Robinsons: Old Tom (England: Old Ale: 8.5% ABV)

Visual: Chestnut brown to mahogany body that is clear and still. Thick off white head.

Nose: Raisins. Port. Sherry soaked fruitcake to Christmas pudding. Earthy hop character. Slight chalk. Vinous – sour wine.

Body: Christmas pudding. Charring. Bitter chocolate. Sour red wine. Slight chalk. Earthy hops. Cherries. Peppery. Sour grapes.

Finish: Christmas pudding. Sultanas. Bitter chocolate cake. Earthy hops. Peppery bitterness. Sour grapes. Dry.

Conclusion: Whoop! I’m on an old ale roll now after a long time without – this coming fairly shortly after Marble‘s barrel aged old ale. This one is less challenging and less complex as a beer, but also comes in at less than half the price while still being a fairly complex one – which is a reasonable trade off. This is a beer from my early days of experimentation and it seems that it still holds up.

This is less sour than most of the style, with only a light sour note matched with a real Christmas pudding style heaviness as its solid core. Matched with that a similarly solid British style early hop character – with a peppery character as well as the earth, grounding with moderate bitterness.

However amongst that grounded character, against the sour vinous elements with it you get a big fruitiness – a sultana packed fruitcake character that make up a big wodge of the contrast, but even here everything is just slightly savoury with only a few sweeter hints. It is amazing how they can push the Christmas pudding without making it feel overly sweet and also having such low sweetness without the overall character feeling dull. For all the chalk notes, peppery and earthy notes it still feels like it is not pushing the grounding notes overly heavily and because of that it feels like a complex and rewarding beer.

It is not up there with the more experimental old ales that have come since, but looking back it it, it blows my mind that a beer this good and non standard is so easy to buy in the UK. A beer you can buy in the supermarket that is an old ale that gives easy access to a world of flavour that most beers in the same place will not reach. Good as an accessible gateway into something different and good as a beer in itself.

Background: This was a Christmas gift from a colleague – many thanks. Old Tom is a fairly common beer to find in supermarkets, so was one of the earliest of Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers that I tried. So this is a bit of a nostalgia drink here. I saw The Eels were on tour again this year – unfortunately nowhere near me – so put on the Beautiful Freak album – a bit of nostalgia for me again. It matches up, right?

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