This was actually a Christmas present (I know, I know, there's been so many lovely ales though) and so it feels like I ought to try some and there is the ever-present memory of the cold of winter meaning that I'm going to enjoy the strength a little. Mainly I'm casting about for an excuse and finding as many as I would like to find. Because, tonight, I shall be reviewing the rather strangely titled "Old Crafty Hen", I say strangely because the speech marks are right there on the bottle, by Morland Brewing and that's no bad thing. Oak-aged, you see, and so in a posher labelled bottle and has stood some long storage beneath the stairs.
It's not my usual fayre and relatively hard to find in supermarkets from what I can gather but it is a more mainstream ale than some of the ones I have been having and so I feel an affinity for it. Would you like to know more?
opens without any fuss, many claims about it being a good accompaniment to cheese and so I'm guessing that this is a malty one with a bit of a cloying tendency about it. Pungent roasted malt on the nose when you sniff it but nothing lasting nor enough of a whiff to carry far. It's got a bit of citrus on the outside, almost delicate, but mainly it smells like a decent ale with not much frippery. Imagine the sort of ale that wears tweed and a hat in the corner of the pub, that local who doesn't so much prop up the bar as if he weren't there any more the pub would probably slowly fade away. He wears a moustasche. I'd say the regular were a woman but for the fact that I get the impression from the smell that this regular has many facts about brewing and how pubs were in the old days and ventures them without invitation. There's a ribaldry about this nose that could be good but could also turn people off if broached in the wrong place and I suspect that it is more prone to the latter.
Decent enough very white head is formed atop a standard and textbook amber body, not too much fizz and a traditional colour that allows this to hide a multitude of sins. Perhaps it has friends who aren't British or lives down the road from a gentlemen who is a little less than straight bowling, if you catch my drift. Glasses from the NHS and shaded with just a little too much gold flashing from the wrists or around the neck. Like I say, nice enough, but don't get too close. Sweet oak on the tongue with a blast supplied by the carbonation of a yeast and some bittering hops. Wet middle like some great lolloping English Sheepdog having been out in the rain and shaking itself off. Decent coverage here, thin in places and with the hints of something thicker and more viscous around the edges. That cloying quality that I predicted is in evidence toward the back of the mouth, perfectly aligning this with cheese tasting evenings, and then it is gone.
The aftertaste is pretty much as you would expect from a textbook British ale - it does the job of holding the fort, keeping the sides of the mouth moist and ready with a slight bittering from the citrus hops, and then dries out the back of the throat. The 6.5% ABV provides a welcome warming sensation from the gullet and rises back into the musty taste in the centre of the mouth. This had been served at close to 8 degrees celsius and clearly benefited from that but I would counsel against chilling this if the day be warm. This probably does best at a couple of degrees below room temperature. It then moves on, on the second taste, to offer some passably amusing anecdotes on horse-racing and some sailing close to the edge commentary on gender relations - another reason it's a bloke of a beer - but stays just enough within good taste that there's nothing specific to challenge beyond the vague sense of unease that things might get too far from the acceptable.
However, but for all of that, the experience is not a negative one. It's a decent enough meeting and this regular listens just enough to allow you to write off the vague unease as part of who this person is and their own limited upbringing. You get the distinct impression that, with time and the right crowd, this one could be made a new person and support many of the changes that, at the moment, you feel they would instinctively act against. Right now he won't recognise any sexism in beer branding or the way people are served at the big bars, but you could show him and he would rail against the rank unfairness of it with you and support changes. That's the kind of ale this is: traditional, on the cusp of something new but familiar enough to avoid getting too embroiled in the wildest excesses of Hipster ales and the gentrification of the craft ale market. He has passion and he is not afraid of it, so that there is something that could be saved.
The long and the short of it is that I kind of like this ale. It's a fine little number to warm one up on a cold day or else accompany well-cooked food (grilled or oven cooked) on a warmer one. Probably not at home in the height of summer and belonging more to the depths of winter but it does a decent approximation of what is required in the changeable spring. Not too fizzy, not flat and a decent middle for oak-ageing in ales in general. Like the Eldon (click here) it carries that same rather odd sensation that it doesn't neatly fit in any particular box.