Saturday, December 26, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

Last week we had a White Elephant gift exchange at work. In addition to the kitschy Christmas novelties that dominate these things, bottles of wine have become popular amongst my coworkers in recent years. I didn't get a bottle of wine this year. Instead, I came away with a bottle of Strange Land Brewery's "The Old North Road," English strong ale brewed with vanilla, rum and oak. I can assure you, there were several people quite envious of my steal (yes, I stole it--score me!). I mean, how could anyone who appreciates complex, interesting beers not be? Strange Land's based out of Austin and seems to be a newcomer on the local craft brew scene. They've got some interesting stuff on the shelves--braggot, saison, dubels--but as you know, potential and ambition can only carry a brew so far.

It poured a clear, dark tea color. Much lighter, in fact, than I expected. And much darker than it appeared in my mug--a dense, chocolaty darkness with a faint hint of red. The head, goodness gracious, I've never seen anything like it. The head billowed up quite aggressively despite my attempts to keep it under control, and formed a central peak extending at least an inch above the rim of my glass. The, very slowly, the sides of the head subsided leaving a thick, blotchy network of lacing all along the sides. The central column persisted a good 20 minutes, like a foamy Devil's Tower. I've never seen any kind of beer behave like this.

The nose is surprisingly subdued. Faint hints of chocolate, a tinge of alcohol, maybe vanilla... not much else. For a robust ale with a super-aggressive head, it simply doesn't have much scent. So, there's nothing to it but to drink. Lots of oak and dark chocolate hit me on the first sip. There's some woodyness apart from the oak--cedar maybe--plus the usual dark fruits, plum and cherry. There's almost a cherry cordial thing going on here, although it's not sweet beyond the restrained maltiness. The aftertaste is boozy, a little more than the 8.9 percent alcohol level would lead me to believe, and here's where the fleeting hints of rum appear. I'm not one that really goes for liquor, but I must confess a soft spot for rum, and I do wish that flavor was more pronounced in this ale.

It's an interesting beer, but not quite as interesting as it should be. It shares many traits with some of the strong Belgians that I like so much, but lacks that distinctive Belgian yeast identity. Of course, this is an English ale, so a Belgian profile isn't to be expected. Still, I feel it's missing something. If anything, I'd like a little more hops here, a touch more bitterness to counteract the dark fruit. Anyone who knows my taste in beer is probably on the floor right now, as I despise IPAs and am in no way a hop-head. But the Old North Road, while enjoyable, is almost, but not quite, there yet. A little bit of tweaking the recipe and I suspect Strange Land will nail it. Until then, I've got my eye on trying some of their braggot.

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