Posts Tagged ‘strong ale’

Beer Review: Morland Hen’s Tooth

23 September, 2009

THE next bottle from ASDA is the stronger and more upmarket cousin to above-average, mass-market bottled ale, Morland Old Speckled Hen. It’s called Morland Hen’s Tooth, and it looks familiar. That same bottle has turned up here, here, here and a thousand other places, all easily traceable back to Suffolk’s Greene King. Meaning, what we have here is Greene King Morland Hen’s Tooth. It should be at least above-average then.

Morland Hen’s Tooth bottle

Besides the overly familiar bottle, it looks good. Copper is a good colour to see inside your transparent glass bottle. They have gone an unusual route with the labels though. Not a bad route, just a different one. What they’ve done is put the important bits on the front and all the small-print on the back. And I think it works well.

Morland Hen’s Tooth neck label

For starters, this is what you normally find on the back of a bottle. But instead, it’s up here on the neck label. They describe it as a “fine ale” that “matures in its bottle producing a richer and more distinctive character”. Then they move onto the taste with “a warming blend of fruit and malt flavours are followed by a smooth finish”.

Sounds delicious. But “matures in it’s bottle”? That would mean it has yeast still in the bottle, making it cloudy. Something you hardly ever find in British ales. Look at the bottom of the bottle however and yes, that is yeast sitting on the bottom. That means it truly is maturing in the bottle, and it gets my hopes up even more that this is going to be something special. Bad news for those that hate cloudy beer though.

Morland Hen’s Tooth front label

The front-label takes the quirky-ness even further with two paragraphs muddled into one another. One of them describes it tersely as “A bottle conditioned strong ale” with a correspondingly strong alcoholic volume of 6.5%. The other one describes the same things that you read on the neck label, only this time ending with a quote from the head brewer that ends with “a combination of flavour and character that’s as rare as a Hen’s Tooth”. I’ve never read a label so difficult to describe. Let me know what you think of it, in the comments at the end of this post.

Over on the back-label, and it’s a business as usual mass of multilingual small-print.

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

I won’t bore you with all the details, so these are the highlights. At 6.5% alcoholic volume, this disappointingly un-Pint sized 50cl bottle weighs in at 3.3 UK units of alcohol before the nanny-state starts wagging its finger. They also have the complete Suffolk postal address, in case you want to send them a letter.

So, what does Morland Hen’s Tooth actually taste of? Is it any good and should you buy it? There’s only one way to find out.

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

I opted for a Bavarian-swirl to get the yeast out for that full flavour punch. Several actually. The head exploded when I tried to pour leading to a cycle of swirl, pour, wait for the head to collapse and repeat. Clearly I was doing it wrong. If you know the right way to pour Hen’s Tooth, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Once finally in the glass, it looks ok. The head is cream coloured and a thin layer of bubbles. The liquid is a cloudy amber-red colour. Although I’m sure you could get rid of the cloudiness if you wanted to by pouring it differently. Oh, and it doesn’t look carbonated at all.

What does Morland Hen’s Tooth smell like? A couple of sniffs, and all I can think of are Greene King’s other bottles of ale. It’s not a pungent odour. Quite mild really. A kind of malty, slightly spicy-hoppy smell. Maybe a hint of dry fruit. It smells of Autumn. Some smell of Christmas or Summer. This smells of Autumn.

What does this room temperature Morland Hen’s Tooth taste like? The first sip is a slow and civilised experience that reminds you that you’re drinking a strong ale. You just can’t hide from the strong ale taste, even though, at 6.5%, it’s at the low end of the strong ale spectrum. How do they fit such an onslaught of flavour and taste into such a low alcoholic volume? My guess is that the yeast somehow turbo-charges it.

Three slow sips in, and I’m starting to figure out Morland Hen’s Tooth. The flavour is mild. So mild that it’s hard to tell what it is. A couple more sips and I think it’s dry, biscuity malt and fruitiness. Bitterness and some saltiness also hit you right away.

The aftertaste is where Morland Hen’s Tooth comes alive. It is incredibly rich, warming, full-bodied and smooth leading to a very dry, long, bitter finish. The immense horse power of that finish was a lot to take onboard at first, but now, after about seven sips, I’m warming to it. Or it’s warming me to it. One of the two.

What am I enjoying about Morland Hen’s Tooth? I love the intense taste. I love the fun and novelty of having yeast floating around in the bottle to make your poured glass cloudy, or clear, whichever you choose. I like that the flavours and tastes blend well. I like how it’s a drink to be sipped in a slow, civilised fashion. And I like that it’s not too gassy. Not burp free, but it could be worse.

What don’t I like about Morland Hen’s Tooth? Sure, the flavours and tastes dominated by malt and fruit are nice enough, but it feels like it’s missing something. Complexity, layers of interesting-ness and some sweetness for a start. Then, the whole time, I kept thinking, this is Morland Old Speckled Hen with a loud exhaust and even louder stereo fitted. And that looses it some marks for originality and distinctiveness. And there’s the packaging. The quirky and contemporary design would be superb on a trendy summer brew, but it’s all wrong for this warming, civilised, autumnal brew. It’s like putting Helen Mirran in denim mini-skirt and tee-shirt.

So sum up, Morland Hen’s Tooth is tasty, high quality and optionally cloudy way of enjoying a fairly strong ale. If you liked Greene King’s other ales, particularly Morland Old Speckled hen, then Hen’s Tooth is definitely Worth your time and money. If you’re looking for something to help you wind down after a hard day at work this Autumn, this is a great choice. If you like your strong ale to be strong in the alcoholic sense or quirky and unusual, then you can probably find a better choice on the supermarket shelf. In a sentence, very good but not special enough.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Morland Hen’s Tooth? What did you think of it? Got any corrections, facts, places to buy or opinions? Any recommendations or suggestions for what I should look out for next review? Then leave a comment in the boxes below.

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Beer Review: Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale

15 July, 2009

GOOD news; I’ve been to Crossharbour ASDA again and bought three more abnormal bottles. The first of which is this robust little bottle of Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale that cost £1.58 pence.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale bottle

ASDA’s immense swathes of shelving, make choosing the quirkiest bottles a challenge. I picked this one because has a cat as a mascot, the bottle looks like it was designed by Edwardians and because there aren’t enough strong ales in the world. And yes, all that large writing you can see is embossed onto the glass. I’ve never seen a bottle like it. At least not outside of museums.

Wisely, Robinsons put the details you want to know, out of the way, up on the neck.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale neck label

I love what strong ale does. Sure, super strength lager does strong as well. But strong ale on the other hand does strong, and proves that you don’t need to sacrifice your taste buds and stomach contents in the process. A bit like having a ploughman’s sandwich for lunch instead of a burger drenched in lard and chilli sauce.

The other thing to love about strong ale is how uncompromising it is. Other ales have all kinds of interesting flavours and tastes from bitterness to biscuits. And that’s all very tasty. But what if you just want straight forward ale that’s as not been cut down to fit a market segment? If you’re not a target demographic, you’ll want to buy a strong ale.

Unsurprisingly, this makes the alcoholic volume slightly important. Fortunately, Robinsons come straight out with the number 8.5%. A number that puts it up there with the alcoholics favourites and with the most potent strong ales and continental beers.

The neck label doesn’t stop there. With a row of four medals, it informs us that it has been an “Award Winning Ale Since 1899”. Unless my calendar is wrong, that makes this ale one-hundred and ten years old. Though hopefully not this very bottle, because it would almost certainly have gone off during the intervening century and now be much too valuable to crack open.

What does the front label look like?

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale front of bottle

It doesn’t have one. The embossed words “Robinsons Old Top Strong Ale” make up the simplest roundel in the world. The sticker in the centre is of a winking cat. Unconventional, but it does it for me. Let me know what you think in the comments at the end of the post.

The back label is the place to go for the details. And what a crowded contrast to the front it proves to be.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale back of bottle

Cleverly, the vital statistics are right at the top. The alcoholic volume of 8.5% is there again in case you missed it, and that this is a 330ml bottle. Under that, because this is a quirky British ale, not a charmless European, we get a story. Highlights of which are that Old Tom is “almost as old as the brewery itself” and that the head brewer illustrated the recipe in his note book with the cat’s face.

They then describe it as a “dark and warming superior strong ale with aromas of dark fruit and a palate booming with ripe malt and hops followed by a deep port wine finish”. Crikey, that sounds intense. And, as I write this in the middle of July, I realise this is as inappropriate as Cornetto in the middle of winter. It sounds like the complete opposite to citrusy golden summer ale.

They continue the story with news that Old Tom has won lots of prestigious industry awards and that it “is now recognised as one of the most famous strong ales brewed in England”. Under that, sensibly, they have the message “Drink with caution! But most of all ENJOY.” Wise words. Even though I can’t remember that last time I saw an alcoholic on the street drinking anything other than lager or cider.

Next to that is a tiny logo. The only words I can make out on it as “Beer Academy” and “Beer Education Trust”. If that means anything to you, leave a message at the end of this post.

Then there’s a bit more about who made this bottle. It turns out to be by a brewer Frederic Robinson Ltd. And it comes from Stockport. What’s more, the Interweb has reached northern England, because they have a website at www.frederic-robinson.com. I implore you to have a look too, as it’s better than the Flash-heavy tripe that the big brewers pass off as websites. The downside is that it will make you want beers that you can’t buy in shops where you live.

Under that, we reach the seriously small print. We learn that this bottle as 2.8 UK units of alcohol. Or, to put it another way, just two of them will be enough for the nanny-state to start tut-tutting you. Most of the rest of the text is in other languages. Sadly, because this isn’t a continental bottle, the only ingredient we know about is “malted barley”.

With nothing else to read, we reach the fun bit. What does Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale taste like? Will I like it? And do I think you should try it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale poured into a glass

Watch out for the insane head. It’s volcanic at first, so give it a minute to settle down. Thanks to the bottle neck, it’s almost impossible to pour without some glugging. The thing you notice right after that is just how dark it is. This is a long way from pale yellow lager. Not as dark as porter or stout, but getting close.

What does Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale smell of? Surprisingly, it’s not all that pungent. To smell it, a good hard sniff is in order. The bottle described it as having “aromas of dark fruit”. Pretty much what I’m picking up. It smells of Christmas pudding.

What does this room temperature Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale taste of? The label described it as “booming with ripe malt and hops followed by a deep port wine finish”. My first sip reveals it to live up to the intense and interesting billing. First impression are that this is going to be one of the most intense, strongest tasting and most wine-like of any ale I’ve ever tried.

A couple more sips, and I’m beginning to figure out the flavours and tastes. It really is one of the most complex and interesting ales I’ve tried. You could easily pass an entire evening trying to fathom it.

The flavour is warmly malty and hoppy. But it’s the aftertaste that dominates Old Tom. It has the most intense, strong, full-bodied, warm and fruity-in-a-port-or-Christmas-pudding-way aftertaste I’ve ever tasted. I must admit, it was a bit much at first, but I’m quickly warming to it. That or it’s warming me up to it.

What am I liking about Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? As you’ve probably guessed, quite a lot. I love that it’s a strong ale in a world that has little room for it. I love that it’s so different to any ale you will ever drink. And that scores it serious points for taking risks in distinctiveness and uniqueness. I like the strong taste and high volume. I like how quickly you get used to it and how drinkable it is, once you have. All of which points to quality ingredients and brewing. And you’ve got to love the packaging.

What am I not liking about Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? First up, it’s hard to find, and pricey when you do. The intense rush of taste will floor some people. Unless you’re adventurous or used to strong flavours, the first sip could put you right off. And that would be a shame. I love that it takes risks with the taste, but the flipside of that risky strategy is that it won’t please everyone.

How can I sum up Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? No wander it has won so many awards over the last century. Distinctive, exceptional and Christmassy are just some of the adjectives I’m going to choose to describe it. This is one of the very best British ales, but be forewarned, it might be too strong for you.

Rating: 4.275

Have you tried Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? Got an opinion even if you haven’t? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, facts, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Fuller’s 1845

4 September, 2008

FULLER’S do seem to make very good bottled ales. Fuller’s London Pride Premium Ale was very good and their ESB Champion Ale was outstanding. I was excited then, to find a bottle of Fuller’s 1845 in a west-London shop.

This one looks special. I’m hoping that it is. Time to look closer and figure out what makes it so special.

The bottle itself doesn’t give anything away. That’s because it’s the same black bottle they use for every other beer. That means it has embossed upon it, phrases like “Family Brewery”. And “Estd 1845”. Maybe that’s a clue as to the origins of the name? Lets read on.

The neck label is always a good place to start. As well as the griffin bearing Fuller’s of Chiswick logo is a clue. And the words “Matured for 100 days” is it. That sounds impressive and significant to me. But I want more facts. What will the big front roundel reveal?

Fuller’s 1845 front label

Quite a lot by the look of it. The gold border says “Celebrating 150 Years of Brewing Excellence”. And around the bottom part of the border, we’re informed that this is an “Award Winning Strong Ale”. Both of those facts are things that I like. Especially as there aren’t nearly enough strong bottled ales out there.

Inside the roundel, the year “1845” takes centre stage, as does the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery of Chiswick logo. But, also catching your eye is that “100 days”. Printed right on the front is “Bottle Conditioned Ale Matured to Perfection for 100 Days”. That’s more time than any other I’ve seen. It even puts the magnificent Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer’s 77 days in the shade. In a world where everything is manufactured in colossal quantities, and as rapidly as can be gotten away with, 100 days of brewing is stupendous. That, together with the live-ness from the bottle conditioning and the 6.3% alcoholic volume are going to make this a formidable ale. I hope your mouth is watering at the thought of this, too.

The back label is tall, and full of very small writing.

Fuller’s 1845 back label

But it quickly starts offering more reasons for you to like this bottled ale. In one of the corners, a little symbol tells us that “CAMRA says this is Real Ale”. Which is reassuring. In the big block of writing, they tell us that “1845” was first made in 1995, and has since won lots of awards, including “two gold medals at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival”. You just know that those guys know their beer, so those are two awards that mean something. Not like the so-called medals festooning some continental bottles.

They then go on to talk about the “fruit cake aroma”. That it is “complex, yet smooth” with “mellow flavours”, all of which are attributed to the mind blowing length of time they leave it to mature for, and the Amber Malt and Goldings hops. They also suggest that it goes well with rich food like game. Sadly, my spaghetti bolognaise ready meal will have to do. Interestingly, they say that you should really keep the bottle stored upright in a cool dark place, and pour it carefully. My one out of three isn’t bad. At least I kept it cool.

Quickly rushing through the small print now because I want to try this drink. It was brewed by Fuller Smith & Turner at the Griffin Brewery. As usual, the full London address is there if you want to get in touch. They’re keen to let you know about their other beers and ale club at their website, which is www.fullers.co.uk. It contains malted barley, and this 500 millilitre bottle, at a strong 6.3% comes in at 3.2 UK units of alcohol. Which is more than most. You won’t need much before you start feeling the effects.

Did I miss anything? I hope not because I want to open it. What will it be like? How will it compare to other strong ales? Do I think you should buy it? It’s time to find out.

With all the advice on the label to treat it as carefully as Nitroglycerine, I was surprised to find it had almost no head at all. Moments after the photo, all that was left was a patch of bubbles, and some around the rim. All that careful pouring for nothing.

It certainly looks substantial enough. It’s a very dark brown. But a shade lighter than stout or dark ale.

It smells potent too. Put your nose anywhere near the top of the glass, and you’ll see what I mean. It has an intense smell of… something. The label says “fruit cake”. To me, it smells, intensely of malted barley and lots of other things. Two things are certain; it smells intense and complex.

But how does it taste? A couple of gulps into this deep, thick ale, and it tastes just like how it smells. That is to say, intense and complex. To try and start from the beginning, what are the flavours? That’s very hard to say without sounding like a wine taster. It’s sort of biscuity, malty, hoppy and other things besides. It’s complex, and interwoven so tightly, I’m having trouble identifying any of it.

If I can’t describe the flavour, what about the aftertaste? It’s much the same. Those flavours blend smoothly into a hoppy, bitter aftertaste that lingers for a while.

If I can’t describe the flavour or the taste, can I at least describe the character of the drink? Now that I can do. Fuller’s 1845 sums up what full-bodied, richly flavoured and all-round delicious ales should be about. I’m about half-way through now, and that flavour and taste is still no clearer to me. That’s the sort of complexity you want from an ale. It’s not only as rich as fruit cake, but smooth too. The flavours are strong, but never too strong. You can even describe them as “mellow” like the label does. And they change seamlessly into the hoppy, bitter, aftertaste. None of them ever seem too strong. And you certainly can’t accuse it of being weak. Lastly, I’ve hardly burped at all, so you can’t even level the complaint of gassiness.

Are there downsides? I like a beer to take risks in the pursuit of greatness. That’s exactly what 1845 does. But doing so inevitably incurs problems. That hoppy bitterness does come in gently, but it ‘balloons’ before easing off and lingering. Lots of you will like the way it does that, but it was a bit strong for poor old me. And that strong bitterness is going to be too much for a lot of other people too. Then there’s the flavour and taste itself. It feels like it’s been sanded and polished so much, there’s little sign of the barley and hop flavours you get elsewhere. Lastly, you’ve got the problems of finding, and affording such an exclusive bottle. I got it purely by chance.

To sum up, Fuller’s 1845 is excellent. If you like strong, interesting ales, you will probably enjoy this. It offers virtually everything. Theo whole experience reminds me a lot of the other strong ales out there. Have a look for Broughton Old Jock, Maximus Strong Premium Ale and Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale for something vaguely similar if you can’t find 1845 sold anywhere near you. Not for the faint hearted, and not the strongest either, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Fuller’s 1845? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.


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