In the next couple of days we are heading back down south and I am looking forward to it, on the grounds that we shall be staying as we always do somewhere around the Hog's Back area, around Farnham, and that means a visit to one of my favourite breweries: Hog's Back Brewing Company. And that, in turn, means that I shall be stocking up on some of their finest ales and getting some curios from their rather well-stocked shop too. All of which means that it's about time that I finished off the brews that I got last time. One of which I have been sitting on for absolutely ages, possibly a whole two years actually, and I'm rather looking forward to trying it. That ale is the massive Old Tongham Tasty (or OTT) that weighs in at a pretty heavy looking 6% ABV and looks to defy easy categorisation due to the plethora of malts used in its production.
On a humid and overcast evening, with the Boy upstairs independently creating complicated gearing in Technic from my school's set that must date from when I was about 12 and the Girlie avidly playing with clip dolls in some complicated political saga of something, this seems like the perfect brew to settle back with and share some time with Willow, who will no doubt be working on articles and books and writing because she's just like that. Would you like to know more?
There's a lot of malt going on in that nose, plenty of fruity spice of the sort I associate with soreen but it plays on a bed of something deeper and more roasted, almost chocolate malt. The bottle does tell me that it uses crystal, pale, chocolate and malted wheat to create the brew so the strange play of aroma makes a great deal of sense. I'm not sure there's much in the way of hops in this one, at least I can't find any on the nose, But there is a hint of something. Once again, the bottle informs me that there is some hop addition made in the boiling process, being fuggles, and that would explain the spice in the malt that I first noted. Good to see that this one has called back to my first thoughts on fuggles in ale. All in all, this is quite a comforting aroma and one that I could quite happily sit with for a while before delving into the tasting.
On that taste, though, there's quite a lot going on. My initial impression was of a rich cherry torte with cream and chocolate but avoiding the post-frozen mess of flavour that I never liked as a child. However, as the malts swirl and mingle over the tongue in a rich morass of thick and creamy goodness, I get the impression of blackcurrant, tart and bitter without sugar to sweeten it, as if from the banks of brambles back where I used to live. There is that impression of cream and almost milk on the edge of sensation, providing the bedrock of the taste and the guiding funnel for the fruity flavours of the malt to spill down and around. In fact, I get the distinct impression of a crumble as the summer turns into autumn, home-cooked and roasted in the oven so that the crumble is just crispy enough and the fruit juices maintain their sour edges - meaning less sugar has been added than you get in the stuff in restaurants. That's this ale, and the aftertaste perpetuates this impression nicely into the throat and beyond.
Already this is more of a sipping ale to be savoured than a session ale to be drunk quickly. This is the sort of ale that will reward extra attention and slow methodical approach. It stays complex and it maintains that oddity of flavour whereby there's fruit in the malt, spice in the hops and almost sweetness in the slight carbonation. If you're looking for something angry and mouthy then this is not your ale, and if you're looking for something that is a bit quick and will reward you then this is also not it. This is a longer and more contemplative ale, I've spent a good half hour just trying to put it all into words and I'm barely a third of the way through. And I'm not tarrying, it really is good to be patient and to take this slowly. I think that may have been the point.
I really don't know how best to sum this up and I'm not entirely certain that I have done it justice. It is certainly not the heavy stout that I was expecting from the bottle and it is not the sort of dark ale that is an IPA (which I do enjoy). There are shades of Thornbridge here but it is almost entirely reliant on the malts rather than the hops and that marks it as one of the more unusual ales that I have had the pleasure of tasting on this blog. I'm tempted to say that it is unique, except that I am reasonably certain that it is not. Whatever the case, I shall be seeking out more of this when I am in the area and hot to trot on new ales. I hope they will have some in that I may enjoy this again in the winter. Maybe a brace of them to share with a friend.
If you find this one: buy it!