Thursday, 13 November 2014

Beer Review: Traditional English Ale

Back in the mists of time, when Willow and I were married, we went to a lovely hotel on Hog's Back just south of Guildford. Set on an odd local geographical promontory we were able to view London from the balcony near the swimming pool. Also, after lugging suitcases and cots and bits and bobs up and down for two days, I can say that three staircases were a tad excessive - the lift was unfortunately at the wrong end of the building to really offer much help. There's a main road there that does rather spoil the effect, but allows for lovely views when driving along it, and apparently there's a brewery in the vicinity, aptly named Hog's Back Brewery - will wonders never cease?

So it should come as no surprise that when I happened across an ale made by these people I was naturally drawn toward it and thus I review it here: Traditional English Ale or TEA for short (which I find faintly amusing, so sue me). Also, like last week, not drunk at home.

Would you like to sit with me a while and listen to me pontificate upon this chance discovery?

Apart from the very English design on both bottle and label, the first thing that struck me on opening was the rather different aroma than anything I've had since the beginning of the summer holidays (that would be Anubis Porter for those keeping watch, you'll find it here). This odd change was eventually explained by the examination of the label and discovering that there were fuggles involved, reminding me of Thoroughbred Gold (here) and the beginning of my adventure in beer reviewing. And, straight away, this ale had a lot going for it simply because of the positive connotations that it brought with it. Thus the aroma can be described as warm, musty and with a spice to it: a fire smouldering somewhere in the chestnutty depths of it. A good head on pouring, no nonsense and no hanging about, and the colour was unusual but lovely. Very British. Very Home Counties.

Malt was the overwhelming impression on the first taste, a clear one that was accompanied by the bittering hops down the sides of the mouth, running down the gunnels like Black Sheep (link) astride a less fiery version of Thoroughbred Gold in the Grand National - and a mixed metaphor. However, that's it. It starts this way, stays this way through the middle, fades to a finish in much the same fashion and then the aftertaste merely reminds you of the opening sensation. I can't quite escape the feeling that there's been a missed opportunity with this ale, at 4.2% ABV it ought to occupy a position among those with meals or for a good evening relax and yet it doesn't quite manage it. There's a good malt in there and it has been nicely hopped but the taste doesn't roll as much as it could or perhaps should.

In short, this is uncomplicated and well made that results in a good strong build followed by a pleasant aftertaste but something of a hole down the middle where I rather like some action and something a bit adventurous. This would not be out of place in some period drama or something procedural like Touch of Frost or the even more derivative Vera. Yes, it is solid and carefully done but imitative of other, more interesting, ales. It says it was first brewed in 1994 and I suspect it was a good call at that point, but with things like Amber Ale (link) and Cumberland Ale (link) out there, it's not really exciting enough for me.

Enjoy, as the shortened form of the name suggests, with scones and whipped cream in the late afternoon, preferably a wet one with some companions in a pub with dark wood furniture, a darker aspect than outdoors, and small lights. A good wooden bar is a must, as is stone flooring that scrapes alarmingly with the metal and heavy chairs used around circular tables. If possible, there ought to be a darts match ongoing, so that any conversation is punctuated by scores, thunks of darts and some ribald banter.

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