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The French have their appelation controlée, the Germans have their rheinheitsgebot purity laws, but the British had nothing – until now.
Until Shepherd Neame unveiled its Bishops Finger Charter in 2003.
First brewed at the Faversham Brewery in 1958, Bishops Finger Strong Kentish Ale has been brewed continuously ever since and is unique in many ways.
It is certainly the only English beer to have its own Charter, which decrees that the ale must be brewed only on Fridays by the Head Brewer and that it must be tasted on a weekly basis by a member of the Board of Directors.
The Charter further stipulates that the 5.4% abv ale can only be brewed using pure artesian well water drawn from Kentish Greensand, winter pearl malting barley harvested by Roddy Loder-Symonds on Denne Hill Farm at Womenswold between Canterbury and Dover, and peerless East Kent Goldings hops, grown less than 30 miles away from the brewery.
Bishops Finger holds the rare distinction of being granted a Protective Geographic Indicator by the European Union, which means it’s the only beer in Britain entitled to be known as a Kentish strong ale.
In fact, Bishops Finger is believed to be unique in that it’s a product of a single county. It’s brewed in Kent using water from the Faversham Brewery’s artesian well and raw materials – barley and hops – grown in Kent.
The ale takes its quirky name from finger-shaped Kentish wayside signposts which pointed pilgrims the way to St Thomas à Becket’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral before it was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1538.
Bishops Finger is the name given to the premium speciality beer brewed by the Shepherd Neame Brewery at Faversham, Kent.
It derives its unusual name from an old Kentish signpost and has been brewed continuously since 1958.
It is a strong and distinctive 5.4% ABV Kentish Ale that is described by eminent beer writer Andrew Jefford in the following way:-
This ember-warm and autumnal coloured Kentish Ale takes the complex and dense, rich fruit notes of gently roasted malt and mixes them with a profusion of locally grown Kentish hops to give a satisfying, clean, dry, lingering Seville-orange finish.
The beer is produced using water drawn from Kentish Greensand. The man-made well was dug prior to 1889 and is 200 feet deep. It penetrates the upper brick earth layer then through the green-sand into the basal chalk stratum. Water is extracted 48ft below the well-head.
Although the well is only 100 yards from the sea the pressure from this artesian well keeps salt water at bay. The water is taint-free, chalky and of medium hardness.
The Winter Barley grown locally in East Kent on the Downs near Canterbury is converted to malt in Essex. The wort is infused only in traditional Mash Tuns of Russian teak built in 1914, spiced with choicest East Kent Goldings Hops grown within thirty miles of Faversham and fermented to a full 5.4% Alcohol by Volume. It holds the rare distinction of a Protective Geographic Indicator confirming its distinct identity.
It was decreed at a meeting of the Board of Directors in January 2003 that the beer must always be brewed in this time honoured way to ensure the highest standards of perfection; to be brewed only on Fridays and only by the Head Brewer; always to contain Kentish Malted Barley; to be presented to a member of the Board for personal approval on a weekly basis and to be celebrated at an annual Hop Blessing Church Service in September.
We hope that Bishops Finger will be considered to be the ultimate and finest bottled ale in the world.