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Shepherd Neame: Hop on the Tour

On April 23, 2009

Several weeks before touring the Shepherd Neame brewery in Faversham I knew I was going to enjoy the tour and not just because it ends with a sampling followed by a half pint of free beer; no, my enjoyment began when I called the brewery from stateside to ask a few questions and was greeted by an actual person and a friendly, knowledgeable person at that.

After scoping out the terrain and finding – much to my delight – another example of to the point UK signage –

I love British warning signs.

I love British warning signs.

we arrived early (surprise, surprise as Gomer would say) at the hop decorated visitors entrance to the brewery

Shepherd Neame entrance

Shepherd Neame entrance

For a few minutes I thought we might be the only ones taking the tour but it was full by the time the appointed hour arrived.

The tour begins

The tour begins

Unforgivably, I do not recall the name of the young female tour guide. She was definitely old enough and professional enough to be called a woman but she was also a “girl” (a term I normally disdain in the workplace) in the modern, feisty sense of the word: obviously, she knew her way around the brewery, beer and most probably a bar. She was in charge of the facts, the tour and the group. Don’t know how many times a week she gives this tour but her presentation was friendly and had the feel of being off the cuff.

To be honest, my grasp of the brewing process is fingertip at best – this despite the fact that I’ve been on a couple of tours. Like Justice Stewart who wrote that “I know pornography when I see it”, I know good beer when I taste it – which I do quite frequently when travelling in England but I’m not quite sure how it gets to be beer. Still, the tour was full of interesting sights and facts beginning with the red beer delivery motorcycle found in the brewery’s entrance alley…

Our guide and-to the rear-red delivery motorcycle

Our guide and-to the rear-red delivery motorcycle

and followed by the still-in-use fermenting tank that dates from 1914.

Inside a fermenting tank

Inside a fermenting tank

Over the course of the tour we learned of Shepherd Neame’s growth from its 1698 roots as a brewery over an artesian well to its present day eminence as the producer of a wide range of products from cask ales to keg and bottled beers. They are also the UK licensees for such brands as Asahi and Samuel Adams and they operate 369 pubs in the southeast of England along with 400 rooms to let.

Modern windows tell the history of SN

Modern windows tell the history of SN

The tour ended with a tutored tasting of several brews, my favorite being a warm, cloudy Spitfire Premium Ale. Clutching our “free beer” coupons we then returned to the SN bar near the visitors entrance for our half pints – luckily for my friend, having had several tastings I generously handed my coupon over for his use and contented myself watching a group of festival street performers take their a short break; then it was back out to the streets of Faversham for a little Punch and Judy.

Performers similar to those who took their break at SN.

Performers similar to those who took their break at SN.

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