Shepherd Neame, Britain’s Oldest Brewery

J.M. Towers

The family owned brewery has been making beer at its historic site in the town of Faversham, Kent, for over 500 years.

When you think of Great Britain, the first things that come to mind are its capital, London, The Beatles, Queen Elizabeth II, tea time—and beer, of course.

Beer is a centuries-old tradition in the British Isles, and Shepherd Neame is one of the country’s most representative breweries. Founded in 1698, it is the oldest firm of Great Britain; but its origins date back to even earlier times.

Shepherd Neame Brewery.

Shepherd Neame has its headquarters in
Faversham, a town in the Swale District in the county of Kent in England. The relationship between this city and beer is quite intricate. Many of its inhabitants work in a factory that bears its name since 1864 when the Neame family took control of the town.

Already in the 12th century, the monks of Cluny in France were attracted here by the quality of the Faversham water, excellent for beer production. So much so, that, in 1147, they decided to build a monastery in this area. By the 16th century, there were 250 industries in the city, and 84 of them were engaged in the production of beer.

Enjoying a pint outside the brewery

Shepherd Neame is considered one of the oldest beer factories in England, and throughout its long history, it has never stopped production. For Shepherd Neame, the sense of preservation of tradition and an illustrious past persists in the art of brewing, which currently uses steam equipment and barrels dating from 1910, made of debarked teak for the malt infusion.

The factory sits on an artesian well that provides high-quality water, and local hops are added to the hoppers during the process of cooking the wort. After that, an excellent type of yeast is used to finish the fermentation process, which once completed will rest in barrels or bottles, for a time that can vary according to low or high fermentation beers, lager or ale.

Hops are one of the emblems of Kent County, and Charles Dickens himself quotes it in his novel The Pickwick Papers when he says that the region produces “apples, cherries, hops and women.”

More than 30 different brands are produced daily in the Faversham brewery, including labels as suggestive as the Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger, Master Brew, Generation Ale, or HMQ Celebration, which are exported to every corner of the globe.

The most famous, and best-selling, are
Spitfire and Bishops Finger.

The first is a tribute to the Spitfire fighter aircraft and to the heroic pilots of the RAF (Royal Air Force) who, during the Battle of Britain flew to defend their country from Nazi air attacks during World War II.

Bishops Finger takes its name from the finger-pointing signals that showed pilgrims the way where the tomb of
Thomas Becket was located, in Canterbury.

Stewart Main

Inside the brewery

Both beers, made with high-fermenting yeast, are of the ale type—so popular among the British—and represent the best of a family business that continues to produce beers with the same taste and care of yesteryear.

© | 2019