09 April 2009

Nothing sparkles like a baby Sam

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.

10 comments:

  1. Horses for courses on the Oatmeal stout, I love it and have gone back for more after finding it recently; though it's fearsomely expensive here in Australia (about $10). Will have to hunt down these others now as well :-)

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  2. The Imperial Stout is one of my favourite beers, unfortunately I think that my experience of the others was tainted due to soapy residue on the glasses - guess I will just have to try them all again!

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  3. I've not seen these 355ml bottles before, we get them in 500ml (except for the Imperial Stout) which is a much better drinking size.

    I personally love the oatmeal stout and think it's excellent. The Organic Best is another cracker and if you ever see the pure brewed lager that's great too - I like the whole range to be honest! And in a city of £4-a-pint, if you go to a Sam Smith's pub in London you can get the Old Brewery Bitter for less than £2!

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  4. You do realise that the £4 pint is a bargain-basement dream for some us, don't you?

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  5. Laurent Mousson11:10 a.m.

    355ml bottles are the export size, originally meant for the US, but SamSmiths did not bother with a 330ml version for Europe. Beyond those four, we also get Nut Brown Ale, Organic Ale and Organic lager in 355ml in Switzerland, whilst we get the Winter Welcome in 550ml (so-called "metric pint").
    An interesting point is that Samuel Smiths have switched from clear to brown glass three years or so ago and that it was accompanied with a clear improvement in general crispness of the beer. (The pale ale was often a little bit skunky, for instance)

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  6. I'm falling more and more in love with Taddy Porter -- it's one of my "go to" beers, especially since the shop round the corner from our house started selling it. Oatmeal Stout was one of the first beers that really caught my attention but as my tastes have altered, I've started to find it a bit sweet.

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  7. I got 550ml bottles of these, except for the Imperial stout and thought it a very generous serving. I enjoyed the Oatmeal stout. It was incredibly drinkable, I thought.

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  8. You carried Sam Smiths back from Zurich? I suppose I'd better ask... why? Was there really nothing more interesting in the shop? (and I've been there, so I know there is!)

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  9. As I said, it was the first place I'd ever seen them on sale, so there was the exotic factor; and there was plenty other interesting stuff and I brought that back too.

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  10. I do like their Taddy porter and Oatmeal stout, also their IPA is also very good to.

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