Samuel Smith India Ale: A Taste of Old Empire

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Mon, May 11 - 8:00 am EST | 2 years ago by
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    The Beer in Review - Samuel Smith India Ale

    Well, this looks to be a right proud thing. Copperish color, fluffy white head, decent enough carbonation and just a hint of the old imperial colonial gusto, this Samuel Smith’s India Ale is something rather pukka. Not outright calling itself an India Pale Ale, the brewers of this ale offer up something rather unique in terms of such. Sweeter than one may be used to in a Yank style IPA and lower in bitterness and hop, this smoother, almost fruity fermentation offers up a slightly malty bit of business with a generally clean mouthfeel. At 5.0% abv, it’s not likely to get one “rat arsed” on its own in a single sitting, but is good enough to justify going for a second, third or however many pints you can justify throwing back, when out and about or simply at home.

    Awarded the gold medal in 1896, this work of Yorkshire’s oldest brewery is yet another example of British pride in respect to their brewing and global footprint. While American beer drinkers may be quite familiar with the IPA style right now, few generally know of its English origins, or the manner in which its creation came to be. In the early 18th century, pale ales were typically lightly hopped producing the easier and smoother flavors of the conventional English pales. However later in the century, upon the urging of the East India Trading Company, brewers began experimenting with hoppier recipes, mainly intended for export to the Indian colonies.

    Due to hops’ own inherent qualities as a preservative, this made sense as shipping around the globe took considerably longer prior to the advent of air travel. It came then as something of a pleasant surprise when these bitterer, more hop-rich brews grew in popularity due to their notable punch and aroma. While darker, heavier brews such as porters were known to ship well, the distinct flavor, combined with the relative lightness of the IPA were welcomed with open arms, especially in the hotter climates of many British colonies, such as India.

    Sipping on this rather sweet English style IPA, one immediately notes the fruity, malty tones prior to the bitter hoppiness typically associated with American or Canadian styles. Partially due to the variety of hops used – with English hops often having a more subtle, earthy nature compared to the more piney American styles – and partially due to the processes of hopping and brewing involved, the Samuel Smith India Ale provides a brilliant example of the differences between British and “colonial” varieties.

    The third in the Samuel Smith line which I have had the privilege of sampling thus far (the Imperial Stout review will be forthcoming) I remain impressed with the old and traditional stylings and the rich, balanced flavors they have managed to present throughout their different brews. Sipping on this dynamic and frankly elegant ale, it becomes clear that, much as many breweries in the US are beginning to adopt, this has been brewed in what is a proud tradition and one which clearly has stood the test of time on above all else, unadulterated merit.

    Nicholas Goroff is a beer lover, writer, actor, ex-political professional and devoted anti-ideologue. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.

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