be brewed using 100% natural ingredients, Kentish hops and barley, and the brewery’s own artesian mineral water.”
How bonkers is that? Only in Britain could we state that a particular beer can only be brewed on a Friday by the head brewer. These kind of rules and charters made me fall in love with the eccentricity of the cask ale world in the first place.
So other than the powerful 5% ABV punch why do I love it? Well, it’s got a flavour of prunes, plums and dried apricot, then it’s spiked with pepper, cinnamon and bitter blood orange. It’s a beer which makes you sigh with content, it hits the spot right away after a long hard week at work. It’s warming, and rich, and makes you feel blessed that we have access to such great beer in this country. It resonates with rich feasts of venison, lamb, grouse and pheasant, winter berries like cranberries, and hot mustard and piquant horseradish. Or as my old regulars used to demand, a plate of Black Pudding served with apple.