Random shelf sweeps in off licences are a fairly routine part of my drinking life. A recent one turned up a bottle of Honey Brown Lager from the Sleeman brewery in Ontario. The amber colour (or "honey brown", if you prefer) is impressive, and there's a gently sweet honey aroma and foretaste. Coupled with the light carbonation and full mouthfeel, a sip of this is a pleasant experience. However, it's also a short-lived one. After a second the honey flavours give way to... nothing, and the drinker is left with just another quite tasteless North American lager. A shame, because a little tweaking could make this one of the very few genuinely tasty honey beers. I can't complain too much, however: with random selection, it's not the quality of the beer that counts so much as the knowledge it brings. *Tick*
Very occasionally, I get to do the opposite of random selection when a beer I've been looking for shows up on a shelf in front of me. Top of my want list, until yesterday, was Old Engine Oil from Harviestoun. My experiences with Bitter & Twisted and Schiehallion tell me that this crowd know a thing or two about making beer. While their other two are readily available in Dublin's better off licences, the lack of the final beer in their range seemed like an anomaly. Some distributor has now rectified that, thankfully.
The pour leaves one in no doubt why the brewer who invented it, an ex-engineer, bestowed this particular name on the beer: it's very thick and very black. Carbonation is light and results in only the thinnest of heads. There's an aroma of ripe, dark fruits which reminds me a lot of the Trappist ales. Unsurprisingly the mouthfeel is thick and chewy, as one gets with much stronger dark beers. Conversely, the taste is rather more subtle than one would expect for a dark beer of 6% ABV. That's not to say it isn't complex, however. The ripe fruit is there again, included in quite a sharp sourness. I served it chilled, as recommended, but found that the sourness gradually subsided as it warmed and was replaced by richer bitter chocolate notes. When combined with the lack of gas, this makes for some very smooth drinking indeed.
My bottle was dated March 2009, so I'm wondering if the sourness was a product of the beer being too young, as it may have been with the Westvleteren 8 I had recently. At the moment I have a box of beers I'm planning to set aside for a year or so to see if they improve. I reckon I'll throw one of these in there as well.
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