HAVE you ever wanted an ale named after an animal that is out of place? Me neither. So it was with some intrepidity that I tried a bottle of Black Sheep Ale. From the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, their signature ale certainly stands out.
Black print on a mostly plain white label isn’t the fashion of most brewers. There’s no imagery of hops, barley, fruit or ancient brewing traditions here. Instead, we get a picture of a ram (presumably the black sheep of the name) and a series of terse descriptions. All of which, are refreshingly clear and concise. At £1.47 from Tesco for 500ml, it is also quite good value.
The character of the drink is spelled out clearly for you. “Crisp, Dry & Bittersweet” couldn’t be reduced any further. The 4.4% volume is directly below it. A short message from Paul Theakston tells us that five generations and a lot of Yorkshire pride have gone into this. The ingredients list is also the clearest I have yet seen giving a straight-up list of, well, the ingredients. Apart from the remarkable clarity of the label, something else of note is that unlike most bottles, there isn’t a front and back label. Instead, we have one long wrap around label. I like that sort of individuality. The bottle itself, while not standing out too far from the crowd, is somewhat taller and thinner than most.
Emptied into a glass, the ale itself is almost dark gold in colour. Nearly like a bitter, but not as extreme. There was also a thick foamy head, though that was probably down to my inability to pour it correctly. Whatever the cause, it soon thinned out.
If you decide to give the glass, or the open bottle for that matter, a sniff, you won’t be disappointed. For this drink is pungent, but not pongy. You can clearly make out the barley and hints of the wheat and hops that are also in there.
How “Crisp, Dry & Bittersweet” is it? The answer is more or less exactly as it says on the bottle. It has that bitter taste and sour aftertaste that have become so familiar recently. It was crisp, too. A good sign, in my opinion, that they used good quality ingredients and put effort into getting the mix just right. Crisp is good, because crisp, to me, equals drinkability. And Black Sheep Ale is drinkable.
Did I like it though? Truth be told, it was too bitter for my taste. Maybe I should have paid more heed to the description on the label then, and chosen something else instead. But then again, many others that I’ve tried recently have described themselves as bitter, yet not been too bitter for me.
To sum up then, Black Sheep Ale was good. Even though it wasn’t to my personal taste, I liked the fact that it did at least do some things differently. At the end of the bottle though, it was hard to deny that this was little different from the many bitter-like ales out there. Good if that’s what you like, not so good if you like peculiar flavours and sweet tastes.