Hooray for freebies! The lovely people at Hogs Back in Surrey have been keeping FedEx busy and my beer fridge full with their wares. Before it burst at the seams I figured I'd better get to work clearing them.
I was still thirsty at the end, though, so opened a TEA. Can't say I'm a fan of the use of the word "traditional" on beer labels generally, and "Traditional English Ale" is more meaningless than most. Still, a 4.2% ABV loose-bubbled brown bitter. What's not to like? Well, there's really not a whole lot to it. Virtually no aroma, and no crispness or tannic notes. I get a little hint of caramel at the end, and as it warms this turns a little more complex to slightly tart red berries, but overall there's not enough here to hold my attention. For "traditional" read "boring", I'm afraid.
They also sent me a couple of the new season winter beers. Rip Snorter is the strong one, all of 5% ABV and a lovely shade of dark amber -- clear, of course, due to the brewery's open committment to brewery conditioning. The carbonation is low once again and that lets the heavy warming malt through. It's not any way boozy or hot, however: more ripe and full like squashy strawberries or country wine. There's a solid kick of bitterness at the front and a dry finish that does wonders for its balance and drinkability. I can see this really coming into its own when the nights draw in, and at that strength there's no need to stop at one.
Impressed by Rip Snorter, I was more sceptical about the full-on Christmas ale Advent. Only 4.4% ABV? That can't be good. It looks the part at least: dark red, shading to brown and it tastes... surprisingly nice, actually. It has a lot of the coffee and milk chocolate character of a brown-malt-laden porter, but adds in some subtly Christmassy spice as well (without the addition of actual spices, I think. It's not one of those beers). While definitely not as wintery and warming as the Rip Snorter, it's tasty, easy-going and sessionable. I imagine it would be great with Christmas pudding without being too filling. But perhaps it's just a bit early for thoughts like that.
Some lovely new additions there to the bottled English ales on sale in Ireland (available in all good etc etc). Thanks to John at Hogs Back for sending them over. Particular kudos for the way they've set their carbonation: this sort of light and loose sparkle should be an example to other brewers of how to do bottled ale well.