After all the busy times during May, last weekend was a time for relaxation, a time to get away and a time to venture outside Essex for once. One of my presents last Christmas was a trip to the Shepherd & Neame brewery in Faversham in Kent, we booked the ‘May` date in January and finally the day had come around. We set off at around 10am and made our way to the Dartford crossing, it wasn’t too busy, now the toll booths have been removed, so we were soon on the M2, heading towards our destination.
Arriving in Faversham around an hour later we managed to find the place where we were staying, the Sun Inn and booked in and had lunch. The Sun Inn has a wealth of old beams and a huge inglenook fireplace, it also has been the meeting place of Faversham gentry for centuries. With 12 en-suite bedrooms, a superb family beer garden, a restaurant and a bar, the Sun is well worth a visit any time of year and it’s not hugely expensive either. With a traditional bar and restaurant menu and many specials served each day it is a relaxing place to sample a selection of Shepherd Neame’s prize-winning Kentish ales and lagers.
After a couple of pints and a sandwich each, it was time to set off for the long awaited brewery tour. We popped just around the corner and entered the brewery through the shop, then waited for a tour guide to show us the sights. Shepherd Neame holds the title of Britain’s oldest brewer, and has been making beer at its historic site in the market town of Faversham, Kent, for more than 500 years. It still uses traditional methods and 100% natural ingredients to create a portfolio of award-winning classic ales, contemporary beers and internationally celebrated lagers.
Every beer is brewed with chalk-filtered mineral water from the brewery’s own artesian well, deep below the brewery, and 93% of the hops used in its beers are grown in Kent. Centuries of brewing experience have been passed down to the current team of brewers, who still use many traditional methods, including handcrafting beer in the UK’s last remaining unlined solid oak mash tuns.
James was our tour guide and he really knew his stuff and how to impart it in a friendly and entertaining way, it was fascinating to learn about the processes and walk around the brewery. We saw the traditional mash tuns; tasted some malted barley; smelt and tasted locally-grown Kentish hops; and saw too bygone delivery vehicles. We were also told the story of the draymen, who traditionally used to deliver the beers on a horse driven cart.
A drayman was historically the driver of a dray, a low, flat-bed wagon without sides, pulled generally by horses or mules that were used for transport of all kinds of goods. Now the term is really only used for the brewery delivery men, even though routine horse-drawn deliveries are almost entirely extinct.
We were also told they were traditionally the lowest paid staff at the brewery and how they were allowed a pint for every drop they made, you can imagine the state some arrived back in. Finally we tasted six Kentish ales and speciality lagers.
The whole experience was extremely professional and informative whilst being very entertaining. Not too many facts and figures but enough information to be able to fully understand where the tasty brews now come from.