Relatively little to say in preamble to this but where have all the stouts gone? Ah well, would you like to know more?
The massive head on this took a while to sort out and was entirely down to my own stupidity - as I was preparing to have it I upended the bottle and then didn't let it settle. I mean, I gave it a couple of hours but I suspect it needed a day or so. That said, it poured crystal clear, apart from the big froth at the top, and seems otherwise unharmed by the idiocy I subjected it to. Deep malty hit on the nose with the barest hint of citrus hops waiting in the wings, a fair amount of yeast there but don't read too much into that, I'm being overly precise again. Mainly you have malt, a second helping of hops and that's about it. Sniff a while and you can catch the yeast, mostly it's malt. Chestnutty amber in aspect with a decent off-white head that looks a little like the result of adding too much ice-cream to a lemonade back when I lived in Preston and was having such a concoction at Brucciani's somewhere on the main street. I want to say Friargate. I digress, the point is that it looks decent and smells, well, like an amber ale should.
Taste is through the froth and comes with a lingering cream from that experience. Fresh and spicy on the opening with a hint of something hoppy and free, a bit like goldings but the bottle informs me only Northdown, WGV and EXG were used. Hmm. Not sure what to make of that. It's decent enough, there's a peppery undercurrent to it, and then it swirls for a moment on the middle of the taste as if deciding where to go. Strong malts here, which is no mistake given that there are three varieties in use, and then it softly rushes down the sides of the mouth to a final aftertaste. There's a walk-on part for the bubbles and the yeast I detected on the nose but blink and you'll miss it. At 4.9% ABV the alcohol plays a surprisingly small role. The main hero of the piece is... I don't know. The malts and the hops work well as an ensemble cast, reminding me of the early episodes of Star Trek TNG where the main cast seemed beset by cameos, extras and the unknown of which would resonate with audiences and become the staple crew. There's even a shaky section near the end where they're all throwing themselves about on a stationary set whilst the camera goes mad.
Each taste gets fruitier and I can't tell if that is down to a layering effect or the head finally dying back enough to let the main ale do what it is supposed to do. I'm getting oranges, but with candied peel, and a hint of something else but it's hard to place. No grapefruit, no mandarin... no, wait, yes, this is mandarin. It's from a tin where they'd pack the segments with syrup rather than juice but then they'd be drained before being added to a bowl with whipped cream from a can, well, they would be in our house at any rate. Again, in Preston. Yes, this has a mandarin-like sheen atop those complex malts that carry the brew and a small amount of carbonation either from the amount of time that I left it to calm down or from the fact that it all went on that big head, difficult to say. It's not a bad ale and the brief push of added carbonation just before it slips down the throat is enough to say that it's honestly made and not trying too hard to be something it isn't.
All in all, well-made ale that does the trick after a day traipsing round a big park in the dying embers of sunshine as the leaves start to crunch underfoot and the frost makes itself known in the morning. Mist and fog patches abound on the early morning radio forecasts and the whole brew just feels as though it is perfectly in-keeping with the dominant conditions. Not the sort of smoky ale that one would associate with Bonfire Night nor with Hallowe'en yet it is also not the sort of rich and fruity ale that one would use to look forward to Christmas. This is harvest ale, of the sort that I can imagine ploughmen having - another one to add to the list of things to have with cheese and pickle actually.
Enjoy best after a day out in the grasslands with your breath turning white and whispy in the frigid air, hands thrust into deep pockets or in fluffy gloves. Head uncovered, you nevertheless wrap a long woollen scarf round your neck and try not to keep your ears out for too long. Boots are the footwear of choice because some areas aren't touched by frost and the mud is sucking. Leaves are delicate and fragile, waiting for the crunch of someone's feet and they may as well be yours. Children hoot and call as they run off into the distance and then, as the darkness calls, you pour yourself this ale, careful not to upend it, and enjoy an evening of laughing and company.