THERE are one or two big name bottled ales that I’ve been putting off reviewing. And that is because they are so widely available. Surely no big volume ales can be as good as those brewed in miniscule quantities by rural, country farmers in medieval barns. Then I’d have to tell you that they aren’t much good. And that would upset all the people out there who think that these big name ales, are real ales.
But there’s only one way to solve this dilemma. And that is to actually try them. So we start with Morland Old Speckled Hen. This one is from Tesco, but you won’t have much trouble finding it on sale in any supermarket.
The bottle is classy. Tall and transparent, it has the words “Morland” and “Est. 1711” embossed upon it. 1711? That’s pretty good. Well within the territory of “proper” ales. There’s a fox embossed on the back of the bottle. And the area around the front label is indented. Understated and classy in my opinion.
The neck label keeps the good news, and style coming too.
It starts off with a little description of what this ale will taste like. The description they go with is “A Distinctive Rich Malty Taste Bursting With Character. Fruity Aroma & Deliciously Smooth”. If you’re new to my beer reviews, we’ll see just how accurate that is a little later.
The good news on the neck label continues. This time with the alcoholic volume, which is 5.2%. And that makes this a fairly strong ale. Not very strong. Not weak either. But fairly strong.
The front label is, I’m delighted to report, almost entirely free from clutter.
Usually, the bigger the name, the more stuff they try to cram into the front label. Old Speckled Hen though, keeps just a few choice words within an octagon. An octagon? Unusual, but it helps it stand out.
The top of the label has the “Morland” logo. Not very prominent. And neither is the “Est 1711” either side of the simple illustration of what looks like, an eighteenth century fellow holding a paint brush.
The “Old Speckled Hen” name takes centre stage. And is, for some reason, within quotation marks. Which technically makes it “”Old Speckled Hen””.
Below that is the simple description “Strong Fine Ale”. And I certainly hope that’s exactly what it is.
The back label is rather bigger. And full with quite a lot more detail.
The opening paragraph on the back label starts with some bad news for anyone hoping that this ale dates back to 1711. You see, this ale was first brewed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an MG car factory. With an old MG car used around the factory, gaining the nick name “Owld Speckled Un”. “Old Speckled Hen” is named then, after an old speckled car. Let down or delightful story? Let your views be known in the comments at the end of the post.
The next part of the back label fleshes out the description from the neck label. They use words like “finely balanced” and “great with friends and food”.
Then we get down to the small print. This 5.2% volume bottle is 500 millilitres. Would a full-pint be too much to ask?
The usual responsible drinking message is a little more elaborate than normal. The message “please take as much care enjoying our beers as we do brewing them” heightens the expectations yet further.
All the little logos you normally find scattered around the back label are neatly organised into a row. Next to the recycling logo, there’s that familiar UK units of alcohol symbol. Which indicates a decent 2.6 UK units of alcohol for this bottle. Well below your daily limit in case you worry about such things. Then we have a couple of logos I’ve not seen before. The first is of a little bottle with the tiny words “Beer to dine for”. And another informing us that this beer contains malted barley. Both nice presentational touches.
As usual, there’s a postal address on there. Let’s see where this actually comes from… according to this, it comes from Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England. That place rings a bell. And that’s because it’s the same place that the mediocre Greene King IPA originated. Could this be from the same brewer?
There’s a website on there too. Maybe we can get some answers from www.oldspeckledhen.co.uk? After a bit of searching, their “Contact Us” page reveals a clue. Their “Contact Us” email address is email@example.com. So my hunch was right. Whether Greene King just happen to own Old Speckled Hen or if they’re brewed in the same place in the same way, I’m still not sure.
But it’s too late for any further conjecture. And that’s because it’s time to see if this ale is any good. I’m going into this with low-ish expectations, but wanting to be proved wrong about big name ales.
In the glass, the colour isn’t a big surprise. It’s exactly the same shade of brown as it was in the bottle. And that liquid is topped by a thin, but healthy looking head. Which is a surprising as it didn’t look particularly carbonated in the bottle.
The label described it as have a “fruity aroma”. My untrained nose is picking up some hints of fruit and arable crops. Only I think it smells more of hops and malted barley. Regardless of what they actually are, it does smell good. Rich and roasted I’d describe it. But then I’m hopeless at deciphering what my nose picks up.
A few gulps in, and I’m enjoying this. That might have something to do with all the tasteless lagers I’ve reviewed over the last few days, but it’s great to have a big, full flavour again.
The label describes it as having a “rich malty taste”. I’d have to agree. But it is rather less malty than I had been expecting. Malt is a big part of the flavour blend, but it shares flavour duties with the hops. And the hops, I presume, are responsible for the bitter taste and lingering after taste that Old Speckled Hen leaves you with. This then, has a malty and hoppy, bitterness.
Fortunately, the “finely balanced” quality comes into play. And this is important because it makes sure the maltiness and hoppy bitterness don’t clash or overwhelm one another. And that is a good thing.
The label also promises “distinctiveness” and “character”. Tough qualities for such a big name brew. But they do a reasonable job. The blend of tastes and flavours is different to almost anything else I’ve tried. And that gives is some of the uniqueness I look for. But that said, it’s not a huge distance from many other ales on the market.
There isn’t much to truly dislike about Old Speckled Hen. Sure, it isn’t pushing any boundaries. But all the niggling downsides I can think of eventually come down to my own prejudice against big name ales. I can’t escape the fact that this does a very good job, even though it’s sold by the hanger load.
To try to sum up, Old Speckled Hen is decent, quality, strong ale. The tastes and flavours are well balanced. And that makes it very drinkable and easy to drink. It doesn’t break new ground and take any risks, which is what I look for. But if you’re at the supermarket looking for an ale, you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy this ale. And enjoy it even more than I did.
Have you tried Old Speckled Hen? What did you think?
Opinions, corrections, thoughts, comments and insults in the usual place please.
Next time: Abbot Ale. Which will be the best big name ale?