Tasting: November 23, 2011
Over the course of about the last 400 days — I have had 200 different beers. Yet, I’m surprised how little of a dent I’ve made in the selection at many fine craft beer stores. I scan the shelves and I do an inventory in my head – “haven’t had it” – “haven’t had it” – “had it” – “haven’t had it” – and so on. It isn’t my goal to have them all — just the beers that intrigue me and beers in styles that I like – and that makes my shopping a whole lot easier. If you’ve read this blog for any lengthy of time, you know my likes — IPA, Imperial IPA, Imperial Stout and English-style ales. Just for kicks, every once in a while, I’ll toss in a Belgian style, a seasonal or a gimmicky beer.
It’s kind of fitting that I go back to an English ale for beer number 200. It’s really where my beer appreciation began — with labels like Whitbread, Mackeson, Samuel Smiths, Bishop’s Finger and Theakston’s Old Peculiar. I like these ales because I love the malt characteristics – it’s malt — they’re not too sweet and they have a wonderful mineral — or flinty characteristic to them. They don’t use much in the way of bitter hops, but just enough hop to give you a crisp finish. I’m particularly happy to see English ales making an expanded return to shelves.
My first thought was that the XB on the label stood for Extra Bitter. But the label tells a tale that they have only two whitewashed blocks to mark their casks — X and a B. They used XXXX to mark casks of Old Peculiar and BBB to mark their Best Bitter — so they used a combination of XB to differentiate this 4.5% ABV ale. Most pubs in England will serve only one brand of beer since the pubs are run by the brewery. So, in days before they marketed brands — you’d walk in and say – give me a pint (or half pint for the ladies) of pale ale or a bitter and so on
This one pours a dark amber and has a head comprised of some large bubbles. It goes still quickly. English ale has very little carbonation. There’s that malt on the nose — some subtle strawberry there as well. First sip tells me this is light-bodied but very malty and yes — there is that flinty mineral quality. I usually chalk that up to the water as English water is dense in minerals. Again, hops show themselves on the finish is the form of earthy floral nectar. It finishes crisp and is quite enjoyable. I still put Old Peculiar ahead of this one – but still worthy of a solid 85 points.