Archive for March 31st, 2008

Beer Review: Young’s Special London Ale

31 March, 2008

FROM Oxfordshire, we take the short journey to Wandsworth, London with Young’s Special London Ale. This one was from my local Tesco, where I also noticed a Young’s Bitter. But since I don’t much care for bitters, that would have been a pointless choice. So here we are with something that does very tasty indeed.
Young’s Special London Ale bottle

The shape and colour look good. This bottle stands out in the crowd on the shelf. Then your eye gets drawn to the label on the neck.
Young’s Special London Ale neck label

Above the identification that this comes from The Ram Brewery is an award. Apparently, this is a ‘Bottle Conditioned Beer’. Like yesterday’s good Ridgeway Blue, and the outstanding Hoegaarden. It also happens to have won the ‘Silver Medal’ in 2004 by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. What surprises me is that a second-place prize is used to market it. But the knowledge that people much more knowledgeable than I am like this bottle. Plus the fact that it is bottle conditioned, get me salivating, and no longer worrying about what got the gold medal.

The front label does what you’d expect of a London Ale. The silhouette of the London skyline is good. If touristy. The Ram Brewery logo appears to feature one, or is that two rams? It’s a good piece of design, but looks out of place on the blue and black colour scheme of the label.
Young’s Special London Ale front label

Another thing that grabs your attention on the front is the alcohol volume. Which is a surprisingly high 6.4%. That might put some of you off, but I like my beers and ales not to comprise on strength. That and the bottle conditioning are raising those expectations. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

The rear label fits everything important onto a small, but readable little label.
Young’s Special London Ale back label

And Young’s start the label by not letting up on those expectations. They tell us that it won those awards by being strong, but very drinkable. There’s the “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” logo. Which, although it doesn’t mean that much, is still a nice addition.

The label goes on the tell us what it will be like to drink. Here are some of the words they use: “malty richness”, “huge amounts of hops”, “balanced”, “aromatic”, “dry” and “fruity flavour”. Wow. That is a lot to take in. Let’s see… Malty can be good. If it’s the right type. Hoppy can be good if it doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste. Balanced; that’s only used to describe beers I’ve enjoyed, so I’m glad to see that word in there. Fruitiness is almost always a good addition. Not sure what to make of the “dry”-ness at this stage, though.

Young’s go on to suggest gentle pouring. And that leaving the yeast sediment safely in the bottle is what they think is best. I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee that enthusiasm won’t get the better of me.

Also on there are the brewers’ Wandsworth address. Their www.youngsathome.co.uk website. Which works. And that this 500 millilitre bottle has 3.2 of your UK units of alcohol. Enough of this prattle. It’s time to pour. Very very gently.

The first thing that surprised me was the head. The instructions to pour gently made me expect that it would suffer from an uncontrollably frothy head that would spill over the glass and flood my flat. What I got was a thin and patchy head.
Young’s Special London Ale in a glass

The colour is cloudy dark-gold. It really is cloudy in there. Much more opaque than most other gold coloured brews. That must be the yeast doing its job.

The smell is pretty good. Maybe 70:30 of hops to malt. No sign of those fruits though.

The first gulp tells you that this is going to be nice and smooth. Not very gassy. And full of flavours. If only I could tell what they were. This is going to take a few more gulps to figure out.

Just like the smell, I’d say the flavour is split between the hops and the malt. With the hops managing to dominate. Time to check how accurate the label was… “Malty richness” is there. “Huge amounts of hops” are present, I’d say. “Balance” is harder to judge. All I know is that this is turning out to be quite drinkable. So I’ll say ‘yes’ and hope that it is. If you can explain in layman’s terms what “balance” is all about, by all means leave a message in the comments at the end of this post.

“Aromatic” is true. It smells like an ale should. Is it “dry”? It has a mild bitterness and sour aftertaste. Not in an off-putting way. But I’ll say ‘yes’, it is “dry”. “Fruity flavour” however, I can’t detect at all. Maybe someone with taste buds that haven’t been dulled by Pot Noodles will be capable of noticing the fruitiness. I however, could not.

Fortunately, this is one strong ale. And that makes the promises on the label; correct or otherwise; as irrelevant as a Zimbabwean vote count. This is an easily-drinkable, hop tasting, strong ale. You would have to be very averse to bitterness not to enjoy this one. By the end of the bottle, I’d very happy crack open another.

It is no surprise then, that a quick glance at their website reveals that the Young’s brewing company, is in fact part of Well’s & Young’s. The parent behind the excellent Bombardier Satanic Mills. I’m delighted to report that there’s been no compromise with Special London Ale. It is largely deserving of its award winning status. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that the bitter flavour might put some people off. But I enjoyed this bottle. If you like good, cloudy, strong ales, you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Special London Ale?
Disagree with my rating? Want to pick up on the many mistakes I made?
Or want to share your ramblings, thought or suggestions?
Then leave a message in the little box below.


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