Tuesday, May 03, 2011

English Ale Tasting

I've mentioned a couple of times, but back in February I had the opportunity to spend some time in London, and lucky me brought a few beers back. Since then I've been looking for time to sit down and have a few of them, and well that time turned out to be last week. Joined by fellow beer geek Chris, we sat down to 5 different English Ales.
Adnam's Innovation: First up was this beer from Adnam's who are very well known for their solid best bitter. Innovation is labeled as a Strong Amber Pale Ale and weighs in at 6.7%. Its made with a blend of wheat and pale malts as well as a blend of American, English and Solvenian hops: Columbus, Stryian Goldings, and Boadicea (A welsh hop that I''m not very familiar with). The beer poured a golden amber color with a thin white head. The nose has some earthy funky, citrus, and some wheat notes. The mouthfeel is smooth, citrus flavors, earthy notes, a little bit of funkyness, but I think that's from the wheat malt. Some resiny qualities show up on the finish and linger. Chris thought (and I agreed) that was a Cider like edge up front before falling off into a more hoppy beer. Light bodied, a good interesting beer.
Fraoch Heather Ale: This is probably one of the brews I was most excited to try. Heather ales have a very long history in Scotland. Hops have never grown well in Scotland and therefore most of their beers are very low hopped, but to add some bitterness to brews they would often use herbs, and flowers in making beer. Heather Ale was one of the most famous and there are many popular stories told about long lost Pict recipes that I won't get into in this post (maybe some other time, or better yet over a beer). Fraoch is owned by Williams Brothers Brewery in Scotland and makes a few different Historical Ales, this being just one. This Heather Ale is made in the traditional method, with sweet gale and heather added to the hot wort, then upon cooling its poured into a vat of fresh heather where the mixture is then left to infuse for an hour before entering the fermenter. This is a lighter beer at 5% and pours a pale golden color with a thin head. The nose is sweet syrupy, some roasted malts, some scotch ale characteristics. The mouthfeel is medium, flavors of crystal malts, light floral notes, wine-y notes. Flavors of white grapes, herbal, sweet. A very interesting beer. A weird blend of what we think of a typical scotch ale, with other wine-y herbal notes.
Kernel Brewing Black IPA: Yes everyone is getting into the Black IPA, Black India Ale, Dark Cascadian Ale, whatever you want to call it. This beer is from what has quickly become my favorite British Brewery weighs in at 7% and brewed with lots of American hops. The beers a very very dark brownish black, almost opaque with a taupe colored head. The nose is greeted with a wallop of Cascade and maybe a hint of malts, but its hard to break through all those hops. The mouthfeel is chewy, you get some good English malts like maris otter before being blind sided by American hops. There is some astringency, but its not unpleasant and adds a balance between the plethora of hops and the hint of a malt backbone.
Brewdog Nanny State: This next beer from the Brewing Bad Boys of Scotland has a funny story behind it. When Brewdog brewed Tokio an 18% behemoth it caused the British Government to go into an uproar about responsible drinking and that high abv beers would cause alcoholism, public lewdness, and basically the end of the world. In answer to this outburst the folks at Brewdog released this beer, a 0.5% beer with 1000 ibu's. As much as I was looking forward to trying this beer, I did not hold any illusions that it would actually taste good (foreshadowing alert!). The beer poured a reddish amber with a slightly off white head. Hops and more hops, and what is that, oh yes more hops on the nose. The first sip is hard, its like hop tea, hop tea that's been steeped waaaaaayyy to long. Very tannic tasting. Chris mentioned boiled celery but I couldn't get past the tannins. For reference, take a couple of those hop pellets you can get at the home brew store. Make sure you are really thirsty, and your mouth is dry. Now eat the pellets...don't drink any water. That about sums up the experience. Which it was an interesting one, but interesting experiences don't always make good beer.
Robinson Old Tom: Probably one of the beers I was most looking forward too. Old Tom is widely regarded as one of the great beers of England and at the top of the list for anyone that wants to try a great Old Ale. Hefty for your typical British beer, this one weighs in at 8.8% and pours a dark brown with ruby highlights. The nose has notes of toffee, plum, fruity and some alcohol esters, some chocolate even. The mouthfeel is chewy, notes of cherry, figs, plums. The beer finishes like a port, leggy when swirled in the glass. Dark fruits, concentrated dark cherries, molasses, vinous, and a little coco. This is a wonderful beer and a great representation of the Old Ale style. Some sweetness, but not cloyingly so..

Well that finishes up a great British Ale session. A wide range of English ales. Traditional, historical, cutting edge, and one blending the best of American and English brews. English Ales are some of the best in the world and their micro brew culture is growing in leaps and bounds with folks producing some out standing brews.

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