So I can be a bit of a harsh when it comes to English beer. This isn’t because I don’t like it, don’t respect it or don’t appreciate it. It isn’t because I don’t think they brew good beer. In fact, it is largely because I know this, that my criticisms can be a bit harsh.
When it comes to their pub ales, I am unimpressed generally. Tasting like fog and the lamentations of a gone and forgotten empire, I don’t really find I care all that much for nitro pub ales which rely more on texture than real flavor. I will say however though, that when they play with malts, I do get a bit excited.
Before me I have the Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale. At 6.0% ABV it is a bit higher than I usually expect of a brownish English ale, however for the extra alcohol I am of course, grateful. Brewed though as it is by Yorkshire’s oldest brewery and the original creators of the Oatmeal Stout, I do confess I picked up this bottle with some high, albeit nebulous expectations.
Thankfully, I have not been let down. Within this amber-brownish beer we find all the elements one ought to seek out of a winter sipper. By no means a stout or bock to be sure, this beer is nevertheless the sort of winter sipper I enjoy. Balanced as it is between its notable yet still delicate malt presence and its mild background English hoppiness, it offers up to me almost exactly what I had hoped for, with the light-touch styling of British brewing ingredients coming together just enough to create a unique yet familiar flavor profile that I can enjoy.
If I had to sum it up in one simple statement, I might almost say that this ale is what proper Old Ale would be like on valium. It’s slow, easy-going, yet its nature is still abundantly obvious. It is malt forward in that dry, stiff upper lip kind of way, while also offering up some earnestly refined sweetness from that exact same malt profile. Then, there lingering in the background we find traces of English hops with their earthy, subtle bitter tinge.
From start to finish each sip is easier than the last, with the first being the sort of raised eyebrow nodding sort of appreciable and those which follow backing this reaction up earnestly. With a medium-heavy mouthfeel and texture, it is not the sort of thing one gobs down willy-nilly and without reservation, but is not so heavy as to feel like each sip requires a solid sixty seconds of pious contemplation. If nothing else, I almost feel as though “balance” is the real key word to this beer, despite its maltiness and the slight warming it offers to the guts being the most truly notable aspect.
After nearly two and a half centuries of brewing, I am glad that I have come to find Samuel Smith to be a brewery I can trust to make good beer. Sipping this I almost wish I had a paper crown and a cracker, which would honestly feel more like Christmas than what I normally get up to. That being…copious amounts of beer drinking and the ordering of Chinese food.
So to Samuel Smith, to the holiday season, which has just ended, and of course to you, I say as always…
While the brewery may have provided the product mentioned above for free, I was not required to write a positive review, I did not receive any monetary compensation, and the honest opinions I have expressed are my own.
Nicholas Goroff is an actor, writer and craft beer reviewer at EveryJoe.com. Certified as a Cicerone beer server, he is working towards obtaining certification as a beer judge while employed at Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett, NH. When not reviewing beer, wine and spirits, he is typically writing political essays, screenplays and short fiction. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
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