As hinted earlier in the week, I am very much indebted to Steve for these beers, and have been itching to get at them without obstacle. With so much going on and so many beers stacked up, this means it has rather a taken a while. However, the second of these ales is upon us! And I am looking forward to it.
Of course, tonight, and I know it's a Sunday and not in my garden, I think I've probably killed that already, it's Lancaster Brewery's Lancaster Red. Lovely evocative bottle and label - easily my preferred of the two offerings, hence the almost indecent haste to get it reviewed after Mr. Trotter's (here's that link again).
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I have genuinely been looking forward to this one. Something about the bottle design has been strangely comforting and alluring since I was given it. It's a proper bottle, an uncompromising bold label and full of what I remember about Lancashire from my youth and, more specifically, about Lancaster from when I was there as a student. The shade of red used automatically makes me remember the days of travelling to Lancaster as a child on the way to Morecambe or Carnforth from Preston. On pouring there's a satisfying chestnut colour, as suggested, and a decent head (missing from the image above because I was slow with the camera). Straight away it is possible to see the ruby in the ale and match that to the red of Lancashire. I feel like I'm home.
As you would expect from my rose-tinted view of this, the aroma is a good one. Plenty of spicy yeast atop the roving beast of a malt that snuffles through the undergrowth of my youth and memories like some great hog in a story of old. Chasing round a nutty edge and the barest hint of bittering hops on the edge of senses like the feeling one gets when out in the woods alone and expecting to see something flitter by - like the noises in the shrubbery of blackbirds and thrushes that you never actually see but for the tantalising movement of leaf and stem as they make their way all about you.
The 4.8% ABV is well advertised in the tasting, but in a positive way that puts me strangely in mind of strong oak and ash in some forest somewhere. It's proper oak too, not like the forests laid down by Copenhagen after Nelson's raid and then left when, 100 years old and mature, weapons' technology had marched on and steel was the order of the day. In many ways like the Sherwood Oak or the stands of impressive trees I once saw around Cumbria. There's a genuine depth to this, starting with the pricks of yeast spice mingling with some bitter hops that give way to a malt, the hops continue, and then fading to a nicely warming finish with that nuttiness and satisfying heat of the yeast at the back of the throat. A nicely interesting ale with a good brewing finish. And it keeps going too, it doesn't fade on subsequent tastes and sips and would parry most thrusts from food or heavily flavoured food. I've recently had a rather tomato-y pasta bake with plenty of good cheese followed by snacking on cheesy crisps (it's the MSG) and it doesn't harm the overall feel of this ale nor the delicate balance of the flavours. I realise that all this seems somewhat over the top, it's just a beer, but at the same time it has delivered on the promise from the bottle and thus I am glad.
There's no real comparisons to be made either. This is an ale on its own, and in the best possible way, an ale that is different enough to stand alone but familiar enough to not need some complicated journey or big gimmick to be so. I am surprised. Because usually, when I build an ale up like I have this one, they respond by not living up to the expectations. I'll admit this is not what I was expecting but it is not what I expected in a good way - that difference is allowable because it is a genuinely nice ale. I can heartily recommend it!
Enjoy pretty much anywhere and make sure you have a couple on hand, either to keep going or hold in reserve for a second occasion, because this is an ale that you have for some occasion. Maybe not a celebration or a big event, but something that is quietly significant and important to you. Have a room temperature, I'm sure you can chill this, but it works well straight from the kitchen and into the glass. Good warm, dare I say, English ale. You can't really ask for better than that.