Tag Archive: English Strong Ale


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.

Fuller: Brewers Reserve: No2: Oak Aged Ale (England: English Strong Ale: 8.2%)

Visual: Burnished amber with a small froth of off white bubbles that don’t have the hugest life.

Nose: Cognac. Black cherry and port. Overall very vinous and with notable alcohol.  Lots of grapes. Marmalade. Glacier cherries. Big malt influence.

Body:  Very rich. Fruitcake and marzipan. Lots of wine soaked raisins.  Custard doughnuts.  Slight fizzy texture. Sherbet and liquorice mix. White grapes and black cherry.

Finish: Malt loaf. Liquorice. Marmalade comes back again. Slight oak. Marzipan again. Milk chocolate covered digestive biscuits. Slight cherries and toffee.

Conclusion:  Booming is the word that comes to mind here, a word I normally use to refer to double bass or to a big whisky, but definitely appropriate.  I could also go for comparisons to the Innis and Gunn Rum Cask beer as well, which would be fair as they are both massively influenced by their time spent in the oak and deeply vinous as a result.

Despite the oak influence this is still definitely a Fuller’s beer, with all the massive fruitcake base that makes up some of the best of Fuller’s mainstream ales.  It is flavoursome, though sometimes lays things on heavily enough to be a tad sickly with the beers thick texture.  The beer tries to push everything into the foreground which makes for an amazing up front show, though it does mean that you don’t get much variation in the beer throughout its lifespan.

The oak ageing works well here, and works in a different way than all the stouts that I have seen oak aged.  It feels very much that the cognac is working alongside rather that overwriting the ale as oft happens.

A bit of a beer equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, very showy and very impressive, but once you are ten minutes in you pretty much know what you are getting for the full run.

This shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s a bad beer, just that it is intent on having everything it has on show at all times.  Frankly I quite enjoyed my time with it, and was glad that I grabbed a bottle while I was passing through.

Very recognisably a Fuller’s beer with the vinous ratcheted  up. It is a glitzy treat, not with the subtly of a masterpiece but still a good ale.

Background: Aged in cognac casks, this is a limited edition beer that is available mainly from Fullers website or from their brewery store. Myself I picked it up from their store after taking their Brewery Tour.  This was a beer I was expecting to play well to Fullers strengths, they tend to deal best with the heavier and more malt driven end of their spectrum. While I have had a lot of oak aged beers, I think this is a first for cognac, hopefully will be very cool.

Fullers: Past Masters: XX Strong Ale (England: English Strong Ale: 7.5% ABV)

Visual: Mahogany amber with a surge of off white bubbles. A clear body with small degree of carbonation.

Nose: Cherries and fruitcake. Strawberry jam. Slightly sherbet style. Dry liquorice. Lemonade and ginger. Irn Bru. Lemon meringue.

Body: Full bodied. Liquorice, digestive biscuits. Strawberry jam mixes with mild hop bitterness, Slight ginger fire. Raspberry and apples. Port, scones. Somewhat fizzy and syrupy texture.

Finish: Glacier cherries and bitterness.  Liquorice again. Ginger. Madeira. Good dose of fluffy hops and bitterness. Strawberry syrup and banoffee pie.

Conclusion: Why is it that most so called traditional ales are far from traditional and instead call to recent history rather than the somewhat more impressive roots of the beer industry.  Thankfully this heavy duty beer from the annals of Fullers history goes a bit further back than most and puts paid to the idea that traditional means bland and inoffensive.

This packs in a fair ABV and flavour to match. Distinctly a Fullers ale with the fruitcake flavour and heavy malt influence, it also brings in a range of flavour beyond what most of their range can mange. Most distinctive is the fruity flavours and the strong fortified wine flavours.  Vinous yet traditional, If I had my way this would be part of their regular range, for all that its longer brewing time would probably cause them issues.  Plus it would mean I wouldn’t have to trek so far to pick it up.

Downsides – well it has a slight syrupy and fizzy feel that doesn’t bring the classiness that the other elements of the beer does, but that it probably just me being picky.  A rich fruit heavy vinous beer. Very well done.

Background: Picked up from the Fullers brewery after their tour, this beer is mainly available from the brewery shop and their website.  Apparently a recreation of a recipe from 1891. This kinda thing is always of interest to me, digging up the past and seeing how it compares.  Fullers tend to turn out good beers, though do better on their heavier beers I have found, with their lighter beers sometimes lacking in body.

Milton: Augustus (England: English Strong Ale: 5.8% ABV)

Visual: Grain to amber with a dashing bubbled head.

Nose: Fresh. Pineapple and light dust.

Body: Golden syrup, treacle, passion fruit and pineapple.  Custard. Very fresh and sweet. Fruit juice style. Noticeable bitter mid point between two sweet tones.

Finish: Passion fruit and bitter hops. Pineapple juice.

Conclusion: Have you ever wondered what alcoholic fruit juice would be like? Possibly not, I mean you’ve already most likely dropped vodka in juice so you already know.

Bitter alcoholic fruit juice on the other hand is something different, something we have here for one.

Lots of flavour, pineapple fruit juice style, but still very distinctly beer. A very punchy number. I really enjoyed this.  Fresh, refreshing but powerful with decent lasting bitterness.

Too high ABV for a proper session ale, but if you take it slow and talk a lot in between it may do a good impression to tide you through a warm day.

Background:  So far Milton and me have got along well, their habit of classically themed names and tap images sets a good first impression so I tend to try any of theirs I see on tap.  Thanks to Dylan for help with Photo duties.

Allgates: Unhinged (England: English Strong Ale: 7.5% ABV)

Visual: Dark burgundy red with a wonderful creamy treacle coloured head.

Nose: Cherry, cinnamon, sherry, fruit. Christmas cake. Fortified wine. Thick cream. Rich and a wonderful winter feast for the nose.

Body: Hard pastry, a thick texture and slightly bitter. Icing sugar dusting, biscuits, liquorice, vanilla and cream.

Finish: Charred wood, biscuits. Slick but with some hops.

Conclusion: What a nose, wonderful and varied with a solid body backing it up. The finish isn’t exceptional, but the rest of the beer plays well enough that you don’t really mind.

A very powerful fruit cake body and decent sweetness – best taken like a small perfectly wrapped present – it wouldn’t work in larger doses but at the correct size (in this case a half pint)its perfect.

A tipple worth celebrating in small quantities that ring out with joy.

Innis and Gunn: Triple Matured (Scotland: Strong Ale: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Dark rum red brown with a little dash of an off white head.

Nose: Rum, oak and malt. Lots of wood and wood shavings. Wheat chaff/grain and dry hops.

Body: Thick cream, raisins and charred wood. Blackcurrent/ blackcherry. Brandy snaps and raspberry Toffee, red wine and milk chocolate. Sherried fruit.

Finish: Milk, dry textured and white bread. Toffee. Sour touches in an understated fashion.

Conclusion: This is a top notch smooth beer – lovely rum and chocolate – the distinctive Innis and Gunn style, similar to the rum cask but smoother and richer.

Probably the most accomplished Innis and Gunn beer I have tried and brilliantly rich, just a notch below the world class efforts but damn good. A beer of high quality that slips well into many a social situation, from casual drinking to classy parties.

Very well crafted.

Innis and Gunn: Canadian Cask (Scotland: Strong Ale: 7.1% ABV)

Visual: Dark cherry red and oak. Bubbly brown head, large but short lived.

Nose: Musky oak, gin and sweat. Sour cherry, raisin. Old Clothes shops.

Body: Smooth, toffee, moderate hops. Raspberry, slight bitterness. Mellow whisky and vanilla extract. Rounded oak influences on the main body. Attics and grain stores.

Finish: Fudge, bakewells. Sour cherry. Slight gin feel again. Grapes and white wine.

Conclusion: Smooth and decent, lovely fudge finish and easy going. A nice mix of just so sweetness and whisky smooth body.

A decent experience of a beer- mellow, not extravagant. Comes across more of a refinement of a standard Innis and Gunn than a completely new beer. Not a bad thing in most respects.

Slightly dry and sour, decent added complexity to the main Inns and Gunn and gives a different character to an already enjoyable mainstream beer.

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