Bishops Finger is a premium ale from Shepherd Neame, England’s oldest independent brewers, founded in 1698.
Shepherd Neame brew in the town of Faversham in the heart of what used to be Kent’s hop growing country. These days most of the hop fields have gone, and the traditional ‘oast houses’ used to dry the hops have been converted into chic homes for architects and graphic designers.
As well as brewing a range of well respected Ales such as Masterbrew, Shepherd Neame are responsible for the production of a number of foreign lagers under licence for the UK market. Their range includes local brews of Asahi, Holsten, Hurlimann, Kingfisher, Oranjeboom, and Sun Lik lagers. While I am in no way a fan of brewing under licence (check my review of Staropramen for example) it has helped a great brewer like Shepherd Neame to retain their independence.
Bishops Finger takes its name from distinctive finger post signposts that can still be seen in Kent. The signposts used to guide the pilgrims on their way from London to Canterbury to the shrine of Saint Thomas a Becket – as in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury tales.
It was first brewed in 1958 as a celebration of the end of austerity after the end of the second world war. While the war ended in 1945, many foodstuffs were rationed until well into the fifties, supplies of malt to brewers were restricted and the government’s instruction to brewers was to brew quantity not quality.
Rationing ended in 1954, but the air of austerity pervaded throughout the fifties. Bishops Finger was brewed as an unashamedly strong premium ale.
It also has Protected Geographic Status – Bishops Finger can only be brewed in Kent, with ingredients from that county, indeed Shepherd Neame have gone further, insisting that it is only brewed on a Friday, by the Head Brewer, using mash tuns of Russian Teak that date back to 1914. The resulting brew is tasted each week by a member of the company’s Board of Directors, and blessed annually in a special Hop Blessing service at a local church.
People in Kent take their hops and their ales very seriously indeed.
Enough history… what does it taste like?
Well before we even get to open the bottle, you’re struck by the regal, purple and gold label. I can think of no other label that features purple, and it’s certainly distinctive, it oozes class.
As you pour the beer you get a rich, white foamy head and a wonderful sound. It’s the first beer where I’ve actually noticed the rich sloosh of the pour. The head dissipates slowly, leaving a healthy lacing down the glass. The beer itself is a dark copper colour, a deep auburn almost titian.
You won’t be surprised to learn that, as you’d expect from people that take their hops so seriously, the nose is rich and hoppy, Goldings hops, deep and hoppy, not bright and flowery like an IPA, or a lager, but warm evocative autumnal notes that go really well with that auburn colour.
The flavour? Well those rich Goldings hops kick in first, followed by a mellow toffee flavour, with hints of fruit, almost toffee apples, but with an underlying spiciness and, of course a healthy 5.4% ABV. The body is pleasing, not too full bodied, and not too light. In no way a session beer, but something to be savoured and treated with respect.
Having gone public and stated my scoring guidelines, I think this definitely merits 4 stars “Something that does what it sets out to, and does it well“.