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Advent Calendar Window 7 - Christmas Ale

"When you were putting up the lights this year, 
Did you notice one less pair of hands? 
I know this shouldn't be a lonely time, 
But there were Christmas' when I didn't wonder how you are tonight
Because there were Christmas' when you were mine"

Shepherd Neame. 

The brewery that started it all.

I suppose it is strange to imagine that there was a time when the clear bottled, unconditioned, liquidised malt burps presented by this brewery in bottles were a pinnacle of great beer for me. Like many, the famous oldest brewery in this country were a solid foundation of my love of beer. I was never a convert; I loved “bitter” and “ale” from the beginning of my drinking days. But some were sought after and, being the famous big southern brewery, Shepherd Neame weren’t seen on cask in my parts as often as you would think.

This is where my frightening memory comes in once more, as mentioned in Window 4. I am going to share with you my very, very specific Shepherd Neame memories as this is my platform for such hedonism. I could tell you about a site that boasts to have been brewing since 1573, but what beer bloggers don't know that story?

I remember sitting in the Common Room of my Halls of Residence in 2005, drinking a Bishop’s Finger and exclaiming to a non-plussed room, “If God was made of beer, he would be made of Bishop’s Finger.”

I had the incredibly wrong Bishop’s Finger advert on my wall at my house in Leeds in 2006, possibly something I shouldn't admit but I was once naive and stupid.

I recall seeing Late Red in bottles in a Hartlepool supermarket in 2008, getting excitied, and finding it exquisite.

I remember my first solo trip to London in 2009. As I wandered from King’s Cross, before Maps were so available on every smartphone, I stumbled into a nearby pub, only to be joyous that it was Shepherd Neame owned (something my northern innocence had never experienced.). I ordered a Bishop’s Finger and cooed over it like it was the best beer the capital could have. I convinced myself that it was a different, more refined taste on cask in that pub.
Sadly, what I have little memory of is a bottle of Shepherd Neame's Christmas Ale given to me as a gift in 2008. It was a small 330ml bottle, with a blue label, that was clear. It’s empty bottle sat on my beer shelf (that I finally dismantled in February this year) for over 5 years. Had I not kept the bottle, I might have thought I'd never had their Christmas Ale.
So we come to my Advent Calendar Window today where we find Shepherd Neame's Christmas Ale lurking. This one was given as a Christmas gift in 2012 so has been waiting for its moment for two years. Now with a ruby label and dark glass bottle, this could be a different experience altogether - or at least a memorable one.

It pours that glowng robin red breast scarlet that looks so beautiful in a  glass at this time of year; a flashback to days when seasonal ales were seasonal. It smells festive too; booze-soaked fruits, allspice and there's something like cider vinegar in there, but not in an offputting, vinegarish way. The taste is smooth and not a yuletide pot pourri liquidised mess like some. This beer builds subtletly, starting off a little lifeless and flavourless, but then a warmth starts to rise and festivity appears over sherry soaked berries, a hint of ginger, mace, pepper and a surprising amount of apple.The finish is long, oily and decadently fruity. I won't be asking Father Christmas for more this year, but I would happily return annually. It's solid, it's tasty, so why don't I love it?

One can only assume it's due to preconception. Despite all those happy memories mentioned at the beginning of this post, this brewery's more recent gifts are a mess of clear bottled horror  and skunked, malty detritus. I don't want to like this beer. But it's quite easily the best thing Shepherd Neame have ever put in bottles (No, I wasn't a fan of their India Pale Ale.)

Christmas Spirit Rating: 60%. Put a Christmas Pudding on my head and crush baubles in my face. Let's see where that gets us.

Revisit: Enghein Noel from December 12
Mary Christmas from last year 


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