Archive for the ‘English Ale’ Category

Newcastle in a can?

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Newcastle Brown AleYes, it is true, straight out of Pineapple Express. I’m excited cause it means I can have this decent brown without the skunk flavor that pervades the bottled version.

From Scottish & Newcastle, Newcastle pours a ruddy brown, quite clear, with a bit of creamy tan head. The nose is fairly malty, with notes of caramel and toast. There is a prominent cooked corn sweetness to the aroma, indicating dimethyl sulfide(DMS). Some consider this an integral part of the character of certain beers, but I’d call it a flaw.

The flavor is strongly corny, with a bit of malt in the background and prominent sweetness. There is just a hint of dark malt character coming off as a bit of roastiness. The palate is smooth and creamy, almost satiny.

-Newcastle Brown Ale

2.9 (3-6-5-4-11)

Sam Smithathon

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Samuel Smith’s is a large independent brewery in Tadcaster, England. They are probably the most well known (in the U.S. at least), despite not being as old as Shepherd Neame nor as large as Charles Wells. Well I’ve got a couple interesting bottles to try.

Sam Smith Old Brewery Pale AleThe first bottle I have is the Old Brewery Pale Ale, Sam Smith’s classic pale ale. It pours with a light, somewhat unearthly haze. The beer is a beautiful caramel and the tan head, though thin, is creamy and lasts. The nose indicates this bottle hasn’t lasted the journey particularly well. I can detect an herbal character from noble hops, but the strongest aromas are the cider and cardboard that indicate the progression of oxidation.

The flavor is much of what I expect from the aroma: a flat, cardboardy flavor with hints of cider. I also notice a bit of the buttery flavor characteristic of many English beers. There is an unpleasant astringent bitterness and a hint of corny caramel sweetness that is not nearly enough to balance it. The palate is just a bit sticky but for the most part is reasonably creamy and full.

-Sam Smith Old Brewery Pale Ale

2.4 (3-5-4-3-9)

Sam Smith Organic LagerNext up is the Organically Produced Lager. This is a brilliantly clear very pale corn yellow with just a bit of bone white head. Like the beers it is emulating this lager has almost no aroma, just a hint of cooked corn. A bit of malt comes through as well, proving this one has quality production.

The flavor is light and refreshing. Though there is a strong character of corn, there is also plenty of malt flavor and even a hint of hop bitterness. The palate is smooth and lively, but almost approaches cloying. Overall a well executed lager from somewhere already trusted to produce quality ales.

+Sam Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer

3.1 (3-5-6-4-13)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Hook Norton Twelve Days

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Hook Norton Twelve DaysFrom the steam-powered Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire comes Twelve Days. At 5.5% alcohol this is a relatively weak English Christmas ale.

Twelve Days pours a dark ruddy brown. The head is a creamy tan, but the low level of carbonation makes it timid. A stale cidery aroma is all I can smell, almost like an old barrel. The flavor is somewhat sweet and significantly cidery as well. A bit of caramel malt comes through, and a hint of hops. This beer doesn’t seem like it travelled very well.

-Hook Norton Twelve Days

2.4 (3-4-5-3-9)

12 Beers of X-Mas: St. Peter’s Winter Ale

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

St Peters Winter AleSt. Peter’s Brewery located in The Saints, Suffolk, brews a number of good beers but doesn’t have the sense to put them in bottles that respect them. Respect Beer. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea. See, their bottles are recreations of an eighteenth century one found near Philadelphia. Or, at least they used to be. Now the export bottles are a round version of it. The problem is that the glass is a very transparent green tint, which allows in unreasonable amounts of ultraviolet light. UV light facilitates a reaction between the riboflavin provided by the yeast and the bittering compounds of the hops that produces a very particular flavor compound. It is this compound that is the characteristic flavor and aroma of every green and clear glass beer, such as Heineken, Corona, and Tsing Tao. It is that import flavor known technically as skunking. All beer will develop this outside on a bright day if you’re not careful (give it a try, it’s fun. get something hoppy but cheap). I’ve heard from an inside source that one brewing company (I won’t name names…) has gone so far as to build a room in their packaging operations that exposes the beer to a measured amount of ultraviolet light to make sure kegs (which never see day) and anything else that doesn’t get much light will still have the proper amount of that skunky goodness.

Winter Ale pours a very dark mahogany that is almost black. The head is creamy and khaki. The nose is roast and skunky. Roast and caramel malts fight to be noticed behind the intrusive off-flavor. It is a little sweet, and I notice a bit of a spiciness. The flavor is strongly bitter at front, with a lingering sweetness. Roast malt tastes of coffee. There is a bit of noble hop herbal flavor as well as the omnipresent skunk. Very cloying.

-St. Peter’s Winter Ale

2.9 (3-6-6-2-12)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Santa’s Butt

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Another Christmas beer from Ridgeway tonight: Santa’s Butt. The name is a play on the old porter designation ‘entire butt’.

Santa’s Butt is dark and thick, and smells surprisingly sweet. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Seriously, it is a deep chocolate with hint of caramel. The head is sticky but the bubbles are large so it doesn’t last long and it’s a bit swiss-cheesy. The nose is a bit sweet, with strong roast malts which come out as coffee and baking chocolate. There’s a bit of a fruitiness as well, like gumballs.

Coffee and dark caramelized sugar (almost burnt) tastes come out from the roast malt right away. A light bitterness balances the flavor: it ends up quite mild. The palate is full and rich. It lingers just a little, though, so it ends up a bit too intense for a flavor this mild. Perhaps that would be a bit better colder.

+Santa’s Butt

3.2 (3-6-7-3-13)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Pickled Santa

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

So while I tasted the beer for last night, I didn’t get around to posting my review. I’m sorry Santa, I didn’t mean to be naughty. I was just busy worrying about other things.

From the Ridgeway Brewery comes Pickled Santa, a Christmas beer commissioned by Shelton Brothers “exclusively for distribution in the United States” (from the bottle). Note that this isn’t the Pickled Santa produced by the Hop Back Brewery despite the similar label art.

The beer pours a amber-tinted gold that is quite clear. The off-white head is creamy and lasting. The aroma is light and dry, with some caramel malt notes and noticeable spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. The flavor is intensely spicy: wintergreen and coriander, with some cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper. The body is full but not overpowering, with a comfortable thickness. Some lingering sweetness balances the spice and alcohol warming. This is a straightforward strong, spiced, English winter beer. Well executed, but I just can’t get that excited about it. The spices don’t make me really want another one, at least at the moment.

+Pickled Santa

RateBeer: 3.7 (4-6-8-4-15)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Bah Humbug!

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

In early December it is impossible to avoid the crowds gearing up for the holidays. I can’t escape being festive as well, so for the next twelve days I’ll be tasting a Christmas or winter themed beer. Someone will no doubt observe that the twelve days of Christmas actually begin on Christmas Day. Nuts to you, I’m getting everyone excited to celebrate.

From the Wychwood Brewery in Whitney, Oxfordshire comes Bah Humbug!, their regular Christmas ale. It pours a somewhat hazy mahogany. The head is a creamy wheat that thins quickly but still remains. The nose smells alot like Jack Daniels… malty and boozy, with a little sweetness.

The flavor is a bit off. There is a strong fusel alcohol warming bordering on a bite. There is also a meaty, almost rubbery character I would attribute to yeast autolysis. Caramel malt flavor and some sweetness are present as well. The carbonation is pleasantly low, and the palate round and full without being too thick. Bah Humbug! is close to being quite good, but was fermented much too warm, so it seems very boozy. The noble hops and delicate malt character are hidden behind unpleasant off-flavors.

+/-Wychwood Bah Humbug!

RateBeer: 2.9 (3-6-5-4-11)

Stout Week: A Couple Oatmeal Stouts

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Nothing could have rounded out stout week like the wet snowfall that has blanketed Iowa today. To wrap up the beer ratings I am trying two oatmeal stouts. Rolled oats are used to add body to beer, giving oatmeal stout a viscous palate often described as chewy. They also add proteins that are helpful to head retention, so these beers tend to have a thick moussey head.

The first example I have is a local one, Hub City Oatmeal Stout. Hub City’s beers tend towards the lower end of the carbonation spectrum, falling closer to real ale than many microbrews. Despite the lack of effervescence this beer pours a creamy fallow-colored head. The beer itself is a hazy auburn. I smell some roast malt but it is overpowered by brown malt aromas: mainly biscuits and caramel. There is a pronounced yeast fruitiness as well.

The flavor is quite similar to Guinness Draught: relatively mild, with some roast character and a strong astringent bitterness. The fruity notes (berries and mangoes) promised by the aroma come through as well, rounding out the flavor. The palate is much too thin for an oatmeal stout, and is bordering on cloying.

The second oatmeal stout I’m trying is The Celebrated Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout. The brewery this beer is produced in draws water from a 1758 well. The beer is fermented in what are called “Yorkshire Squares”, square-shaped fermentation vessels built from large slabs of local slate. Oatmeal stout had fallen extinct when Michael Jackson wrote about it in 1977, inspiring the founder of Merchant du Vin importers, Charles Finkel, to commission Sam Smith to resurrect the style. So (if you want to provoke a fight) you could say this is the original oatmeal stout.

This beer pours a near-black with notes of sienna and a fair tan head. The nose is strongly fruity with faint hints of roast and black malt. A cidery, almost vinous flavor greets you at first, with the roast malt and coffee flavor not far behind. The whole tastes almost of cotton candy. Some lingering sweetness helps that impression. While somewhat chewy, I would prefer if it were marginally thicker. Then again, if I had my way you’d have to floss after having an oatmeal stout.

Next time I do a stout week I’m getting a bottle of Lion.

+Hub City Oatmeal Stout

RateBeer: 3.2 (3-8-6-2-13)

+Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout

RateBeer: 3.5 (3-7-7-4-14)

Stout Week: Guinness Extra Stout and Draught

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Now I’ve got a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, the much lauded export stout, and a widget can of Guinness Draught. One should note that this bottle of Extra Stout was brewed in New Brunswick while the can comes straight from Ireland.

The Extra Stout gives a thick, creamy head that is only the slightest bit spongy. The head is straw-colored and the beer itself a caramel-tinted deep black. The nose is delicate, with major malt character. A strong biscuit and toast brown malt aroma hearkens back to the porter roots of the style. Light caramel and roast add complexity.

The flavor has a similar detached bitter astringency as in the tap version, but there is also a significant contribution of flavor from brown and roast malt. While the roast still seems underbalanced for the bitterness, it is certainly much closer to ideal. In addition, there is a meaty yeast character that was entirely lacking on tap. The palate is thick and creamy without being cloying or undrinkable.

The Guinness Draught: I have to admit, this does pour exactly like Guinness on tap, with the thick milky head falling quickly in waves, settling with a creamy off-white meringue layer over a red-tinted dark brown. I can see (though I may not understand) why they spend so much time perfecting that aspect of the experience. Like on tap this has almost no nose, though the canned version does have slightly more toast aroma and a significant diacetyl note.

The taste confirms diacetyl, which actually serves to mellow out the unpleasant bitterness I’ve come to associate with Guinness. Unfortunately there’s almost no other flavor so it is a lost cause anyway. The palate is rich and creamy, and unlike on tap, it is not at all cloying. This beer is not bad, but it could be so much more.

+Guinness Extra Stout

RateBeer: 3.4 (3-7-6-4-14)

+/-Guinness Draught

RateBeer: 3.1 (5-5-5-4-12)

Stout Week: Guinness on tap

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I’m at The Sanctuary, a classy, wooden-clad beer bar in Iowa City. The four-inch lettering outside proclaims: “Over 130 Ales and Lagers”. I only see 106, but who’s counting?

Two varieties of bottled stout come out of the St. James Gate: Extra Stout and Draught. The “draft” version is made to emulate the wildly popular (though somewhat maligned) on tap version of Guinness Stout. Later this week I will taste both bottled versions, so today is some research.

Guinness on tap pours a deeply dark near-black with red highlights. The head is lusciously creamy and thick, reminiscent of meringue. This momentary illusion is shattered, as there is practically no aroma, just the faintest hint of caramel.

The flavor is somewhat bitter, but unsettlingly so. There is not any roast character to match the bitterness, and neither is there hop flavor as would be in a pale ale. The flavor really is noticeable only in comparison with the lack of a nose. The palate is creamy and light. Unfortunately the bitterness lingers too long. A slight sweetness lingers cloyingly.

It is amazing to see a beer do so well in every category but flavor and aroma. I look forward to trying Guinness Extra Stout later this week, as that might redeem the St. James Gate.

-Guinness (tap)

RateBeer: 2.2 (5-4-2-3-8)