Brrrrr! Fall’s racing to winter and now’s the time to rummage around in the cellar for some robust, body-warming beers. If we can resist reaching for the really big ABV guns like Barley Wines for now, the English Strong Ales are the perfect “tweener” beer to bridge the seasons and mildly thaw our chilled extremities.
Any English Strong Ale worthy of the adjective, “strong” should be in the 6.2% – 8% ABV range. Any lower and it doesn’t really provide the warming effect, any stronger it becomes a Barley Wine or strong “Old Ale” (both are on the waiting list for style of week).
Dark copper to deep amber in color, malty backbone, dark fruit esters, and varying degrees of hoppiness and alcoholic profiles are the norm. As with most beer styles there are some conflicting variables, and nowadays that is the new norm.
From the land of origin
Fuller’s 1845 – Fuller Smith and Turner PLC – London, England – 6.3%
Sturdy brown 16.9oz brown bottle. Best Before Date.
It pours a dark teak with an orange tint. The medium-sized head dissipates slowly and leaves behind some patchy and trailing lace.
The aroma is mostly a big sweet malty one. Some woody notes peek through, as does a light smell of chocolate. A hint of rummy alcohol and vanilla extract is noticed.
The malt has a taste reminiscent of French toast. Toffee and chocolate flavors are quite pronounced. A woody taste is constantly in the background.
The sharp citrus bitterness is slightly tempered by a pear-like fruitiness.
This brew has a unique dual mouthfeel. It is at once sharp-edged with a restrained rawness to it. At the same time, there is a civilized balance and rounded sweet smoothness.
This is one of those rare brews that taste more alcoholic than it actually is. I would have guessed 8%ABV.
Young’s Special London Ale – Wells & Young’s – Bedford, England – 6.4% ABV
16.9oz brown bottle. Best before date stamped on bottle.
Listed as a Strong Bitter, it stills fits the English Strong style very well.
It pours a deep amber color with a medium-sized off-white head and some trails and sticky lace.
The aroma is a harmonious blend of lightly roasted malt and citrus hops, with a faint smell of tea in the background.
The full malt body has flavors of fresh bread dough and sweet caramel.
A delightful taste of fresh flowery hops.
This is a rich and complex brew, though all of the flavors are reserved and subdued. Well balanced! Very tasty and the flavor lasts!
Innis and Gunn Highland Cask – Edinburgh, Scotland – 7.1% ABV
11.2 oz. clear glass bottle (wrong!) Served in a standard pint glass.
Poured a coppery amber color with a fast-fading off-white head.
Smells off cut dried wood, caramel, dry malt, resinous hop followed by peaty scotch.
Flavors of caramel malt, wheat crackers, resinous and metallic hops mix. The cask whiskey taste pulls through in the finish.
The body, quite dry at first, mellows and becomes smooth and velvety as it warms.
This HAS to be marked down because of the clear glass bottles. The brewers must not respect their own beer.
Geary’s Hampshire Special – DL Geary’s – Portland, Maine – 7% ABV
This was a winter seasonal - Must Try! Now available year-round.
Deep golden bronze/amber with a tint of red. Very complex dry robust malt with a trace of sweetness. Powerfully hopped, then dry hopped for good measure. The maltiness rolls forward throughout the glass and begins to reveals a trace of berries and some smoothness. An unusual, but nice pine essence is long lasting. The alcohol is noticed, though not overly so. The creamy beige head lingers and nice lace is formed. As with all of D.L. Geary’s brews, there’s sort of a raw wildness, like Maine itself. It’s easy to picture a Norman Rockwell Maine coast pub scene in winter where the cheerful patrons are toasting one another with a frosty mug of Hampshire Special. Now that really warms the heart! BTW Hampshire Special pairs really well with hearty stews. Try braising a roast with this ale in place of Burgundy wine.
Pretty Things November 15th, 1901 KK – Pretty Things Ale & Beer Project – Westport Mass. 7.8% ABV
22oz dark brown bottle. No Freshness date, although the legend on the label suggests cellaring.
Served in a nonic pint glass. From a recipe brewed on 11/15/1901
It pours a very deep dark smoky cola color with a firm and rocky tannish head and loads of lacing.
The smell is a little here and there. Burnt rye toast, grapefruit zest, coffee and bread dough is followed by a slightly astringent camphor and witch-hazel fuminess.
I like the overall flavor mix, although it reminds me of several homebrews I have sampled over the years. The citrusy and metallic hops are surprisingly up front. A resinous hop taste is always present, yet mild. Burnt sugar and rye crackers tastes follow and some warming alcohol is in the finish.
The mouthfeel is a tad raspy though not enough to keep me from taking some large gulps now and then.
Next week; Old Ale (Stronger Old Ale)
Quote: “We old folks have to find our pillows and cushions in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old” – Martin Luther, 1483 - 1546k of the old."