Shepherd Neame Brewery, Kent, UK
The one major drawback of regional breweries is that they are, of course, regional. This is the same in all countries that value local breweries and micro-breweries over the homogenised, over-marketed brands that dominate national pub chains.
However regional is a slightly subjective term – the Dent Brewery in Cumbria hardly sells any of it’s fantastic beer outside the tiny town of Dent itself – Shepherd Neame on the other hand is what you’d describe as a major regional brewer. It sells it’s range of beers all over the South East of England, an area which includes London and some of the most populated counties in the U.K.
It was first established in 1698 by Richard Marsh in the Kent town of Faversham and it’s still there now. While the tiny Dent brewery owns one pub, Shephard Neame owns more than 350. Historically, Kent was always known as a hop growing area and the Neame family were major hop growers during this period, although they had no connection with the brewery at this point.
The original name of the brewery during Richard Marsh’s ownership is unclear but he died in 1727, leaving the business to his widow, then daughter. In 1741 she sold it to Samuel Shepherd, already an owner of several pubs and a malt brewer. Shepherd’s son Julius noted the name of the business as the Faversham Steam Brewery in 1789 after becoming the first brewery outside London to use steam power to replace horses.
A line of Shepherd’s continued the gradual expansion of the brewery with the help of John Mares, an investor, until the death of Mares and the coincidental recruitment of Percy Neame. The name of the brewery now changed from Shepherd Mares to Shepherd Neame.
Fans of real ales will be familiar with some of Shepherd Neame’s more famous brands. Spitfire is it’s biggest selling beer but Bishop’s Finger and Master Brew are also big sellers. Bishop’s Finger is actually exported to around thirty countries – maybe because of its taste, maybe because of its name.