Tag Archive: English Strong Ale

Lawman: Elixir: Zig-Zig-BA: Sherry Halliwell (Scotland: English Strong Ale: 7.4% ABV)

Visual: Murky, hazy blond to peach skin. Virtually no head. Rim of bubbles and a thin dash of grey for a head.

Nose: Musty hops. Sour grapes. Peat smoke and bacon. Sherry. Soaked raisins. Sour stewed apricot. Very slight prunes. Fudge. Vanilla.

Body: Vanilla. Quite light texture, slightly watery when cool. Menthol. Sherry trifle. Light citrus undertone – pineapple. Cherries.

Finish: Menthol. Ash. Oatmeal. Raisins. Musty hops. Slight liquorice. Sweet pineapple. Smoked meat. Lemon cakes. Sherry trifle. Hopped bitterness.

Conclusion: Ok, this doesn’t work (Spoiler warning by the way!) but I respect the direction it is trying. It is just, well, it is a bit of a mess, but an ambitious mess. I’m not going to disrespect that.

This has a lot of vanilla laden throughout it – almost enough to suggest it was Bourbon barrel aged, rather than its chosen sherry ageing; but that is soon dispelled by big sherry trifle coming through clearly afterwards. In fact lots of sherry notes hit – with sherries and spice throughout. Underneath that there is some cloying hop character, in a slight citrus styled pineapple coming floating through. The hop character is kind of muggy though – that kind that can get old fast, and doesn’t deliver the fresher notes very cleanly. I think it is due to ageing the beer – time in the wood has given added complexities, but has worn out the pleasant sides of the hop character pretty quickly. Odder still this has smoke and sulphur stylings – moderately used, not heavy – but possibly in a kind of charred woods style? Any which way it gives a sulphurous real ale on tap touch to this.

All sounds interesting, no? What makes it a mess rather than an enjoyable beer is the slightly lighter texture – it is just slightly thin and watery. Not hugely so, but it means that the sulphurous element feel heavier than they should, and the musty hops are given too much emphasis. It interferes with what should be a complex rich ale. The sherry notes, the vanilla, all of them would benefit from more grip, and the sulphur and muggier hops would be mellow background notes with a heavier ale and so would work better.

A beer that aims for the stars, and with a thicker beer may have succeeded. I respect that, but it didn’t really work. Ah well.

Background: So, a Spice Girls reference. Huh. At this point the standard thing would be to bash the Spice Girls, but feh they did well for themselves with some harmless pop. Can’t really get too worked up about it. I think my music snobbery has worn off with old age. Enjoy what you like and all that, even if it isn’t my taste. Anyway- they call this beer a KK ale – a mostly forgotten beer style – which seems to be a heavily hopped, higher abv blond ale. So, that intrigued me, and a bit of Sherry Barrel ageing intrigued me more. So I grabbed it. Another Independent Spirit beer – got some other establishment beers coming up shortly. Decided to go with some appropriate music for this; So, of course, with this being Spice Girl linked, I was listening to Ihsahn -After. Real brain breaking stuff.


Wychwood (Marstons): Bah Humbug (England: English Strong Ale: 5.0%)

Visual: Reddened mahogany brown. Lots of small bubbled carbonation. Browned inch of a bubbled head.

Nose: Lightly roasted. Light nutmeg. Malt drinks.

Body: Caramel. Cinnamon. Light chestnuts. Slight chocolate, grows over time. Quite treacle texture and slight flavour as well. Soft vanilla notes. Nutmeg.

Finish: Cinnamon and nutmeg. Slight vanilla. Slight brown bread. Light oak notes. Soft treacle. Butterscotch.

Conclusion: This feels like your standard, non real ale, bottled ale – but spiced up for Christmas. Ok, went a bit “damning with faint praise” on that opening – but please do not read that too harshly, let me expand.

The base has that smoother feel that I find tends to come with pasteurised beers, with accompanying higher levels of sweetness. It has less evident texture than the real ale version which I have also tried, and a cleaner sweetness. Kind of a clean caramel and light treacle style backed by some vanilla. As is indicated in the opening that is kind of standard for this kind of beer, to my eyes at least. From the colour of the beer I would also admit to expecting it to be closer to the chestnut coloured bitter style of ale, as for that this seems a tad light on the bitterness and hop stylings. However on the malt side it matches exactly to expectations.

Instead of notable bitterness and some earthy work from the flavouring hops, this actually goes to work with the spices in the same space. Moderate but present – they call to Christmas with the nutmeg matched with cinnamon sweetness. It is a pleasant, slightly warming flavour – very gentle in intensity, but despite that the spice is the main flavour here. It is nothing out of the normal, but solid and matches the season it is picked for nicely.

Soothing malt base, moderate spice – no complaints, does what you would expect. Some people dislike the distinct feel and taste of the pasteurised beers, but it matches the spice usage here. As mentioned, I have also tried the lower abv real ale version – It has a better, more gripping texture – the flavours are less distinct, but in that have more subtle meshing between them and with lower evident sweetness. Either way it is a solid enough drink for the season, but not one to actively hunt out.

Background: Not sure if this still counts as English Strong Ale, as it is down from its old 6% abv of years gone by. However I’m not putting it under spiced beer as the cinnamon added to the beer doesn’t dominate that much in intensity and it doesn’t really match any other style cleanly. I had drunk the lower abv, real ale, take on this in a pub the day before, but this, pasteurised bottle version was provided by my family while I was back home for Christmas – many thanks!

Swannay Orkney Blast

Swannay: Orkney Blast (Scotland: English Strong Ale: 6% ABV)

Visual: Clear thick gold. A cm of creamy and loose bubbles that leave sud rims.

Nose: Barley. Lemon. Slight grit or salted rocks. Soft caramel. Resin, digestives and peach.

Body: Soft and hoppy. Light bitterness, rises slightly over time. Hop oils. Juicy grapes. Mossy greenery. Dried apricot. Prickly. Golden syrup feel and taste. Resin. Peach.

Finish: Tart white grapes. Hop oils. Dry bitterness. Salted popcorn. Greenery. Gherkins. Peach. Jolly ranchers. Slightly earthy.

Conclusion: An IPA Barley Wine hybrid? Ok, at 6% abv that is a bit low for what I would expect for a barley wine, pretty much spot on for what I would expect an IPA to be. Hmm, so what elements are going to shout barley wine I wonder, what is going to make it such a stylistic mash up?

I’d guess that it is the thick texture, quite syrupy and backed by a quite resinous character that makes it a slower drinking experience than you would expect from an IPA. The actual hop bitterness you would expect from the IPA side is actually comparatively restrained. The hop character is shown much more in the fruity notes – it feels like lower abv fruit backed barley wine rather than an IPA to me. Oddly it is the side I expected to be more emphasised that seems less shown here. Then again, these days IPA seems to be attached to anything with high hop flavours, so I can’t blame this one for following that trend.

Behind those welcome characteristics are a few rougher elements – quite a bit of greenery that doesn’t fit – a mossy character. There is also a slight salted rock roughness that could be interesting if used well, but here again it doesn’t fit with the syrupy character. The thicker texture makes the rough elements grip too much, and so stick around long enough to outstay their welcome.

It feels unpolished – lots of big flavours but little integration and those harsh off notes. Still drinkable, but feels over clingy and resiny for the thickness.

Ok, but not really a style mash up that works.

Background: Ok, I normally go with how a beer describes itself – however this calls itself an IPA Barley Wine, which is a bollocks term in my opinion, so I went with the ratebeer call of English Strong Ale which seemed a fair shout. Anyway, drunk while listening to some Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath. Good old school metal. This was a birthday present – many thanks!. You may hear that a lot in the next few weeks. Pretty much all my friends gave me beer. I have good friends.

The Talabheim Brewery Otto's Last Stand

The Talabheim Brewery: Otto’s Last Stand (England: English Strong Ale: 7% ABV)

Visual: Dark and cloudy, a very dark brown to black body and bubbled beige large head.

Nose: Figs and raisins. malt chocolate. Light tart grapes. Vanilla. Vinous.

Body: Big. Figgy pudding. Liquorice underneath. Malt chocolate. Bitter and slight charred underneath. Brown bread. Tart grapes. tingling texture. Vinous. Vanilla. banana.

Finish: Fig rolls. Malt chocolate drink. Dried sultanas. Light charcoal dust. Tannins. Brown sugar. Banana. Cloves.

Conclusion: Homebrew day! This is such a nice one as well. Ok, time for the high concept pitch – it tastes kind of like a brewed up, higher abv Fuller’s ESB. It has that figgy, dark fruity character and malt chocolate baking writ large.

The extra abv allows it a bit more weight, pushing a vinous sour grape backing and thicker body with it to make it a more boozy figgy pudding dessert style joy. Beneath that it manages to work a solid base, bitter and slightly charred to keep it from becoming too sweet.

It ends up being a three way for the style between a well balanced ESB, a vinous English strong ale and the sweet high notes of a barley wine. It is, frankly, a dangerously drinkable brew. At times the mix of raisins and light banana notes makes me think of a UK ale interpretation of the great Aventinus.

And no I am not just saying that because I have it, and because it is a home brew the chances are you do not. It is genuinely impressive.

Ok, to be fair, flaws then. Well, it is very boozy and sweet – if that isn’t your thing then this will not be. It can be a touch overly alcohol tingling, with the sweetness dominating the flavour. I have a feeling a few years in the bottle would really do this nicely to make this a real masterpiece. Hmm, I have none left though. Sad face. Still only a few minor rough edges to this gem of a beer.

This is the best tasting beer that most people will not get to try.

Background: Homebrew tasting notes time! Two bottles were donated to me by a workmate a while back (Many thanks) and I asked if he could check with the home brewer if it was ok to do notes on them. By the time I had got the OK I had already drunk them. Thankfully another workmate had a bottle spare I could have, so I nicked that to do these notes, again many thanks. As you can probably tell the homebrew is Warhammer Fantasy themed. This was drunk while listening to More Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes. I cannot recommend them highly enough as a hardcore punk band, great energy.

Ysbrid y Bannau

Brecon: Genesis 3: iii: Ysbrid y Bannau (Wales: English Strong Ale: 6.5% ABV)

Visual: Clear yellow gold. Moderate yellow touched bubbled head.

Nose: Stewed banana. Vanilla. Light tart lime. Banoffee. Baileys.

Body: Toffee. Slick and not heavy texture. Lime jelly. Banana. Light oak. Lightly menthol. Gin touch. Banana sandwich (worth mentioning separate from just banana of course!)

Finish: Menthol and mint. Light spirit air. Whisky mash. Bourbon. Earthy bitter. Malt chocolate.

Conclusion: So, we have today’s round of “Unexpected words I never thought I would say”. This is like a British bitter AB 14. No, don’t run away, stick with me on this one. I’m not mad. On this anyway.

It has got this very soft banoffee and vanilla flavour, but here it is not delivered in such a syrupy sweet way. This, well I guess it should be a golden ale from the colour, but it’s delivered like a bitter base. It is lightly earthy in that base, but with all those lovely soft elements layered on top. Not as decadent as AB14, but feels more like what you would expect from a beer. Will seem more like a “real” beer to traditionalists. This makes it an easier beer to return to. The oak aged character makes it very smooth, and very easy to drink despite the slightly above average strength for a real ale.

It is very endearing, but like an endearing friend it also has its…. quirks, shall we say? Yes quirks is a good word. There is light menthol greenery, and a spirity, maybe gin like air. Both work against the light dessert bitter feel. Oddly it never affects the smoothness, just the flavour. The spirit is a bit too harsh flavoured, and the greenery tends to tread over the best flavours.

So, quirky, but it is such a cute pint that you can overlook that. As I say, endearing – a lovely mix of base bitter to dessert that you can keep with it, despite its foibles.

A worthy and quirky friend.

Background: This looks to be a very similar beer to “Ysbrid y Ddraig”, both are oak aged golden coloured beers from their descriptions. Maybe they age in different oak? I’m not sure. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to review more cask ales and a beer festival in Cardiff seemed a good time to do so. The fest was in the Millennium Stadium – a hallowed Rugby ground to Welsh fans. being neither Welsh, nor a rugby fan I had never been inside before, therefore I was uniquely not shocked by the lack of grass on the rugby pitch. Instead a bare grey floor was available for the beer stands.

Cardiff Beer Fest


James Street: Maximus (England: English Strong Ale: 4.9% ABV)

Visual: Dark cherry red, thin off white dust of a head. Leaves small sud rings as it is drunk.

Nose: Fortified wine touch. Fruitcake and almonds. Sour grapes. Slightly dusty,

Body: Slightly creamy and toffee touched. Light charring. Cherries and raisins. Plum pudding. Malt chocolate. Somewhat vinous. Sour grapes. Almonds.

Finish: Apricot. Hops. Bitter grated chocolate in a Belgium style. Slight gravel. Sour grapes. Dark fruit. Charring.

Conclusion: Woo, a new brewpub in Bath. Wonder if I am the first person to do tasting notes of them? Well, the first pint holds up pretty well. The aroma is unfortunately light – I had to damn near shove my nose in the drink to get the elements I did. The body, well, the body on the other hand is interesting. Despite a quite thick texture late on it initially feels quite light on the tongue, deceptively so as after a moment the flavour comes in well.

There is a slightly old ale style to it with vinous and sour notes against a fruity and creamy body that pushes a nice range of dark fruit forwards towards you. Now as you hold it then it becomes creamier which makes it feel thicker as well.

It is also worth taking your time between sips as the flavour just seems to grow the longer you leave it, very bitter high quality chocolate and still the dark fruits into a harsh kick that ends it on an impact.

Now, I’m guessing that this will be tweaked a bit between batches as often happens with new breweries, but it is already a satisfying pint with a lot of dark flavours. I would say it needs a tad thicker body to really sell the flavours it has, and a much bigger aroma, but the flavour itself is full bodied and done well, and that bitter choc finish is great and the best element of the beer.

So, with a mix of cream, toffee, plums, chocolate and fruitcake I would say it is worth a pint, but right now it could do with a few tweaks to polish it up. It is still a tasty pint without though so I’m not complaining.

Background: So, we have both a new bar, and a new brewery in Bath, or as you have probably guess, a Brewpub. I have been keeping an eye on the place since I first saw it was opening and dropped by on the opening day to sample their wares. Let’s face it, it’s good to support things like this. The pub is the Bath Brew House and it looks pretty nice so far, open with lots of seating and decent sized beer garden. Food, four keg taps for craft beer which is a first for Bath to my knowledge, three house real ale beers, three guest real ale taps, oh and your usual standard shite keg taps. They aren’t quite up to full speed yet as not all the taps are on but it is a good start. Very friendly staff, oh and they serve in dimple mugs which are quite quite impractical for nosing but I have very much a soft spot for them. I was a bit unsure on beer style for this one, and as it is a brand new brewery I have very few sources to check. However it refers to itself as dark strong ale, and despite the sub 5% abv I’d say English Strong Ale seems to suit it best in my eyes.
James Street Brewery

Pink Elephant: Mammoth (New Zealand: English Strong Ale:7% ABV)

Visual: Deep blackcherry to red. Lace leaving slightly rouge froth.

Nose: Lightly bitter hops. Lemon. Some raspberries. Cinnamon. Some earthy hop. Sour cherry sweets.

Body: Smooth. Earthy for the main body, with raspberries underneath. Creamy and robust. Strawberry hints. Slight sour grapes.

Finish: Hops. Earth and bubblegum. Digestives. Peppery. Cake sponge.

Conclusion: A robust little big ale this one. Like Emerson’s IPA it is surprisingly earthy in hops for an NZ beer. This one however adds a big wodge of character to it, with subtle raspberry freshness and strawberry notes underneath. Even in the aroma the mix of tartness and earthy hops is enticing.

Main body brings it home with a smooth creamy texture. Here the bitter hops are given grip, but you never have to dig beer to let the understated fruitiness well up.  It is easy to let the thick earthy hops sit on your tongue, but please, roll this beer around and let the fresh fruit out as that is all it takes to turn this from a solid but dull body and make it quite the intricate beer expression.  That little change makes it such an enjoyable beer.

If I may linger on this point a while longer, it is probably that fact that a bit of investigation is required to enjoy the beer that really makes it stand out.  It is a simple challenge to seek out the extra flavour, and it rewards you quickly, but that interaction makes it very satisfying when it opens up, more so than if it did so uninvited.

The explored beer feels like a very grounded dessert, like someone has dumped raspberries on rye crackers. In a good way. If that makes sense.

It will never be the most showy beer, but the combinations of elements feel new and unusual, and it rolls out from that into a solid bitter finish. It is an understated gem in my eyes. I’m not sure if it will appeal similarly to everyone, and some may view it as merely decent, but this beer has definitely caught my fancy.

Background: Ok, rate beer says this is a brown ale, but Michael Jackson called it Strong Ale and the hop character puts it closer to English Strong Ale than American. Darn beer styles can be confusing.  As you can probably guess from that, this is one of the beers from Michael Jackson Great Beer Guide.  It’s another I owe thanks to my sister for as she brought it back from New Zealand for me.  Yay, thanks sis.

Samuel Smiths: Yorkshire Stingo (England: English Strong Ale: 8% ABV)

Visual: Deep chestnut to red. Small loose toffee coloured bubbled head.

Nose: Glacier cherries. Marzipan. Raisins and rum. Malt.

Body: Full bodied. Lots of fruitcake. Port. Cherries. Liquorice.  Raisins. Very thick. Marmalade. Slight sour wine. Almonds.

Finish: Marzipan and fruitcake. Thick feeling still and golden syrup like. Liquorice. Malt loaf.

Conclusion: As always my (acknowledged) bias may be showing, but this puts the similar Fullers Vintage ale in the shade for sheer quality.  It is smooth, full bored with a fortified wine feel and flavour but despite that has no annoying alcohol burn presence, Lots of fruit and subtle marzipan backing it up for the flavour.  The usual annoying elements for this style, that of excessive liquorice flavour is handled well with the liquorice understated so not to be annoying. Oh and did I mention it’s smooth as. Because it is.

There are spirit like touches, again in flavour but not force. In fact the only real problem is the usual for beers this strength and style. In an ideal world they would be available in 330ml, half pint measures as that is the perfect sized serving for them. Oft on the latter third of the bottle the strength of the flavour works against it as it starts becoming slightly samey between sips.

A very malt dominated beer, and one that would probably age well. Frankly it’s time ageing before bottling puts it ahead of most even drunk young. Top notch in the malt heavy fruity beer stakes with strong flavour and a long lasting finish. As I have come to expect Samuel Smiths have done well again.

Background: Bias warning. This is from Yorkshire. This automatically means it is excellent. Samuel Smiths is probably my favourite of the traditional style brewers in the UK(Yes I’m biased, I admitted it, live with it).  This beer was fermented in Yorkshire Squares and has been aged over a year in casks that have been used to hold the beer over the years.

Fullers Vintage Ale: 2000 (England: English Strong Ale: 8.5% ABV)

Visual: Hazy red brown with roiling clouds within. Toffee steamy colours at the edges. Solid banoffee pie coloured creamy head.

Nose: Fruitcake and port. Sour grapes. Massively powerful aroma. Marzipan. Banana and chocolate. Honey. Very vinous. Shortbread.

Body: Fruitcake. Dates. Glacier cherries and liquorice.  Raisins. Figs.  Slight tart sourness. Ginger beer at the back. Shortbread and slightly herbal.

Finish: Liquorice. Rum. Raisins and cherries. Digestive biscuits.  Grapes. Quite dry after a while.

Conclusion: God damn this is an old beer and you can tell. Massively vinous, hugely smooth, chock full with fruitcake flavour. Its been aged so long  that it has gained a sour tartness which may or not be considered an improvement depending on your preferences.

By this point a beer is usually viewed as being a tad over aged, and with the slight brackishness and strong liquorice it could be argued to be so here, however the oddities leads to such a full of character beer that I find it hard to care that its been technically out too long.

It’s odd that I enjoy this so much, as the young versions of the Vintage Ale haven’t really hit me as being much superior to 1845, but this is so vinous and eclectic that you would have to work hard not to enjoy it. It’s like that crotchety old granddad you love. He really should annoy you with the things he says, but the quirks that could cause anger are also what make you feel so happy in their presence.

Very big, very fun, very quirky. I’d probably not age this long myself, but since I bought it pre aged – rock on.

Background: Drunk 2012.  I’d picked this up as part of an order to get a beer for my next “Thus Drank Zarathustra” review, and was shocked to find out they had vintages going back to 2000 available. So I grabbed one. I wasn’t planning to review it for a while but limpd over at “It’s just the booze dancing” was asking on advice on if he should age his Vintage Ale. So what could a beer aphorist do but break out the bottle and help out a fellow drinker. Fullers is a pretty solid brewery and definitely works better at the more heavy duty beers than the lighter ones.  This beer has a best before date of 2003.  Oops. Also this is a full pint bottle, not the more common 500ml you get these days.

Belhaven: Innis and Gunn: Highland Cask (Scotland: English Strong Ale: 7.1% ABV)

Visual: A bright mahogany influences the dark amber centre. Off white froth and small carbonation that helps the head flare with a quick swirl.

Nose:  Quick thick and pungent. Slight salty rocks backed by the sort of sharpness I would normally associate with raspberries.  Somewhat second hand bookshops, or more likely flaky dry oak as the beer warms.

Body: Double barreled punch of caramel sweetness and old booming oak.  Hint of liquorice. Slight rock salt and smoke. Dry, but quite vinous. Toffee.

Finish: Liquorice and hint of black cherry yogurt initially with a good British hop presence. Soon becomes more banana bread, dry white wine and dusty dry chocolate.

Conclusion: Interesting. I’m having to work quite hard against my initial preconceptions and expectations on this one. You see, I had an idea of what to expect from a highland cask aged beer, and let’s just say a touch of rock and salt wasn’t on the list. Also the level of vinous nature was more akin to something I would expect from the port cask or triple matured version. So I’m pretty much wrong footed from the start.

So, to try and get this back on steadier ground let’s take a look at what we find.  Well the I&G character is distinctive and in full force. Lots of the booming oak matched with complementing sweetness. In this case the sweetness has been ramped up by the whisky ageing, which makes it come in somewhat cloying.

So we put it all together, the old and the new, expect and unexpected, so what do we end up with?

Well it seems I&G tends to struggle with whisky casks, they tend to prefer the more fruit tone lending ageing materials such as the port cask version.  The beer, whilst flavoursome seems to struggle against the whisky kick.  It’s not a bad beer, the problems with excessive sweetness are made up for by the complexity the vinous qualities add, and it’s a beer with a hell of a lot of character, but they don’t all complement each other quite as well as they could.

Not the best, racks in about the same level as standard Innis and Gunn, but with a lot more variation on the quality of individual notes.

Background: Disclaimer: Received from Innis and Gunns’ promoters for review purposes. Many thanks.  I’m guessing they would want me to say this is available in Sainsburys. Because, ya know, it is. So there you go.

There seems to have been several versions of this beer knocking about, with a Canada release last year, and a Sweden release the year before that.  This one, the first UK release I’m aware of, seems closer to the Sweden version as it is aged in an unnamed 18 year Highland Whisky casks, unlike the Canadian version which spent 49 days in 21 year old oak.

Whilst I don’t have the ageing times for the Sweden version, this one has sixty nine days under its belt.  Would have been interesting to put the three head to head, but ah well what can you do.  Incidentally has an IBU (international bitterness units) of 20. While IBU’s are pretty loose in measuring actual bitterness it would be cool to see IBU’s listed more often, as I know a few people who just can’t handle the more heavily hopped beers and the additional info would do them the world of good in making buying decisions.

So far Innis and Gunn have been pretty damn solid, with Triple Matured and Rum cask as the top of the heap and the abomination that is the I&G blond beer at the bottom.

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