A couple of years ago I was stunned when I encountered Robinson's Old Tom at the CAMRA NI festival in Belfast. The fullness of the flavour and the long long finish staggered me far more than the whopping 8.5% ABV. So when two bottled versions flavoured with interesting stuff arrived on the shelves I was very interested, and even when bad review after bad review came in I still needed to give them a try. Do they work?
First up was Chocolate Tom, and this seems to be a concoction closely related to the Chocolate Porter Robinson's do for Marks & Spencer, having the same 6% ABV, and which I hated. It definitely has that cheap and powdery artificial chocolate flavour, and really not much by way of beer character. All the fruit and spice of Old Tom is buried unobtainably. As with the M&S one, Mrs Beer Nut didn't mind it at all, and I was happy to let her take it.
Ginger Tom was better. I'm not even bothered that it doesn't really pretend to be a beer, not even a strong one. The nose smells incredibly sweet, like freshly poured white lemonade. The Fentiman's Ginger Beer adds a massive and totally unsubtle dry spicy burn and there's quite a bit of residual sugar left on the lips. I've never had Fentiman's Ginger Beer, so it could well be that I'd be better buying that and save my liver the work, but judging Ginger Tom purely on the basis of the glass in front of me, I really rather enjoyed it.
Reuben recently tasted the unadorned bottled version of Old Tom and it sounds like it's definitely a shadow of the cask version -- it shouldn't therefore be surprising that these flavoured Toms are totally different beasts to the one I met in Belfast back in 2007. I'll still chase that one.