Robinson’s featured rather well in our recent Alcoholic Ginger Beer test, taking both first and third place in the ‘beery’ section of the review. So it seemed only sensible to grab hold of the rest of their bottled range and see what the brewery has to offer.

Robinson's Range

They have quite an extensive range of draft and keg beers listed, but sadly only four which make it into bottles – the majority being variants on their Old Tom strong ale.

Robinson's Unicorn

We’ll start with the only 500ml bottle in the range, Unicorn. Coming in at 4.3%, this is the bottled version of their draught Best Bitter (which is slightly weaker at 4.2%).

It has an impressive, lingering head out of the bottle and a nice rich amber colour. The smell has a lot of that raw, unfermented malt that I associate more with a brewery than with a beer. In the mouth the fizz is a little aggressive and there’s a slightly metallic tang to the flavour. It’s fairly light and watery, with some gentle if rather bland sweetness. There is no real hoppy notes to it but it’s got a fair level of bitterness going on, especially at the end.

It’s a pleasant enough session beer, especially once you let it stand for a while and allow the overfizziness to dissipate, but there’s nothing remarkable about it.

Robinson's Old Tom

On then to the 330ml bottles, starting with Old Tom, a strong ale at 8.5%.

It’s almost totally black in the glass, with a thin but lingering fine bubbled head. The nose is sweet and rich, with dark fruits lurking. In the mouth there’s a delicious, almost creamy texture and a distinct hint of alcohol burn from the strength. In terms of flavour it’s like a sticky toffee pudding, sweet and rich with a real dark treacle hit.

The strength makes it warming on the way down, and it goes down very quickly! It’s a very tasty big beer and I can see why it’s won so many awards.

Robinson's Chocolate Tom

Next up is Chocolate Tom, lighter at 6.0%. A dark reddish brown in the glass, I confess I was a little surprised at how much lighter in colour it is in comparison to the Old Tom, especially as Robinson’s describe it “Old Tom with the addition of the finest cocoa”.

Leaving the look aside, the nose is overwhelmingly cocoa. There’s more of a fizz in the mouth, lots of sweetness with more of that cocoa twang. There’s still a slight alcohol kick to it, but it’s much tamer than the Old Tom – it almost seems to be a watered down version. It’s one of the more successful chocolate beers I’ve had though; they often promise a lot on the nose and then forget to have any real chocolate flavour to them.

Robinson's Ginger Tom

Finally Ginger Tom, also at 6.0% and the winner of our Alcoholic Ginger Beer test. It’s almost as black as Old Tom in the glass, but not quite and has a generous, slightly more open foamed head. The dark fruit nose is still there, with a nice spicy ginger hit on top of it.

In the mouth, both the ginger flavour and the heat comes through nicely (a trick too many ginger beers miss) and again that sweet, syrupy almost molasses-like malt makes for a exceedingly well balanced beer. It tastes above it’s strength and is more to be savoured than gulped but I could happily savour a crate over an evening!

Overall, a tantalising glimpse into the Robinson range. Their Old Tom, and it’s derivatives, are seriously impressive beers but I was unmoved by the Unicorn. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to track down some of their other beers on draft – if they’re anything like Old Tom I’d be a very happy man.

 

This week’s monster beer has been lurking at the back of my cupboard for a very long time, but as it’s apparently been matured in oak casks for over a year it’s not exactly going to let a little age worry it.

Part of the reason it’s languished so long, to be honest, is because of the brewery it came from. You see, I had been planning to open it for last April’s #OpenIt event but it coincided with a rather depressing story about one of Samuel Smith’s pubs treating their gay clientele shamefully. I couldn’t blame the brewery for the initial incident – people make bad decisions in the workplace after all – but rather for their resolute determination not to make any comment on the story; as far as I can tell they never made a statement or issued an apology. I didn’t, frankly, want to give them the business.

But, beer is beer and the brewery already has my money. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair for the beer to suffer for it’s makers transgressions. And so, I give you the Yorkshire Stingo, a 9.0% beast from Tadcaster.

yorkshire-stingo

Samuel Smith are a very traditional brewery, the oldest in Yorkshire with more than 250 years of experience under it’s belt. They still brew in ‘Yorkshire Squares’, huge square fermenting vessels made from local slate, and still brew with water from the well sunk back in 1758 when the brewery was founded. Their yeast goes back two centuries, they still have a horse drawn dray cart and they even have their own cooperage.

In short, they couldn’t be much more traditional if they paid their staff in beer. I’m not going to get some sort of crazy American Pale Ale dripping with Cascade hops from a brewery like this.

For some reason I am expecting something as black as pitch, but in the glass it actually is more of a mid brown beer, with a thin but fine bubbled, very well lingering head. The aroma is huge, with sweet dates and raisins, some rich caramel and just a hint of alcohol. I think the best way to sum it up is to imagine a glass full of christmas pudding.

In the mouth, it has a lighter body than you would normally see in such a strong beer; some alcohol but not as much as you would expect from the strength. Sweet and sticky, with burnt toffee and more dried fruit. Surprisingly, considering the time it has apparently sat in the oak ale cask, I don’t get any real hint of wood from the taste or the smell.

It is a damn tasty drink. The lightness of the body means it goes down very easily for such a strong beer – despite coming in a slightly large 550ml it’s going to be gone in no time.

 

Unlike beer, I haven’t always loved whisky. I put this down to my initial taste, in my teens, when I somehow acquired a small bottle of Teachers and decided that whisky was icky. To be fair to Teachers, I don’t think my teenage palate would have fallen in love with the finest single malt but the experience formed a firm belief that whisky was some sort of grain-flavoured sink cleaner.

Fast forward many years to the time we went up to Aberdeen to visit one of my wife’s friends. I’m sure we chatted and had a very pleasant time on the way in from the airport, but in my memory I’m convinced the first words this formidable Scots lady said to me were: “So, I hear you don’t like whisky, Pete. We’ll see about that!” – whereupon she opened a huge cupboard filled with an alarming number of bottles. A few were selected and pulled out onto the table; she is (and therefore, I am) a big Islay fan and decided that Lagavulin was an excellent distillery with which to start my education.

The rest of that evening is something of a haze. I do remember calling a halt to proceedings, having not yet even ventured past Islay, on the basis that I could no longer feel my face. Despite this, I was converted and have been on a voyage of discovery on the sea of whisky ever since.

I’ve shied away from writing about whisky because I struggle to put my feelings about it into words even more than when it comes to beer. However, my early attempts at talking about beer had the same problem, so maybe the best way to improve my whisky vocabulary is to try and use it.

Happily, I have an enormous collection of whisky to talk about. As well as more bottles than I should probably admit to, for my 40th birthday present from the wife this year I was given a spectacular collection of drams from the Master of Malt’s wonderful “Drinks by the Dram” range.

My intention is to make this a bit of a weekly occurrence, at least until I’ve run out of new things to try. That should keep me busy for a year or two!

I’ll leave my Drinks by the Dram to one side for the moment, as it only seems fitting to start this series with the whisky that started my personal journey – Lagavulin. Specifically, their Distiller’s Edition.

lagavulin-distillers-edition-1993

The Distiller’s Edition is a 16 year old 43% whisky, that has then been matured for a further six months in old Pedro Ximinez sherry casks – thus the ‘double matured’ moniker. The blurb will tell you this mellows out the raw 16 year old, and adds in hints of the sweetness and fruit from the PX. Anyone who’s tasted it will tell you it makes it a whole lot yummier.

Unlike most whisky, which is ultimately blended to have a consistent taste across the years (a 16 year old Lagavulin will taste the same today as it did ten years ago, essentially) these Distillers Editions vary considerably from vintage to vintage, which is why they add the date statement – the date of the original distillation, in this case 1993. My introduction to Lagavulin was a 1984 Distillers Edition but as they go for a couple of hundred quid if you’re lucky enough to find one, I’ll stick to what Waitrose had on the shelf.

It’s a fairly rich, golden syrup coloured whisky in the glass, with fairly good long legs. The nose has a generous but not overwhelming alcohol burn, a good sweet grain smell and a clean, sea spray tainted peat without being aggressively smokey. The PX adds some distinct vanilla notes and almost a fruitiness. A splash of water cuts back the fruit notes, and brings the sea spray much more to the front, and adds in some iodine notes.

It’s a big dram in the mouth; quite light to start, with again a surprisingly grainy character – almost bourbon like. Then the Islay smoke comes rushing up, checked a little by hints of sweet fruit and leading to a wonderfully long peat finish. Water again knocks the fruit back a little; it’s still sweet but it’s a lighter kind of sweetness. It doesn’t touch the peat and you’re still left with that lingering smokey finish, but it opens up basic flavours and lightens up the body somewhat.

Sheila was entirely right. Lagavulin is an excellent distillery to discover whisky through.

 

As my contribution to the continuing campaign against the Higher Strength Beer Duty, I’m selflessly drinking through my collection of beers which are directly affected by this absurd tax. I’ll spare you the rant (you can visit my inaugural post on the matter if you want to know more) and move straight onto tonight’s guest beer.

Brewdog Tokyo*

Brewdog has been on my ‘must do a Tour-At-Home thingie on these guys’ list for a long time, and I even have a box of some of their range sat next to me waiting to be drunk. However, not much in that box qualifies for my HSBD theme, so I’ve had to raid my ‘Monster’ shelf instead.

They’re certainly no strangers to strong beer; they’ve been flying the Union Flag in the contest for the World’s Strongest Beer title for some time now, with insanities like Tactical Nuclear Penguin (which, to be honest I desperately want to try just because it’s such an awesome name) and Sink The Bismark – the current leader (if you ignore the not-really-available The End Of History) at a terrifying 41%.

Brewdog Tokyo*

Slightly more accessible, but still at a mindblowing 18.2% ABV, is Tokyo* – subtitled as an “intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout”. Having managed to miss International Stout Day by a day, it only seems right to dig this one out of the cupboard.

Pouring into the glass, it’s an unremarkable looking drink; without much of a head to speak of it looks more like a coke than a beer. The aroma, however is huge and powerful from the moment you open the bottle; that rich smell of overripe oranges, sweet black treacle underneath with a surprisingly understated alcohol bite. I can also find hints of liquorice, and something strong and sweet that I can only really describe as “port-like”.

In the mouth, and boy is the alcohol there; I can feel the warmth sinking all the way down to my belly like a good spirit. It has a medium body – lighter than you might expect from such a strong beer, with an almost oily consistency. There’s a really sticky bitter sweetness that again is strangely reminiscent of port – it really has a brandy-soaked-fruit feel to it. I find myself wanting to enjoy it with a good strong cheese…

This is a hard drink to sum up. Is it even a beer? Well technically maybe, but it doesn’t smell or taste like one. Was it brewed as a high strength gimmick? Possibly, Brewdog do love to make a point with their beers. But I’m not sure it matters – you don’t open a bottle labelled 18.2% ABV expecting a regular beer. What you get, other than an absurdly strong drink, is a damn tasty glass of semi-spirit to take your time over and savour.

This is not an every day beer. This is not even an every week beer. But it is every inch a monster beer.

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