Tag Archive: Old Ale

Orkney: Dark Island Reserve (Scotland: Old Ale: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Thin brown head that quickly vanishes to just a rim and a dusting.

Nose: Very vinous. Very spirity. Sour red wine. Rich sherry. Alcohol soaked raisins. Rum. Honeycomb. Golden syrup cake slices. Charcoal dusting. Hot fudge cakes.

Body: Cake sponge. Light charring. Smoke. Brown bread. Bitter core. Dry toffee. Thick feel after being light for a couple of seconds. Dry rum. Sour grapes. Dry sherry. Bitter chocolate cake. Lightly sour touch. Brown bread. Dry plums and dry figs.

Finish: Bitter chocolate cake. Sour touch. Sour grapes. Sour figs. Bitter cocoa dust. Wet moss. Smoke. Dry sherry.

Conclusion: Ok, this took me a bit of time for me to get my head around. Mainly because the aroma, the body and the finish all feel massively different while still having enough in common to give a coherent theme.

The aroma is the most spirity, vinous thing you are likely to encounter any time soon. It is thick as hell, heavy, with thick sweet syrup notes and tons of the old ale style and dark fruit notes. Every element you can imagine from its description is here and huge.

So, with that in mind, on first sip I was expecting pretty similar. Instead I got a drier, bitter chocolate cake, smoke and charring thing up front. Bitter in character but fairly subtle despite its weight. Then, over time, the old ale style sourer but still thick and heavy set of notes comes out. Subtle sour grapes, but more evident than that are the dry spirity notes. Far drier in how that are expressed in the full bodied aroma, but most definitely there.

The finish flips that a bit. It still has the bitter opening but then goes heavily into the sour, old ale like notes first, before finally the dry spirit notes show themselves around the edges.

It is not an instantly rewarding mix, which is kind of why I find it so engrossing. It had my interesting instantly with the aroma, but I had to take my time waiting in the body as it slowly laid its cards out after that, making you wait for the best notes at the latter half of the beer. It is never a bad beer, still solid early on, but the best comes to those who wait.

The beer never ends up the boozy beast that the aroma promises, and I kind of miss that – it smelled like it was going to be epic, but the drier, old ale sourness meets dry spirity character meets smoke and dry chocolate cake thing is a heck of an experience, and not one I can say I have seen like this elsewhere.

This earns its reputation, just takes a short while to do so. Give it that time and you will be rewarded.

Background: I have known this beer by reputation for ages, but somehow never got my way around to grabbing a bottle. Which changed last Christmas when I had a 750ml bottle to myself for lock-down Christmas! I didn’t do notes on it then, and have meant to for ages since. So this is me doing that , finally pulling my thumb out and doing something. For some reason this, smaller bottle, stylizes the name as DRK ISLD RSRV. Maybe because they hate me. That is most likely. Anyway, this is Dark Island that has spent time in whisky casks. Makes sense. Though considering the Dark Island I tried was sub 5% and this is over 10% I’m guessing they brewed up the recipe a bit. That or it was a heck of a wet barrel and there is a serious amount of whisky in this. Which seems less likely. Anyway, I think this was one of the earlier attempts at barrel ageing beers in the UK, but I couldn’t be sure on that. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Ulver: ATGCLVLSSCAP. I wanted something haunting to go with something this big, and as always Ulver provides. Considering the album is basically live improvised remixes of existing songs it speaks highly of Ulver that it is still so amazing.


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?

Marble: Castle Of Udolpho (England: Old Ale: 10.4% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Moderate frothy beige head.

Nose: Sour grapes. Sultanas. Sour apple. Vinous. Sour red wine. Oatmeal biscuits. Wheat.

Body: Oily. Malt drink. Nutty. Lightly bitter oils. Slightly chalky. Plums. Slight fizzy feel. Malt chocolate. Sour black cherries. Light charring. Sour wine. Cake sponge.

Finish Sour red and green grapes. Plums. Sour red wine. Madeira. Cloying notes. Sultanas. Gooseberry. Sour blueberry.

Conclusion: Oh old ale, I have miss you as a style. Not many people seem to make them these days. Or maybe I just miss them. That kind of cloying, sour, dark fruit beer that emphasises heavy character and class. They don’t tend to hit easy reward receptors, but take your time and they are lovely. Admittedly an acquired taste, but one I consider worth acquiring.

What I like here is that it has those thick, cloying sour notes all the way through – not acidic fresh like a lambic but heavy sour grapes and sultanas. The best, high concept description I can give of this is like red wine soaked plums and sultanas mashed into an oatmeal biscuit then blended and drunk. Yes, exactly like that.

There are sweeter notes, but they are light releases, short lived bursts – usually Madeira notes or slight sweeter fruit – but generally it is thicker charactered. There are some darker grounding notes, such as slight charring or slight chalk -but not heavily so. It seems the brewer knows that too many of those notes would break the balance on this which already demands a lot from the drinker. Instead they push savoury nutty and oily notes that seep in along the sour notes – grounding them but still letting the important dark fruit elements free to do their work.

The vinous notes from the barrel ageing are so closely intertwined with the base beer I find it hard to say where one ends and the other begins. They definitely bring more fruitiness, but the booming character of Pinot Noir now ties its wagons to the more sour characteristics of the old ale. It expands the range of flavour but does not alter the base character. A definite example of barrel ageing done well. A great return to the old ale style here.

Background: I’ve had this in the cupboard for a few months now – as a big beer I felt it would last. This one is a beer named in reference to Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho – not a book I’ve read, but as a fan of the Gothic tales I should possibly check it out some time. More importantly this beer is an old ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels, which sounds good by me- Pinot Noir is one of the few wines I can usually identify by taste. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Genitorturers -Flesh Is The Law. I’ve been meaning to check them out more since I was first introduced to the band by the Vampire: Bloodlines video game, and later by Diamanda Hagan’s reviews (Hail Hagan!), but only just got around to grabbing some music for myself. S&M themed heavy industrial tunes may not be to everyone’s taste, but if that sounds good to you – check them out.


Theakston: Old Peculier (England: Old Ale: 5.6% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Inch of creamy brown froth that leaves suds.

Nose: Lightly nutty. Earthy bitterness.

Body: Cherries. Light earthiness. Malt chocolate drinks. Slight sour back. Vinous red grapes.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Light vinous grapes. Lightly earthy. Cocoa dust. Peppery.

Conclusion:Another beer in the “earthy hops doesn’t have to mean dull” category. We have very specific categories these days. Anyway, here we have a fruity, lightly sour, old ale touched with vinous notes and then stamped with a good chunk of earthy hoppiness.

It is a good mix – used well the earthy notes grounds (no pun intended) the beer. It takes what could be a very heavy beer, an enjoy one then leave it be beer, and turns it into a soothing beer you can have a couple of. Still not a session abv beer, but one that is that mid point between session and heavy duty. Now, this does mean that it isn’t as deep and rich as a lot of old ales. Then again, as referenced, it also has a lower abv that most of those, so it really isn’t fighting for that niche anyway.

It feels like the child of an earthy bitter and an old ale – both share that slight sourness, but the old ale gives the fruitiness and more vinous character that makes this really enjoyable. It straddles the two styles – concentrates on the middle ground rather than aiming to challenge too much – but out of mainstreams ales this is one of my old reliables.

Possible it is because it is a mainstream beer not afraid to push that light sourness and old ale character. Posisbly it is because it matches those tart vinous notes while still keeping the solid British earthy ale influence that makes it refreshing rather than heavy duty. Any which way it may not rock the stars, but for what it aims to do and the market it aims at it is something very nice. It is a beer that is easy to find and does it solid and I very much enjoy it for that.

Background: Last of the beers I was given for Christmas by a college at work – many thanks! After a quick google I find out that is this not a misspelling in the name – a “Peculier” is an “ecclesiastical district, parish, chapel or church outside the jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese in which it is situated.” Who says beer doesn’t help you learn? Anyway, I have been drinking Old Peculier for a while – it was one of those beers I enjoyed even before becoming a beer nut. Common opinion thinks that it used to be a heavier abv, thicker beer – which sounds about tight to me, though I have never been able to find anything to officially confirm or deny it. Possibly I just remembering as being bigger compared to everything else I drank at the time.

Alesmith Olde Ale

Alesmith: Olde Ale (USA: Old Ale: 11% ABV)

Visual: Dark cloudy brown to red with greyed to brown bubbled froth of a head.

Nose: Sultanas. Sour red grapes and port. Christmas cake. Nutmeg. Cherries. Buttery shortbread. Cinnamon.

Body: Big vinous and sour character. Sour grapes. Sultanas. Buttery shortbread. Madeira cake and Christmas cake. Cinnamon. Creamy character. Some alcohol tingle. Malt chocolate. Cake sponge.

Finish: Sultanas and raisins. Malt chocolate. Vinous. Sour grapes. Some bitterness. Lightly herbal tea. Cake sponge. Cinnamon.

Conclusion: British style old ale they say? British style ma son? Bit of a bold statement there guv. Let’s take a look at you then.

So, yeah, you’ve get some vinous going on lad, bit of the red wine and Christmas cake on the I suppose* there, gets proper lovely jubbly there it does.

However, me old china**, you’ve overplayed your hand. What is this? Bit of the old buttery shortbread? Bit of smooth play here, you are not from around these parts are ye? Too smooth for that mate. Now, that ain’t a criticism mate, you do good, but it is a dead give away like.

Course, you do give it a good try, big vinous body, lots of warming alcohol character that warns you that you will be a bit Oliver Twist*** by the end of this. Seriously, at 75cl and 11% it will knock a drinker right on your arris***** son if they don’t share it with their droogs******. But even there, in that big punch of sour grapes and Christmas Cake&, you couldn’t let it go, could you? Nah mate, buttery shortbread again – smooth as silk, you just had to show off didn’t you.

Now, I am impressed, and it takes a lot to impress this geeza, but I have to ask. American, right? You do the same with Belgian beer styles, make ’em smooth as silk. Again, not complainin’, but it’s a bit fancy ya know? Anyway, well worth the bees and honey&& it costs for something a bit different.

Lots of sour wine like old ale, lots of smooth as silk as a bit of a twist. give it a good old butchers&&&


** mate aka friend.


**** aka drunk

***** Arse aka bottom.

****** What do you mean you haven’t watched ” A Clockwork Orange”?, for shame.*******

******* – No that isn’t what it means, I was just venting.

& Not rhyming slang. I actually mean Christmas Cake.

&& Money. Yeah, I know, this one was new to me as well.

&&& Look.

Background: Bottled 04/03/14 (UK Style date) Drunk tail end 2015. They call this a British style ale proudly on the front of the bottle. Over a picture of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. Now I am about to be amazingly pedantic, but Ireland isn’t part of Britain. We deliberately made up many different ways of grouping the countries, with different names for each, so to confuse everyone so we can be pedantic when you get it wrong. Because we are evil. If they had put UK style ale I would have understood – just showing Northern Ireland would have been confusing geographically so I could have forgiven that the entirety of Ireland was on there. Anyway … drunk while listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. A name that is almost as long as playing the damn CD. Nice chilled backing music for beer.

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil

Harviestoun: Old Engine Oil (Scotland: Old Ale: 6% ABV)

Visual: Black. Thin grey brown bubbles for a head.

Nose: Light lactose under roasted nuts. Vanilla. Lightly chalky. Chocolate milk shake. Milky coffee.

Body: Bitter chocolate. Peanuts. Vanilla toffee. Bourbon. Lightly chalky. Liquorice. Earthy bitterness. Sour dough. Chocolate liqueur. Oily. Treacle. Sour dark fruit and raisins.

Finish: Oily and tarry. Rye bourbon. Charred oak. Bitter earthiness. Cheese puffs. Sour tang. Bitter chocolate.

Conclusion: You know, I’ve known for years that this beer does, in fact, come in non barrel aged version AKA this beer. Yet only now do I try it and do notes. It actually tastes kind of like it had been aged in rye bourbon barrels. Go figure.

It is mainly that vanilla toffee influence and rye spiciness that makes me think of that, and with all that no wonder it made for such a good base for barrel ageing, it is half way there already.

The non barrel aged tasting parts of this non barrel aged beer seem to float half way between a bitter cocoa infused imperial stout and a well made old ale. That is without needing actual coca or the amount of alcohol and imperial stout would have. There is a sweet chocolate front, but it quickly kicks bitter as hell and then the old ale style comes in with dark tart fruit grounded by a traditional earthy hoppiness that calls to mind the Black IPA style.

Frankly all that means that it is punching way above its weight class, and yet comparatively easy drinking due to the smoothness and lower abv (lower is comparative on something kicking out at 6% abv of course). While the tail end is pretty heavy in the oily characteristics, the next sip taken washes that way with the sweet and smooth chocolate front that comes in before the bite.

This is rounded, robust and right up my alley. Really rocking the range and rewarding revisiting. For such a heavy duty beer it doesn’t weight to heavy but gives so much. Definitely worth your time.

Background: Many thanks to the Independent Spirit of Bath for this, the second bottle given to me for tasting noting. As always I will try to be unbiased, with the only advantage given being that it gets shove do the front of the to be uploaded queue, which only seems polite. I drank Old Dubh 40 Year ages back as one of my first tasting notes and loved it, so it is cool to finally go with the unaged version.

Wild Beer Stalker

Wild Beer Co: Stalker (England: Old Ale: 7% ABV)

Visual: Very dark red to brown. Thin smoke colour touched head.

Nose: Sour red grapes. Malt chocolate. Very light vinegar sharpness early on. Red wine. Rum soaked sultanas.

Body: Sour cherries. Madeira cake. Malt chocolate. Thick feel. Light earthy character. Red wine and raisins.

Finish: Malt drinks. Earthy notes. Bitter chocolate. Banana pie touches.

Conclusion: While I, and ratebeer it seems, have come to the conclusion this is an old ale, it manages to give a lot of the characteristics of that style, without the excessive weight that can come with some of them. In fact I would consider this beer slightly dangerous in that it does not give any hint of that 7% it is packing.

In fact the less alcohol feel means that there is almost an ESB call to the use of the flavours, with lots of raisins, red wine notes and red fruit which reminds me of Fuller’s ESB, but more complex and vinous. The aroma initially had some hint of sharper notes, but that soon smoothes out. As is you get a few of the more sour wine notes showing, but mainly a lot of influence from malt chocolate flavoured backbone and lots of raisins. Now the beer doesn’t have the complexity of Modus Operandi, and MO is by far the better beer, but this is very interesting and gives you a greater respect for where MO came from.

This is a nice wee beer, a bit strong in abv for what it brings but still pretty good. It is worth noting that it was a bloody hot day that I drank this one, and it survived that less than optimal environment well, which I will give it points for, but it is definitely more of a Winter beer.

Overall though it is very satisfying, a just sour touched enough malt heavy beer. Interesting and good if not great like some of its Wild Beer siblings. It still gives enough depth to while away the time with.

Background: I’ve been meaning to do more cask beers for a while. I also adore Wild Beer Company Beers. This, therefore is the perfect thing for me to find. Drunk on cask tap at the Small Bar in Bristol. First time I’ve been there, pretty nice tap list and friendly staff. This is the base beer for Modus Operandi, served here in its unaged form. Not sure why it is called Stalker, as it doesn’t appear to have any links to a Russian mercenary on its way to Chernobyl. If you get that reference you are probably a geek as well.


Wild Beer Co: Modus Operandi (England: Old Ale: 7% ABV)

Visual: Dark red brown. Very large crisp bubbled head that has mounds and troughs. Quite a bit of carbonation mid body. Lots of lace and suds left as the head descends.

Nose: Malt chocolate and tart cherry. Orange liquore. Fortified wine. Lime cheesecake. Sugared almonds. Dried apricot. Cider, and at other times champagne. Funky oak.

Body: Malt chocolate. Plums and raisins. Tart apple freshness. Nuttiness. Cherries. Vinous and with grapes. Thick texture.

Finish: Apples. Chocolate. Fresh feel mixed in with malt. Quite dry on the tongue, yet fresh at roof of mouth. Rich red wine.

Conclusion: No I’m not making that range of aroma’s up. I started with the beer chilled and then let it warm, bringing out a huge range of both aroma’s and flavours as it did so.

I will admit I was expecting something tarter than I got, mainly due to the mention of wild yeast. This comes in much closer to its old ale base than the Belgium sour ales that I usually imagine with such yeast. Here what you get is some extra play from the yeast and oak that adds to rather than utterly changing the base beer.  You get a very vinous ale, with big hit of malt chocolate. The odd twist comes in the cider apples to champagne fresh aroma, and the main body has distinct apple traces at tomes. In fact the body also gets a bit of fresh froth that calls to champagne at times. Not hugely, but just images that come up as you drink.   When you add in a mix of dark fruit then I get the impression that their claims this beer will age well are well backed.

The first of the Wild Beer Co’s beers that lives fully up to the company name, and a very solid beer with tons of play. At times you get orange liquore and lime dancing out to play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if future bottles grace me with more new flavours on sampling.

Flaws? Well in it’s youth the malt chocolate can dominate a bit, and it lays a bit heavy on the finish as well.  It is a beer that seems to crave ageing to let it balance itself perfectly.

Overall however it is a fine beer, a good balance of British old ale, craft class and Belgium funk. A rough gem now in it’s youth, but with lots of depth and very enjoyable.

Background: the Wild Beer Co describe this as “the first beer we’ve brewed is a beer that really shows what we are all about” and from the description you can see why. Old Ale, wild yeast and ninety days ageing in wood.  As a fan of Belgium sour ales this sounded like an interesting mix of British and Belgium styles.  I saved this for last from the three wild beer company beers I had bought and saved it for when I could appreciate it. Bought at “Corks Of Cotham” who seem to have an ever increasing range of decent beer both local and world. Going by rate beer this edition was aged in Bourbon barrels.

Moor: Fusion (2010) (England: Old Ale: 8% ABV)

Visual: Black with a creamy beige head.

Nose: Mocha. Bitter, yet quite fresh – pear drops. Twigs and roasted nuts. Slight apple. Rounded out with light vanilla yogurt. After time distinct coffee comes through.

Body: Vinous character and very slick textured. Grapes. Bitter back. Fruitcake. Light coffee comes through in the centre. Milky chocolate drinks. Quite sour touches. Light apple crumble and light toffee

Finish: Fresh yet matched with dry malt and bitter chocolate. Sour. Cooking apples. Slick almost liquore feel.

Conclusion:  Now I recently tried the Old Freddy Walker which makes up the base of this beer, and it was pretty good, but often its sour elements overpowered its subtleties.

This then smoothes out the excesses that came before it and really give the flavour room to roam.   This really makes the base beer so much more appreciable. The sourness lightens and now is only an interesting influence on the chocolate filled middle.

Where it goes the extra mile is that slight extra freshness and fruitiness that the apply brandy casks bring.  Again this is subtle and not overpowering, but gives that slight smoother and more complex to the beer. A light apple crumble element that makes it deliciously easy to drink.

Still carries a lot of the vinous tendencies that I have come to expect in old ales, so its like drinking a wine porter.

So what are the flaws then, well it does take a while to properly get into gear, but when it gets going you can forgive it that. It doesn’t quite bring enough to the table to enter the world shakers league, but when that’s the worst criticism I can level then its damn good sign that they made the beer good.

Background: This is a beer based on the “Old Freddy Walker” ale but aged in Somerset Cider casks. Old Freddy Walker was I beer I enjoyed, but had several flaws that made it one I would not go for regularly.   According to Moors website, only 700 beers were made foe each of the 2010 and 2009 releases.  This 2010 release was drunk in the first third of 2011. Incidentally their tagline “Drink Moor Beer” gets on my nerves something rotten for a reason I cannot explain.  Drunk whilst listening to Gogol Bordello:  Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher) a song I highly recommend.

Moor: Old Freddie Walker (England: Old Ale: 7.5% ABV)

Visual: Utter opaque black with a cream coffee brown head.

Nose: Bitter coffee, charcoal. Chalk. Red wine and sour gooseberries.

Body: Milk chocolate, raisins. Fruitcake mixed with figs. Bitter and bready. Rum with white wine underlay. Slightly oily. Black cherry.

Finish: Slick, but with a chalky hint. Bitter, touch of black cherry. Vinous. Lots of fruitcake, bitter chocolate and grapes.

Conclusion: I’ve often talked about how the environment of drinking affects the beers, and in the case of darker beers cold is the worst enemy, freezing up their pleasing aromas and accompanying tastes.

Such was nearly the fate of this beer.  The initial pour seemed lacklustre and weak until I noticed the cold feel of the glass. Short moments of heating later I returned to the tasting with significantly improved results.

Sour and almost wine like front and finish, the dark fruity beast that makes up the main body is sandwiched between these challenging bookends. There is still a wine influence to the body, but with fruitcake and milk chocolate mixed into its bitter traits.

The beer seems to play catch me if you can with your taste buds, the rich flavours often seem fleeting before its sour gooseberry counterparts. It doesn’t always work, but it is a very distinctive stylistic choice for the beer, and really stands out from the crowd. This is a beer you wrestle meaning from rather than an open book.

The sour sometimes overpowers the complexity, but it’s a good shot at something different.

Background:  Ratebeer lists this as a porter, when taste wise I could swear that it is its close cousin, the old ale. Oddly the bottle text agrees with me so I’m going to go with old ale here.  Moor is a beer company with a great rep, but one that I’ve never really understood. The beers I’ve tried aren’t bad, but none so far have shaken my world.  This is part of my continuing quest to work out their appeal.

Addendum:  Recently I had this on tap. Much smoother and thicker, with less sourness. The beer was significantly better on cask and on that I would highly recommend it.  A really great beer

%d bloggers like this: