One of my favourite ales from way back, long before actually starting the whole rigmarole of keeping a blog on the subject of reviewing ales, is Robinson's Old Tom and so when I spied that there were variants of this to taste, with ginger and chocolate, I had to try them. The fact that they were on offer was just icing on that particular cake. The first one to be thus tasted was the ginger variant, because reasons.
It's early days yet so who knows where this might lead? I suspect that it will lead to a review, who knew?
Now that we have introduced ourselves to the ale on a formal basis, what say we get to know one another better? Hmm? I shall put on some music (I recommend the Pet Shop Boys, because of course I do) and slip into something a little more comfortable... my dining room. Would you care to join me there?
First thing to note is that this has been well carbonated so that the fizz really makes itself known in the pour - resulting in a big head that quickly settles down from epic proportions a thinner froth atop the strangely dark brew. I like my brews dark and the colour of this is pleasingly opaque if not totally black - not the golden tinge one may expect, more of a type one associates with rainclouds and, well, winter. This is all good. The malty aroma is reminiscent of the original Old Tom in the fact that there is a heavy presence of malt in the air, strong and sweet almost, but the tang of ginger is also very much there, as one would expect. I liken this particular mix to what one might get if one were to sniff some Soreen with a glass of ginger ale hanging about. The ginger is pleasant, if a little artificial, and seems to complement the overall feeling that emanates from the brew - it will be warming and almost comfortable.
Now to the taste, having poured it into a small glass, and this is not terribly surprising. Malt opens the proceedings confidently, red jacket resplendent and shining with gold braid, the voice is raised and reaches the very back of the big tent. The middle is soft and caring, like the patois of the accomplished circus master who knows their trade and is fully aware that people are here for a spectacle. Imagine the kind of public speaker who needs no microphone to reach all the listeners in the crowd and you have the basic feel of the malt as it softens and turns to caramel spilling between the jaw and into a full mouthfeel but with a thin quality to it - exactly what you may expect from a travelling circus in the days before they became static affairs.
It is at this point that the mad clowns appear, gabbling forth from the depths of the back of the tent with gibbering, make-up and an insane act. This is the ginger that hits the back of the throat, slightly terrifying if you're not a fan of clow- I mean, if you're not a fan of ginger. Still, if you aren't a fan of ginger you wouldn't be buying and drinking this ale, right? So, there they are and here they come, dragging the warming embers of the ginger by the scruff of the neck to your tastebuds and leaving you with the distinct impression of some peppery warmth on the tongue. At this point we have less of a stout and more of a dark ale going on, the ginger running back from the rear of the taste to fill the mouth and thus dominate proceedings from here on in. The aftertaste remains very malty but is bittersweet and actually rather pleasant. I rather like my ginger ales and so this fits rather nicely into that milieu.
From this point both the nose and the taste develop - they change and shift - becoming more gingery and sharper. Certainly there is an accumulation so that each swig of the brew increases the amount of ginger in the mouth and thus the ginger slowly comes out of itself. The clowns give way to the high wire acts and the trapeze artists - each act more breath-taking than the last and not an exploited animal in sight. Eventually you have some nutter on a trail bike running a chainsaw to carve a wooden block into a swan.
On that basis, then, I am glad that I got a brace of these in as I shall definitely be having another but it is perhaps a little too bonkers to seriously challenge my favourites list!
Enjoy this best in the height of autumn, as the leaves turn and curl on the trees and the alleys and ginnels fill with the detritus of a dying summer. Kick your way through the drifts of these crunchy exponents of the season to the garden, rake up the twigs blown from the trees by the increasing winds and then take a moment to savour the cold of the air about. In that sharp moment, just on the cusp of frost but clear of the fogs that roll in, sip this slowly and enjoy the warmth that the ginger brings.