IT’S been a while since my last British ale. My taste buds would argue that it’s been too long. To rectify this appalling state of affairs, I managed to find a couple of Badger ales hidden away in another small off-license on Bethnal Green Road. This delights me, because so far, I’ve had six different Badger/Hall & Woodhouse bottles from the Dorset brewer. And what’s more, all six have been excellent quality with masses of character. So it’s fair to say that I’m looking forward to this bottle of Badger First Gold.
The bottle and labels stick to the old Badger formula. The bottle is a dumpy brown thing. Look out for the yes “1777” and words describing them as an “Independent Family Brewer” embossed around the shoulder. That’s the sort of heritage we like to see.
The neck label tells you almost everything you need to know about what First Gold will be all about. “Single English Hop Ale” says it all. As do the small pictures of hops. Making a wild guess, this is going to have a strong hoppy taste and bitterness.
The front label adds little. But then it doesn’t need to.
Everything on it is simple and well designed. The “First Gold” is shiny gold. Nice touch there. And the badger of the “1777 Badger” logo takes centre stage in the big illustration in the middle. Under that is the slogan “A noble character”. That could be a hint at the hoppy-ness to come.
The vital statistics are on there too. This is the regular 500 millilitre bottle. And alcoholic volume is 4%. Crikey, that’s low for an ale. Albeit not as low as their 2.5% low-alcohol Harvesters Ale.
Over on the back label, and outstanding news… the Badger “Taste Profile” chart is present!
For the uninitiated, let me explain this outburst of enthusiasm. Most bottles of beer have vague, marketing led descriptions of what the beer is like. Most of which bear little resemblance to what the beer is actually like. This “Tate Profile” however, rates how “Bitter”, “Sweet”, “Hoppy”, “Malty” and “Fruity” the contents is, on a scale of one to five. And in my experience of Badger’s six other bottles of ale, they’re pretty much spot-on. So what you read on the profile is what you get on the palate. A godsend if you’re browsing the shelves or websites trying to decide which one you’ll enjoy most.
So what does the “Taste Profile” say about “First Gold”?
Little if you try to read my awful photo. That would be my Neolithic era camera phone letting me down again. But I can report that “Bitter” and “Hoppy” both rate highest with four out of five. “Malty” and “Fruity” are on three with “Sweet” on two out of five. A consistent picture of hoppy bitterness is emerging.
Reading the rest of the label, and the picture grows ever more vivid. It transpires that they use a single variety of hop for its “purity and character”. And the name of that hop is “First Gold”. They go on to describe First Gold as having a “well balanced bitterness, with hints of orange and spice”. That it is a “clean, fresh” and “distinctive” example of a country ale with English character. And that if you have a roast or a pie to drink it with, then that would be splendid.
Down to the small print, the Hall & Woodhouse address in Blandford St. Mary, Dorset is on there. As is the web address at www.badgerales.com. Which immediately redirects you to http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/. A single click on which leads you through to the First Gold homepage at http://www.badgerfirstgold.co.uk/. A page that informs us that this very bottled beer won Double Gold at The Brewing Industry International Awards, Munich 2005. Good work chaps. Although I’ll leave my congratulations until I’ve finally tested it myself.
Elsewhere on the small print, we learn that this bottle has 2.0 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you’re a bloke, you can happily enjoy two bottles of First Gold. Lastly, it contains malted barley.
With all that done, I can finally open the bottle and try to answer for you some questions. Questions such as do I think it deserves two gold medals? What does it taste like? And do I think you should buy it? Let’s find out.
There was just enough head to fill my pint glass to the brim. Now, a couple of minutes later, it’s died down a bit. But, happily, there’s still a good, thick layer of creamy froth sitting atop the drink.
The colour is darker than I expected. It looks dark brown to me. For some reason I was expecting a golden amber colour like much of Badger’s other bottled ales.
It smells hoppy. No surprise there. But it also smells considerably maltier than I expected it to be. The whole combined smell is also much weaker than I expected. All the talk of hops on the labels made me brace for an overwhelmingly hoppy smell.
But how does it taste? Surprisingly, it tastes different to the super-hoppy experience I was readying myself for. The first flavours hitting my palate is…. Complex. There’s a lot of different flavours in there. So many, I’m going to need a few more gulps to make sense of it. That by itself is a good thing for an ale, in my opinion.
Half-way through now, and I’ll take a stab and describing what Badger First Gold tastes like. From the first taste, through to the aftertaste, it’s the hoppy-ness that stands out. An experience that feels like you’re drinking brambles. Very drinkable brambles that is. Enveloped by the hoppy flavour, are what I think must be the orange and spice they mentioned on the label. I would say that there’s something tangy and fruity in there that tastes a little bit of biscuits. The whole thing is rounded off by a softly lingering bitterness. None of these flavours and tastes is too strong, nor too weak as to make them hard to notice. All well balanced I’d say.
What do I like about Badger First Gold? A lot. Everything about it surprised me, which I like to have happen. The flavours and tastes are as complex and as layered as an onion. And that’s something I like. The flavours and tastes are excellent, not too strong, nor off-putting and consequently, utterly drinkable. It tastes different to other hop orientated ales, so it scores marks for distinctiveness. It’s also not at all gassy. And the quality is as fine as any bottled beer you’ll find.
What about the downsides? Well, that complex, malty, tangy bitterness won’t be to everyone’s taste. You’ve really got to enjoy strong-ish flavours and bitterness to get along with this ale. So lager drinkers might be overwhelmed by it all. Which is no bad thing. It’s also hard to find. In several months of doing these reviews, I’ve only found one small off-license selling these bottles. Lastly, it is a little on the weak side. I’d welcome a few more percentage points of alcoholic volume.
To sum up, I can see why Badger First Gold has won awards. It’s complex and tasty. Would I recommend it? If you like interesting English ales, then this is one to try. An excellent hoppy, bitter ale.
Have you tried Badger First Gold? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments box below. And check my next post for another Badger!