- Shepherd Neame and our Private Tour
- The Shepherd Neame Brewery Tour
Britain’s Oldest Brewer
With a brewing history dating back to the 1100s, Faversham could well be the home of big brewing in the UK. Now, standing proudly over their own well, Shepherd Neame produce over 72 million pints of beer every year with no inclination of stopping any time soon. I’m sure everyone here has heard of Shepherd Neame and sampled a beer or two from their collection – we were lucky enough to head down for a chat with their Comms Manager, John, and a couple of cheeky tours.
A Whirlwind Tour
We were generously hosted by the lovely Sun Inn, a Shepherd Neame managed establishment, with big wooden beams, an open fire by the bar and beautiful rooms. After being shown to our rooms, and being slightly floored by just how nice the place is, we set off for our first adventure in the brewery. It’s a five minute walk from the Sun to the brewery down the high street of the very picturesque town and as we waited in the reception the scale of everything began to hit home. I’m a massive Shepherd Neame fanboy, so sitting in those big leather seats taking in the charters, awards and artwork that adorn the walls was an experience in itself.
Donning our high-vis jackets we set off for a whirlwind exploration of the parts of the brewery we wouldn’t see on the public tour. To say it’s an impressive place is an understatement. The technology, sustainability, diversity and passion is something to behold. As is the history of the brewery and the site. Our first stop was the Brewing Book. Dating back hundreds of years with coded recipes and records, it’s one of the earliest documented brewing books and some parts of the recipes are still used at the brewery today. The old ones truly are the best.
Next, we ducked into the malt kiln. Although it isn’t used anymore the inverted chimney set up was an eye opener. With the barley above, large open fires were stoked from below to initiate the germination process of the barley (turning it into malted barley). There would be men turning the barley with specially designed spades and forks whilst others below would pile on the coal and keep the embers burning. Depending on the beer barley could be roasted between 6 hours and 2 days (the longer the darker the beer).
Now, back in the 21st century, we were shown the conical fermentation tanks. Massive structures filled with beer, maturing before being ready for packaging. Each vat can hold at least 15,000 pints and some up to 27,000 pints of beer before being pushed to kegging, casking or bottling. The ales take a shorter amount of time to mature whilst most lagers, which are a bit more delicate, can take up to 28 days. Then, using compressed air and an extremely complex run of pipes that traverse the site, the beer is pushed to the relevant areas for packaging.
We were also shown the site of the well, where Shepherd Neame pull all their water for their beers. It’s an artisan well, offering water which has been filtered through green sand (it’s a rock, not sand) for 7 years, before being deposited in the reservoir underground. Impressively, Neame pull all the water their site uses from this well (not just for beer, but for cleaning, drinking etc.) and currently only use 60-70% of their ‘allowance’. This will be even less soon due to the Water Recycling Facility they have just invested in. Instead of cleaning water coming solely from the ground, any wastage will now go directly to the facility for processing and cleaning and will return, pure enough to label as mineral water, for anything that doesn’t involve brewing.
The Place of Our Dreams
We ended our whistlestop tour at one of the best places in the brewery – the Sampling Cellar. After each batch of beer is produced one keg or cask is pulled off and racked in the sampling cellar. This allows the head brewers and lab techs to pull samples for tasting, smelling and testing. It’s a tough job, right? We had a selection of Shepherd Neame beers from the classics like Spitfire and Bishops Finger to the newer Whitstable Bay series and Sam Adam’s Blonde Ambition. (As an aside, for Sam Adam’s beer, Neame demineralise the water from their supply and remineralise it with the exact same quantities as Sam Adam’s have over in the States to make the final product as true as possible). We also got to try the Porter (which I haven’t found anywhere recently), Late Red and the Christmas Ale. We were told that the Head Brewer and a couple of others have to check the ales around 8am every morning in this cellar. I say, sign us up.
To sum up, I can’t offer enough thanks to Shepherd Neame for having us down and giving us such an intimate view of their set-up and what they do. They may be Britain’s Oldest Brewer, but in terms of technology, attitude and approach to beer I’d quite happily place them as one of the most innovative, open and genuinely caring for their craft. Everything is consistent, from chemistry to communication. They’ve been around for a long time and there’s a reason they’re still here, still relevant and still popular. I’m looking forward to what they have in store in the coming years, and drinking their classics that still never disappoint.