Shepherd Neame: 1698 (England: English Strong Ale: 6.5% ABV)

Visual: Clear caramel brown. Fizzy white head of moderate size but does not last long. Some small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Light toffee. Light black cherry. Light chalk.

Body: Christmas cake. Light chalk. Odd mix of thin and chewy mouthfeel. Light liquorice. Brown bread. Slight sulphur. Walnuts.

Finish: Light chalk. Light liquorice. Brown bread. Christmas cake. Almonds. Slightly earthy. Greenery and sage. Dry marzipan.

Conclusion: I don’t know if the time in the bottle hurt it rather than helped it, despite this being bottle conditioned, but when I first took a sip of this it felt like something there wasn’t working. It felt a bit light up front. Now it was close to working, there was subtle toffee and black-cherry in the aroma, which is a good standby of an English Strong Ale, but those elements didn’t follow through into the body.

The body instead calls to Christmas cake, but with a savoury walnut like backing before heading out into an earthy and even more obviously nutty finish. Which all seems pretty appropriate as this was first bought at Christmas and – well Christmas cake is pretty obviously appropriate to that, and I can just about wedge the nuttiness in under that to claim there is some sort of thematic consistency going on here. Probably.

It feels light early on, which is a fair flaw – occasionally showing the weight this beer needs, but it was disappointing. As time goes on the layers seem to build up so it feels a lot more present at the end, which makes it much more satisfying. As said at the start, initially this felt like the time in the bottle had hurt rather than helped it, and it was very much that early lack of weight that was the most obvious tell of that.

So, how is it when it has had some time to build up that flavour and weight? Well now it is very nutty, which is ok but I do feel disappointed that the Black Cherry and the Christmas cake notes seem to have fallen by the wayside as they could really have done with some more play. In return there has been an increase in savoury greenery and earthy hop bitterness which does the job at rounding it out.

Overall, takes a while to get going, but solid when it does – nutty, earthy and very present. Not shiny and exciting but a solid enough beer to spend time with.

Background: This beer has had quite the journey to get to these tasting notes. It was originally grabbed by my family for when I was going to head up last Christmas. Anyway, so covid was everywhere, so I never went up north, but since my family don’t drink this style of beer they kept it until we could finally meet up. Many thanks! So, this is now fairly close to its best before date of November 2011, but as it is bottle conditioned hopefully that should not be an issue, or may even make it better. We shall see. Went with Garbage V 2.0 as backing music, because that album is a classic and thus should be listened to regularly.

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