21 October 2010

Cheap Shep set sesh

For as long as Lidl keep bringing out cheap Shepherd Neame specials, I'll keep buying them. Some day they'll produce something as good as Bishop's Finger or 1698. But that day is yet to come. There were three in the latest round, labelled as the "Master Brewer's Choice", all 4% ABV and on sale for the totally-worth-a-punt sum of €1.49 each.

The most promising of the three was called Tapping the Admiral but the anticipation was short-lived: when the cap came off there wafted out an unmerciful stench of lightstruck hops. Open a window and don't nobody smoke: something's crawled into this beer and died. Of dysentry. Ignoring the stink, the beer is an attractive gold colour, but that's it's best feature. Amazingly there's no trace of those pungent hops in the flavour. Instead there's a woeful sickly cheap-chocolate sweetness. This is apparently supposed to evoke brandy, but offers no heat, no wood and no fruit; just a box of Milk Tray from three Christmases ago you found at the back of a cupboard. Avoid.

Autumn Blaze was next. It looks the part, all auburn and russet and the other adjectives from that shelf in the hair dye section. There's no assault on the olfactory nerve, though up close it has a sort of maple syrup woody stickiness. Nothing really jumps out in the flavour: a little bit of roastiness but there's nothing more than fizzy water behind it. Put it on cask to bring out the malt more and this would perform adequately as a workhouse brown bitter. As-is it's perfectly drinkable, but so laid back flavourwise as to be comatose. Your granddad will like it.

Palest of the lot is 4-4-2, with its daft claim to use ten different hop varieties. Using up leftovers, were we? This made its first appearance during the World Cup and my first impressions on tasting it is that they've gone straight for the lager-swilling demographic. Rather than the cascade (see what I did there?) of multitudinous hop flavours it has a vaguely grassy Germanic feel to it. Beneath that there's slight toasty malt and lots of fizz. If the aim was to produce a clone of Beck's or Carlsberg then they've done a bang-up job. But as a tasty pale ale it's a poor show.

And there you have it: two beers that are so-so in their own way and one absolute (literal) stinker. In all honestly I can't say if there's better beer going for €1.50 a half litre in Dublin. Maybe the Franziskaner next to it in Lidl. I'm actually slightly intrigued as to what the Shep-Lidl Alliance is going to throw at us next. I dub this game "Kentish Roulette".


  1. I don't know what surprises you about awful beers from Shep's!

  2. In this case, just how roaringly awful one of them is. But I know they're capable of decent beers, even in clear bottles, so there'll always be at least €1.50 worth of benefit accruing from the doubt.

  3. The draught 442 was the best I've tasted from Sheps.

  4. Great post. What other beer games am I missing? Stout Chicken, Hand to Hand Ale?

  5. Bockaroo? Tripel Pursuit? Gose Who? Sparklers of Catan? The Game of Leffe?

  6. I was in Lidl this morning and almost bought the 5L minicask of the own brand Hefeweisse. Anyone tried it?

  7. Aye that's the one, cheers!

  8. Our local Lidl's were offering two Shep's bottled beers at £1.00 each. One was "Tapping the Admiral" that you mention in your post. I'm glad I didn't buy that one, but I did buy one called "Dragonfire", brewed from malted barley, oats, rye and wheat, and bittered with Golding hops - according to the blurb on the back. The label also states the beer is "Ideal for St George's Day." Well, they're either seven months too late, or five months too early!

    ps. I haven't tried the beer yet.

  9. So these are brewed by Sheps for Lidl?! A match made in heaven!?!

  10. Ok,

    I know I'm going to be a tad bit off subject here, but I need to ask...

    Why does it seem that so many English and Scottish breweries seem to favor clear bottles? Is it tradition or something else? I love the look of many clear bottles, but we know that all the extra light that they let in is never good for the beer.

    So why so many clear bottles?

    On to the beers themselves ;)

    I've actually heard of the 442 from a friend who tired it recently up when he was in the UK and actually enjoyed it.

    Again, sorry for the off topic question!


  11. I'm less and less keen on SN beers. Their porter impressed me a couple of years back, as did the version they make for ASDA. Whitstable Bay blew my mind when I first had it, but I can barely stomach it now. Are they getting worse or am I getting fussier?

  12. Hi Ilya. It's a marketing thing: to make the beer look good on the shelves. They're taking a gamble that the product will shift fast enough to not get lightstruck. Perhaps it even works some places, but not here. Shepherd Neame have even switched recently from shipping the bottles in cardboard boxes to trays shrink-wrapped in clear plastic, something their PR guy wasn't even aware of when asked about the whole thing.

    Bailey, I couldn't say. I've never liked Whitstable Bay or Spitfire, but Bishop's Finger and 1698 are still enjoyable.

  13. The current sainsburys taste the difference porter is theirs and quite good, i think its different to the asda whitechapel porter, less smokey?
    however the shep neame 'early bird' is dreadful.

  14. It certainly is. I bought their Sainsbury's Kentish Bitter today for some reason. It's probably bloody Spitfire, isn't it?

  15. um i'm afraid it might be 'early bird' actually? (so says ratebeer).
    i saw it yesterday but decided to buy fullers golden pride instead - wise choice.

  16. I had the Autumn Blaze over the weekend. I needed beer on a very wet night in Tralee. I ran out of beer in the fridge of the camper. So on my bike and cycled in the rain to Lidl knowing there should be some Shephard Neame available as well as Franziskaner. I was not disappointed when I arrived though perhaps a little by the beer itself (Autumn Blaze that is).

    That said I did finish the 4 bottles I bought and I did enjoy them. They were however boring.

    Like TBN, I love Bishops finger but the others just seem so much the same that I find them boring.

  17. Stephen Harris11:47 am

    I confess that I've been drinking Shepherd Neame beers since I was 15 and at school in Kent. The Master Brew was then a seriously hoopy beer with a farmyard smell. Bishop's Finger came in little nip bottles and Stock Ale was a Chrstmas-time special. The rosy-glow of nostalgia says they were all great.
    Everything changed in my view when the brewery ditched its erratic old yeast for a well-behaved replacement and switched to pelletised hops and hop resins (c. 1990?). Result, much blander beers, still blander when bottled. Like Greene King they are chasing a mass market, not a specialist market.
    The introduction of short brew runs in the past 12 months has led to the production of some much more interesting beers. As others have said, the cask version of 4-4-2 was one of the best.