For all its determined old-fashioned non-conformity, Yorkshire's Samuel Smith brewery seems quite happy to package its beers in dinky 355ml bottles, for export to strange farflung places where that's considered an acceptable serving measure. Much as I dislike getting my medium-strength beers in these sorts of sizes, the brewery's reputation combined with never having seen any of its beers in a shop before meant I had no qualms about picking up four of the dinky little blighters when I found them on sale in the excellent beer shop under Zürich railway station (thanks Ron!) last January.
It has taken me a while to get round to drinking them, but mindful of the relatively short date on them, I made a start last weekend with the Old Brewery Pale Ale. I loved the rich amber of the body on this one, and the full head coloured like old ivory. From the colour and rich consistency I was expecting big toffee flavours from this, and the aroma -- subtle and enticing -- coyly suggested I was in for a treat. I got my toffee on the first taste all right, but there was quite a bit more besides. The flavour is balanced with warmer and less sweet malt plus a touch of green, slightly vegetal, English hops. The whole thing is very much what I would expect from a Yorkshire bitter, pleasingly so, and best of all there are no metallic bum notes present at all. At a high strength of 5% ABV, I'd perhaps have expected more flavour, but I'm happy with this and I'd definitely buy it in a bigger bottle, should the opportunity ever present itself.
Next up was the Taddy Porter, again at 5% and again possessed of a wonderfully heavy, creamy body. There are hints of ruby in what's otherwise quite a dense black beer. There's a lightly roasted character to the aroma offering a touch of caramel as well, but it definitely doesn't jump out of the glass. However, there's nothing understated about the flavour. I get big bittersweet molasses notes, shading almost towards saccharine. A dry roasted barley edge cuts through the sugar beautifully and prevents it from becoming difficult. Balance, once again, wins out.
Oatmeal is listed after the hops on the Oatmeal Stout, so I'm guessing it only barely qualifies as one. There is, in fairness, a fair bit of bitterness to it, but I'm still not getting that slightly unpleasant phenolic thing I've come to associate with oatmeal-laden beers. Instead, it's rather understated: bitter at first, and then with a brown-sugar-like sweetness and hints of coffee. Is that a sort of porridgey thing at the end or is it my imagination? Hard to tell. The body isn't quite as heavy as the previous two, and there's a smidge more carbonation as well as an almost nitroesque creamy head. This is the first Samuel Smith beer that I wouldn't be inclined to reach for again. There's nothing wrong with it per se, it's just a bit boring.
And a similar verdict goes for the Imperial Stout as well. Yet again we have that big heavy body, to the point where I thought it was going to pour flat, but the thick beige head formed after a couple of seconds. At 7% ABV it's rather light for an imperial stout, and there's not a whole heap of a lot going on, flavourwise. After a slightly unpleasant marker-like foretaste, liquorice is the dominant character -- a light sort of earthy bitterness -- but there's very little else. One dimensional is how I'd describe it.
I'm quite surprised by what I found with this lot. I'm very glad I went for the full set available, because the Pale Ale would doubtless have been the one I'd left behind. It really pays to be a completeist ticker sometimes. Cures you of prejudices straight off.