Ska Brewing: ESB Special Ale (USA: ESB: 5.8% ABV)
Visual: Clear apricot gold. Moderate off white mounded bubbles for a head that leaves suds. Some carbonation.
Nose: Mild vinous. Sour grapes. Raisins soaked in port. Lightly wheaty. Orange peel. Shortbread, Palma violets.
Body: Glacier cherries. Chewy. Malt drinks. Fig rolls. Palma violets. Lightly earthy. Vanilla toffee. Lightly vinous. Fruitcake. Shortbread. Light chalkiness. Raspberry yogurt chunks.
Finish: Figs. Lightly earthy bitterness that soon rises. Slight soil. Malt chocolate and choc orange. Slight chalkiness. Light sour grapes. Mild tart tayberry. Pepper.
Conclusion: Looks can be deceiving. Case in point, when I poured this beer it came out a deep, dark but clear gold colour. Fair enough, but from that I was expecting, taste wise, that this would be far from the traditional dark fruitcake ESB that comes to mind when I think of this style.
Now, this does have differences from a standard ESB – the more traditional notes and more mildly delivered and it is backed by a sweet vanilla toffee base. However, at the heart of it all, the vinous notes are there, the dark fruit, fruitcake. It is all there, just not pushed as heavily.
What it does is patch those dark notes to the lighter, sweeter base, then decided to tie it closer to the British interpretation by whopping a nice earthy hop base to it. Normally overly earthy hopped beers can get easily dull, but contrasted by the sweetness it manages to avoid that fate, and the earthiness ties everything together. It does enough calls to the traditional notes that the breaks from expectations feel like experimentation, not like ignorance or failure to meet a style.
The experimentation comes not only in the sweeter base, but also the lighter notes that come with it. As well as the expected dark fruit you also get fresh orange peel and palma violets. It gives it a bit more pep, and indeed also is matched by light pepperyness.
Now, by taste it doesn’t feel like one to have more than one or two of. With light chalkiness, pepper and earth it calls to too many harsh notes, and has too many sweet notes that can get cloying on top of that. As a oner though it is pretty solid. Recognisably of the style but a tad different. Not great but solid.
Background: I am a huge fan of Ska Brewing’s Modus Hoperandi, and have consumed many a can of it. Time to branch out, thought I, so I decided to go with this – their ESB – A style that I feel does not get as much play as it should in the craft scene. Grabbed from Brewdog’s guest beer section, this was chilled and drunk on one of yet another overly hot summer night’s here in England.