Thursday, 29 September 2011

Day 138, Beer 138 - Shepherd Neame's "Canterbury Jack"

Today's Beer

Name – Canterbury Jack

Brewer – Shepherd Neame

Classification – Bitter

Strength – 4.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep, vibrant orange gold.

On the nose – Nutty. In fact, this is a very serious nut-case, bordering on insane. (Yes, I know. Poor gag.)

On the tongue – Well, there's a real story here. (Read on...)

On the subject – Legend has it that the cask version of this started life as an occasional beer, but punter power was victorious yet again, and Shepherd Neame grasped the opportunity to entirely funk-up the recipe as well as the branding. And, for the benefit of all you cynics out there – yes, 'funk-up' was spelled correctly.

On the market – Perhaps not the most ubiquitous title of the Shepherd Neame range, but still found regularly in Tesco. For the housebound, the agrophobic and the downright lazy there's always

On the

Full Review

What do we really mean by 'proper' beer?

Well, due to the abundant variety of humanoids currently active in this mortal realm, I'd say we all mean something every so slightly different when we use such subjective words.

So let me quickly narrow it down and simply deal with what I mean by 'proper' beer.

I'm feeling the need to do this because as soon as I'd taken my first sip of today's beer, I found myself declaring (actually out loud) that 'proper beer' was exactly what this ale was.

But a few short moments later, and I began to wonder what this spontaneous statement actually meant, and I soon realised it's nothing like as straightforward as I'd first imagined.

Having eventually set aside a bunch of unsatisfactory definitions for 'proper' such as 'superior', 'conventional', 'normal' and even 'as God intended' - I was finally left with the only definition which seemed to comfortably fit with Canterbury Jack.

'Proper, traditional tasting beer'.

However, this was actually quite a surprising conclusion to reach, given the label's claim that this a 'contemporary ale', a claim which is ably enhanced by some uncharacteristically 'groovy' Shepherd Neame branding. (Uncharacteristic, but also rather nice.)

So what had gone wrong here? Why did the label and the branding say one thing, whilst the beer itself was saying something quite different, albeit deliciously so?

It didn't take long for this question to be answered, and the solution came in the form of a few further sips. Sips which revealed that some seriously clever work has gone on in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse.

What they've managed to do here, is create a beer which takes all the best aspects of 'traditional ale' and then puts the most marvellous and ingeniously subtle ultra-modern 'spin' on its own identity.

By steering clear of heavy syrupy malts, by keeping the malt flavour contributions limited to savoury biscuit and nut themes, and by then ramping up the citrus via some vividly bitter hops, they've created a beer which bridges that pesky ever-widening gap between the two increasingly divergent and resolute camps of 'old beer' and 'new beer'.

As such bridging attempts go (and there are quite a few on the market these days) this is easily one of the most successful. Whether these bridge beers will ultimately manage to keep the warring camps connected is yet to be seen. Many would argue that its a question of either/or, and there's no hope for the 'in-betweeners', but I'm pretty sure that fine beers like this one are enough to make anyone stop and reconsider.

I really can't imagine any beer lover not finding this brew 'perfectly drinkable' at the very least, and I can imagine plenty more who would notch it up as an instant favourite. It's just a question of those drinkers and these bottles coming together in the first place, and that all depends on bridging beers 'catching on'.

Personally, I think it's something of a missed opportunity in the industry at present. The recent surge in creativity and experimentation within the world of craft brewing has created a divide, everyone knows it, and these 'bridge beers' should now be announcing themselves as such, taking on a clear self-identity all of their own, rather than trying to appeal to both opposing factions all at once which can make them appear aimless, mercenary, or as something which ultimately reflects nothing that either side really 'stands for'.

With the creation an entirely separate 'third way' camp – a clearly defined middle-ground alternative wherein good all-round, well-balanced beers are the name of the game – a whole new following could be found.

I live in hope...

In the meantime, this is a perfect example of this new, connective kind of beer.

Nutty, biscuity, richly bitter, medium bodied, crisp, dry, and greatly enhanced by dynamic highly-hopped citrus – this truly is a beer to suit every taste.

And, on reflection, perhaps that's what I really meant by 'proper beer'.

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