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We visit Shepherd Neame in Faversham to find out how they make Christmas beer

By Bess Browning

As you’re swigging on your favourite festive beer, have you ever wondered how they make it taste so good? Bess Browning visits Shepherd Neame brewery to discover the step-by-step guide of making their Christmas Ale.

Shepherd Neame's Christmas Ale

Shepherd Neame's Christmas Ale

Shepherd Neame’s headquarters in Faversham is probably one of the best places in the UK to discover how beer is made because it holds the title of Britain’s oldest brewery.

They brew dozens of varieties of beer and millions of pints are poured every year, but it’s not a simple process to get it from the hop to your glass.

The Christmas Ale is a limited edition and contains ingredients pale malt, crystal malt, target hops to add to the bitterness, Hallertau Hersbrucker hops also for bitterness and Styrian Goldings hops for that aroma which makes you feel instantly festive.

With scents reminiscent of raisins, dates and molasses, with tastes of malt and toffee, it is the perfect Christmas brew.

Head brewer Richard Frost pours hops into the copper

Head brewer Richard Frost pours hops into the copper

Ten steps to creating a heavenly brew

1 The malted barley is milled through Shepherd Neame’s original 1920s Four Roller Bobby Mill to create grist. The aim is to crush the grains to expose the starchy centre of the barley seed whilst retaining the husk as a large fraction for the separation process.

 

Malted barley

Malted barley

2 The grist is mixed with hot water (known as ‘liquor’ in brewing) via a copper Steel’s Masher to create a mash in a large vessel called the Mash Tun. The heat from the liquor activates the enzymes in the barley, which then begin to convert the starches in the grains into sugars during the single temperature infusion mashing process at precisely 63°C. This results in sweet wort.

 

Draught tanks

Draught tanks

3 The Mash Tun has a false bottom, which allows the sweet wort to be drained away from the grist to a large tank known as a brew kettle or ‘Copper’. Spargingis undertaken, the process where water is added to ensure the grain’s fermentable sugars are transferred to the Copper.

The Bobby Mill in the Brewhouse

The Bobby Mill in the Brewhouse

4 The sweet wort is boiled in the Copper. The boiling process sterilises the beer. Early in the boil the Target Hops are added by hand to give the full bitter flavour of a classic ale, as the boiling isomerises the alpha acids in the hops, creating the bitterness. At the end of the boil, lashings of Hallertau Hersbrucker hops are cast into the Copper to provide the spicy hop aroma.

Cask production operative Steve Wills seals the casks

Cask production operative Steve Wills seals the casks

5 The hops are removed from the bitter (hopped wort) in the whirlpool, going to the Wort Cooler.

6 The hopped wort is moved to a Conical Fermention Vessel and Shepherd Neame’s unique yeast is added to begin fermentation. As the yeast eats the sugars created during the mash, it expels carbon dioxide and alcohol, as well as producing a variety of flavour compounds, including higher alcohols and esters.

Hops

Hops

7 The beer is moved to a draught tank where Styrian Goldings hops are added to complement the complex spicy hop flavours of Christmas Ale.

8 The beer is racked into casks, where it ferments for a second time. Finings are added to help drag the yeast to the bottom of the cask and give a clear beer. Casks come in a number of sizes, but typically contain nine gallons of beer, equivalent to 72 pints, known as a Firkin.

Special yeast added to start the fermentation process

Special yeast added to start the fermentation process

9 The casks are sealed and delivered to pubs around the country. The brew needs to continue secondary fermentation in the cellar before it ready to serve. The landlord will knock a soft spile (small wooden peg) into the shive (broad bung hammered into a hole) on the side of the cask to allow the gas to vent.

Laboratory manager Sarah Marshall checks the beer

Laboratory manager Sarah Marshall checks the beer

The soft spile will be replaced with a hard one which doesn’t let air in or gas out, and
the beer is left to settle for 24 hours.

10 A tap is knocked into the end of the cask and the pub’s bar staff pump the beer up to the bar area via beer lines, using a handpump. The customer enjoys a delicious pint of Christmas Ale.


Christmas ales from around the county

The Little Cracker is Ramsgate Brewery's Christmas special ale

The Little Cracker is Ramsgate Brewery's Christmas special ale

Little Cracker (5%) by Ramsgate Brewery. This is crafted with crystalised rye malt for a bright red-berry flavor and well bittered with a mélange of the spicier Kent hops to lend a distinctively festive character to this unique ale.

Christmas Spirit is Whitstable Brewery's Christmas special ale

Christmas Spirit is Whitstable Brewery's Christmas special ale

Christmas Spirit (4.6%) by Whitstable Brewery. Crystal malt gives this winter ale a warmth and depth of flavor perfectly suited for the festive season, while the hop blend of Amarillo and East Kent Goldings rounds it off with spices, orange peel and a balanced bitterness.

Good King Wenceslas is Goody Ale's Christmas special ale

Good King Wenceslas is Goody Ale's Christmas special ale

Good King Wenceslas (4.8%) by Goody Ales based in Herne. Slightly spiced ale, with some describing it like a mince pie in a glass.

Rockin Robin Brewery from Maidstone has the Jingle Bell Rock ale

Rockin Robin Brewery from Maidstone has the Jingle Bell Rock ale

Jingle Bell Rock (4.2%) by Rockin Robin Brewery in Maidstone. The Citra, Chinook and Cascade hops add to this American pale ale.

Santa Paws is the Mad Cat Brewery ale

Santa Paws is the Mad Cat Brewery ale

Santa Paws (4.5%) by Mad Cat Brewery in Faversham. There are hints of ginger and cinnamon in this seasonally flavoured ale. It is a chestnut brown bitter-ale and it includes Bramling Cross hops and East Kent Holdings hops grown at Syndale Farm.


 

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