800 years ago, on the 15th of June to be precise, King John of England signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede. For those of us who are a little ropey on our Year 9 History learnings – the Magna Carta (Great Charter in Latin, I’ll have you know) was what we’d now likely call a Google Doc drafted up by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Basically, we had a few rogue barons trotting round the country at odds with the King and this little number was meant to promise protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, limitation on feudal payments to the crown and other bits and pieces to try and restore some peace and stability. It was kind of a big deal at the time and is said to have been the inspiration for the American Constitution when the United States were republicised. As this is meant to be a review and not a lecture – I will leave the rest to Wikipedia.
The finest legacy
Zip forward the best part of a millennia and we find ourselves in a magical time. A time of technology, self-driving automobiles, smart bikinis and of course, Shepherd Neame – Britain’s oldest and most historical brewery. So what a fine endeavour it is for the Faversham favourites to brew a special Magna Carta memento ale, aptly named 1215.
This is a behemoth of a beer, rolling in at 750ml, 8% of English Strong Ale, brewed with Mugwort, Yarrow, Woodruff and Fennel – typical bittering agents before hops swept across the world. It’s a piece of art, too. Limited to a 1,215 bottles you’ll want to snap one (or six) up from their online store pretty sharpish – even if only to look at it. But less chat, it’s time to taste the middle ages.
Wow. On the pour it looks like coca cola, really rich and dark with wafts of earthy, herbal and almost syrupy caramel tones. There’s not much in the way of head on this beer, a thin layer of off white which has reduced pretty quickly and the immediate spritz of bubbles dissipated quickly leaving only a few lingering just below the surface.
The first sip is an interesting one – I was a little unsure of all these olde worlde herbs being put into it, but there’s a real body in the mouthful and it’s much sweeter on the tongue than I expected. After the swallow there’s an oddly charming bitterness – very dry and herby but with teases of liquorice and caramel.
It’s surprisingly playful considering its slightly intimidating appearance. In true medieval fashion I’m taking the gulp approach, because to be quite honest, I think this deserves to be drunk with hearty enthusiasm. The finish gets drier and encourages you to drink more – all those flavours toying across at different points and I’m quite happy to let them run wild. Further down the glass (and towards insobriety) there’s a bit of nettle coming through – everything pulling together into a real, very English beer.
The only reservation I have with this beer is its 8% ABV – at no point during the drinking of this have I felt that strong alcohol kick or those sharp ethanol flavours. This is a balanced, herby, thoroughly enjoyable tipple and one that old King John or Ed would absolutely approve – if this was the kind of brew passed around in the 1200s then the only thing dark about the Dark Ages is the colour of their beer, because if this was available day in day out, there couldn’t be that much grumbling.
Now excuse me, I’m off to polish my armour, grab my steed and joust away the afternoon.