Unlikely Wow Factor


It’s been a while since a beer delighted us, without quibbles and caveats.

That’s how life goes, of course: most beers – or films, books, cakes, or what­ev­er – are absolute­ly fine with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly trig­ger­ing swoon­ing fits.

But still, we have made an effort to try a few new beers late­ly, hop­ing to find a gem, and placed orders with Beer Mer­chants and Beer Ritz with that in mind.

Mul­ti­ple IPAs and US-style pale ales from British brew­eries, how­ev­er, trig­gered the same reac­tion: “It’s fine, but noth­ing to write home about.” (Or, rather, to write a blog post about.) Grassi­ness; occa­sion­al­ly yeast­i­ness; one-dimen­sion­al­i­ty… none gave us chills.

Maybe we’re just tired of beers which are all about hops, though, because  the two beers that did cause us to sit up straight, includ­ed to make up the num­bers in our order from Beer Ritz, are mem­bers of the stout fam­i­ly: Samuel Smith’s Tad­dy Porter and the same brew­ery’s Impe­r­i­al Stout.

Now, these beers are by no means new to us, or to any­one else. When we used to drink in Lon­don, hard­ly a week went by with­out a bot­tle or two of the for­mer, while the lat­ter, being rar­er, was a beer we would go out of our way to find. (Tip: the Dover Cas­tle, Wey­mouth Mews, always seems to have it.)

And Sam Smith’s is not a trendy brew­ery, nor even very like­able – some­thing which, being human, can influ­ence our opin­ions.

The taste, though! In both cas­es, the word that springs to mind is lus­cious, and both share a tongue-coat­ing, silky, for­ti­fied wine feel in the mouth.

Tad­dy Porter (5%, £2.62 per 550ml) is the kind of beer that we would like to be able to drink more often on draught, in the pub. Just over the line from brown into a black, and a notch beyond ses­sion­able, it is bold­ly flavoured with­out being atten­tion-seek­ing, the empha­sis being on flavours of sweet­ened cocoa and plum­my, dark berries. If you’ve ever soaked dried fruit overnight in black tea as a cake ingre­di­ent, you’ll get the idea. Per­haps the best bot­tled porter on the mar­ket today?

Impe­r­i­al Stout (£2.16 per 355ml) makes more sense as a ‘dou­ble stout’ – not so dark and heavy as to insist on a fan­cy glass, a smok­ing jack­et and the undi­vid­ed atten­tion of the drinker, but per­fect for nights when you want just one beer before bed. The flavour is some­where between choco­late brown­ie and Christ­mas pud­ding, with just a sug­ges­tion of some­thing bright and green, like goose­ber­ry, ring­ing in the back­ground. Res­o­lu­tion: we should always have some of this in the house.

The source of the ‘wow’ in both beers is hard to pin down. Our best guess is that, being clean­ly and sim­ply made, with­out a fog of off-flavours and con­fu­sion, the flavours of dark malt and dark brew­ing sug­ars are real­ly allowed to shine through, in instant­ly grat­i­fy­ing fash­ion. But that’s just a guess, and there’s not much point in ask­ing Mr Smith to elab­o­rate.

Like the 60-year-old we once saw steal the show in a night­club by per­form­ing a series of expert line danc­ing manoeu­vres across the cen­tre of the dance floor, one of these beers in par­tic­u­lar – Tad­dy Porter – has made itself a con­tender for our beer of the year, in the unlike­ly com­pa­ny of Mag­ic Rock/Lervig Farm­house IPA and Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry Bel­gian Con­spir­a­cy. We’ll sched­ule a prop­er taste-off for Decem­ber.

10 thoughts on “Unlikely Wow Factor”

  1. Might I sug­gest that you grab the Mag­ic Rock and Bris­tol BF beers now and pop them in the beer fridge to (a) pre­serve hop char­ac­ter and (b) ensure sup­ply?

  2. When­ev­er I’m in South­port, I always pick up Sam’s Organ­ic Choco­late Stout from the Inn Beer Shop (like drink­ing cold cocoa, if you like that sort of thing). Will look to get these next time.

  3. While I accept that some of what Sam Smith’s do cor­po­rate­ly is not very “like­able” – although arguably no worse than the likes of Punch and Enter­prise – what they actu­al­ly pro­vide to the con­sumer is in many ways high­ly like­able. A wide range of beers, includ­ing sev­er­al very dis­tinc­tive and unusu­al ones (as you have found), a huge respect for the archi­tec­tur­al her­itage of their pubs, live­ly, buzzing pub inte­ri­ors and amaz­ing­ly low prices.

    1. Hmmm Mudge, have to respect­ful­ly dis­agree on that last one. The bot­tle prices, cer­tain­ly in Lon­don, are scan­dalous and they’ve deval­ued the tap prod­ucts so many times (not only decou­pling from Ayinger and weak­en­ing the bit­ters but serv­ing the wheat beer in a pint to brim glass) that I can’t find any­thing to drink in there. There’s also a grub­bi­ness in most of their Lon­don estate, even those with Vic­to­ri­an fea­tures, that was­n’t there ten years ago that just depress­es me…

  4. Bizarrely the Impe­r­i­al is one of the bot­tled beers at the incred­i­bly swanky Kings Place (under the new Guardian offices) where they knock it out at about four quid a bot­tle, ie the same as they charge for a bot­tle of coro­na!

  5. Agree with CarsmileSteve.

    I can only speak for Lon­don, but three or four years ago they utter­ly broke with their iron willed ded­i­ca­tion to low prices and the bot­tles are now prop­er­ly expen­sive. Not just at their price – real­ly, REALLY mind-bog­gling­ly expen­sive.

    OBB is still a “peo­ple’s pint”, I con­cede. But I’m not a fan – and even that is not as cheap as it used to be ver­sus oth­ers.

    Are they still keen­ly priced across the board in the north?

  6. Ahh, my wife and I recent­ly had the same expe­ri­ence. We were dis­cussing how we liked these beers to some­one recent­ly and decid­ed we should have them. This was the first “Impe­r­i­al Stout” that I had many years ago (in the states), and with all of the “craft” beer miles since, I’m glad it still tastes great. I’m espe­cial­ly glad that counts for both my wife and I. The heav­i­ly bit­ter ales and sour ales aren’t always her favorite.

    I was con­fused, as a for­eign­er, what was implied or referred to in:
    “And Sam Smith’s is not a trendy brew­ery, nor even very like­able — ”

    I can imag­ine “trendy” because it is old­er and still mak­ing only old­er styles, but the bit about “very like­able” was what caught my atten­tion.

    Thanks for the won­der­ful blog!

    1. Dave – this site sums up the var­i­ous issues with ‘like­abil­i­ty’ quite well… “The out­right ban­ning of music and singing” is almost com­i­cal­ly grouchy.

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