I have in front of me a bottle of Shepherd Neame’s ‘1698’. It is a rather nice looking bottle, and a nice looking beer, too, pouring a lovely dark caramel with a thin, creamy head that doesn’t hang around for too long but clings to the glass for as long as it does.
With an ABV ratio of 6.5%, it’s a beer to drink when you want to get drunk on beer, and not in a Haywards 5000 kind of way. Shepherd Neame is Britain’s oldest brewery, with a chronology that officially dates back to 1698, and unofficially extends even beyond that year.
This particular beer was first brewed in 1998, to celebrate the 300th birthday of Shepherd Neame. In the fifteen years since, 1698 has acquired not only Protected Geographical Identification (akin to Champagne, Parma ham, Cognac and several awesome cheeses of the European Union), but has also made it to the International Beer Challenge’s World’s Top Fifty Beers list, automatically deeming it a beer I’d want to drink, and I drank it, and it is good, and I am happy.1698 is also a bottle conditioned beer, meaning that instead of carbonating the beer artificially, the guys at Shepherd Neame decided instead to throw some yeast into the bottle, thus allowing the beer to carbonate naturally after bottling. It also means that, like wine, the brew will continue to age ferment while it sits waiting for you on the shelves of a decent liquor store. Let it settle for ten minutes, and look for a small amount of yeast sediment at the bottom of your glass.
The beer claims to be “thrice hopped”, and though it isn’t quite as hoppy as some other European beers I’ve had, the grassiness is apparent in both aroma and taste, countered with some bitter fruitiness on the tongue and a slightly spicy finish that eventually settles at the back of your throat and creeps its way into your breath. It smells strongly of roasted malts, with a slight sweetness that isn’t quite as apparent in the taste, probably due to the heat of the alcohol. Might be a bit sharp for some, but will go down your throat well if you love a stiff drink with layered flavours.
1698 isn’t the best beer I’ve had, but it’s got character. It’s history in a bottle that you can buy for a few hundred bucks and get drunk on. Do it.