So, back to Kent for this one, but one that oddly reminds me more of the Norfolk Broads. Perhaps it is the label or just my contrary nature. For whatever reason, tonight I am reviewing the lovely offering from Shepherd Neame (being brewed under a subsidiary known as Faversham Steam Brewery for reasons unknown) known as Whitstable Bay.
I should, in the interests of fairness, point out that this was drunk at someone else's house. I'm not sure what difference this makes (if any) but thought it worthy of attention.
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The first thing to note is the organic boast on the bottle, immediately bringing to mind Against the Grain (here), and so, like that one, I was expecting some great things. On opening there was a good smell about it: deep fruit with a citrus and bitter edge to it; and the pouring went well with a decent head without making too much of a fuss. In that respect it was quintessentially English and almost like a good butler - dignified and austere without being too standoffish. Indeed, the head avoided creaminess or frothiness and seemed, to me, to be the result of good brewing. Goodness, I'm sounding like Remains of the Day!
First taste was a sharp tang on contact, indicating good hops, with a malty undertone but all this plays second fiddle to a deceptively delicate hops taste that combined well with the yeast to give a light nuttiness overall. In that respect it does put me in mind of Nutty Black (link) and that's no bad thing, almost warming on a cold night I feel, and I imagine it would be forgiving if it were a warm night too. Combined with reading a book, as I was, and after a good Chinese take-out (Singapore Noodles if you must know) it did very well indeed. It knows its place, and at 4.5% ABV it was neither too strong nor horrifically weak and so didn't fade with tasting nor grow boring. Good show. Overall, a light and airy taste that recalls, but is much more forgiving than, Bishop's Finger (link) though lacks the burning warmth of Late Red (here) or the hoppy adventures of Wild Swan (clicky) or Proper Job (here).
I enjoyed it. It did the job of being a decent enough ale without dominating proceedings or the evening and did so even after some pretty strong tastes earlier. It was smooth enough to be enjoyed but fiery enough to have character. I think, depending on what you're after, it has many positive similarities with Amber Ale (here) and could serve nicely as a warmer or a cooler (with chilling) in either of the extreme seasons. Maybe not a sessionable ale, more an old person's brew to relax at the end of a hard day (which I cannot claim to have had in advance of this beer).
Enjoyed best, as hinted on the bottle itself, on the Norfolk Broads of an evening after boating throughout the day. Wind has rushed through your hair and now howls against the sides of your wherry whilst you are tucked up in the small boat-sized bed with a small lamp, preferably a flickering candle one, and a good book with the satisfied feeling of a good meal inside you.