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Beer Hall at Hawkshead Brewery #2

Sheps takes a shine to Brilliant Ale

Added: Saturday, May 18th 2013

If you think golden ales are a modern phenomenon, it’s time to revise your opinion, for Shepherd Neame has launched a beer, Brilliant Ale, that’s a pale straw colour – and it was brewed in the first half of the 19th century when pale ales were in their infancy.

The bottled beer, 5.6%, is the latest in the brewery’s Classic Collection and follows Double Stout and India Pale Ale, which were brewed in 2012. Britain’s oldest brewer, based at the heart of the Kent hop fields in Faversham, has dug deep into old recipe books to recreate beers from the past.

Double Stout and India Pale Ale were first brewed in 1868 and 1870 respectively but Brilliant Ale predates them by several decades. Brewery folklore says the bright straw-coloured Brilliant Ale was inspired by the early morning sun sending its golden shafts of light through the brewhouse window. According to the brewery’s archives, the recipe was formulated with 100% pale malt and was bittered by the brewery’s signature East Kent Goldings hops.

Head brewer Richard Frost (pictured) says: “According to brewery records, Brilliant Ale was first brewed sometime between 1825 and 1855, making it our oldest Classic Collection beer to date. Although we’ve rejuvenated it by using the modern hop variety Cascade, we’re staying true to the spirit of this great pale ale, which was hugely popular in its day.”

Historically, Brilliant Ale is a fascinating beer as pale ales were made possible in the 19th century by the development of pale malt cured over coke fires thanks to the new technologies of the industrial revolution. Prior to coke-fired kilns, malt was cured by wood fires that created brown malt.

Records suggest that the first pale “India Ale” was produced in East London for the India trade by a brewer named Hodgson. But the style grew rapidly when it was taken up brewers in Burton-on-Trent, who were able to use the spring waters of the Trent Valley, rich in sulphates, to create pale and intensely hoppy India Pale Ales.

IPAs were high in alcohol to help the beer withstand the long sea journey to India. Beers of lower strength for the domestic market were called pale ale and it’s clear from the Shepherd Neame archive that the style was not confined to London and Burton.

Brilliant Ale has a rich honey malt aroma with a fruit note reminiscent of orange and lemon slices confectionery. The beer’s nose is underpinned by a good spicy hop note. Bitter hops build in the mouth, balanced by caramelised fruits and juicy malt. The finish is superbly balanced by honey malt, tart and tangy citrus fruit and peppery hops.

The beer is presented in a traditional amber glass bottle embellished with the brewery’s 19th-century logo on the label, neck and crown. The historic labels that inspired the new design, along with a Brilliant Ale poster printed on sugar paper – thought to be Sheperd Neame’s oldest surviving advertisement – are on display in the brewery. For information of brewery tours, see

Brilliant ale is available in 500ml bottles from all good stockists and online


Richard Frost