It’s good to make fun of the English, mainly because they deserve it, but we’re running out of things to tease them about. They’ve got the Ashes, for starters. The whole bad teeth thing? Yeah, not so much as it turns out. And I really can’t make fun of their weather, not today. Above all though as an Australian I grew up mocking the English habit of drinking beer ‘warm’ – which is never really all that warm in England anyway of course – but again, after too many distinctly average Australian beers which must be drunk brass monkeyingly cold to protect the unwary from actually tasting the stuff I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt if they can justify it with decent, balanced and interesting brews. The Black Sheep Ale – which is, a bit disappointingly, I admit – not a dark beer, is recommended to be consumed at 13 degrees which is currently well above room temperature. So, warm then. But I shall have to put my mocking hat away. Without ruining the surprise too much I think I can say I get it now. It’s delicious.
Looks good, too: a very clear bronze/amber with a foamy off-white head, dissipating to something almost creamy. The aroma is a little hard to pin down, yeasty, sweet toffee malts, with something fruity, almost winey in the background, or perhaps orange peel. Difficult to say. Malts are prominent up front, the toffee/caramel of the Crystal malt is noticeable (though it’s predominantly Maris Otter malt used, according to the website) again with a slight undefined fruitiness but it moves smoothly into a crisp, dry if fairly short finish. Medium carbonation, very smooth – some have said this is a bit watery but I’m not getting that at all. Others have said this is too bitter as well, or not a sessionable beer but what do they know? I could drink this quite happily all day until I get booted out for making an arse of myself (as Australians are wont to do in England, so I’m told). I’m not usually a fan of lower strength beers* or of English ales but despite having that quintessential Englishness about it this hits the spot very nicely indeed, even if it’s neither as roasty nor as fruity as its makers would have you believe.
For a while it looked like it was going to be tough to find music to go with this. You’ll want something sessionable, non-intrusive, classically English, smooth and mellow but with good malty earthiness. Punk is too abrasive, New Wave too synthy, Britpop too Gallaghery, Prog Rock too aw hell no and while I thought maybe I could get something like Small Faces or Status Quo to work, possibly, most of the rest is too depressing, derivative, poppy or weird to work. As it turns out though, the Black Sheep Brewery sponsors an annual Folk Festival of sorts, so since it’s getting late and trawling through old youtube vids from bands like Fairport Convention and The Albion Band hasn’t been a particularly edifying experience I’m going to have to go with Mumford and Sons since all roads these days seem to lead to these guys eventually anyway.
I’m glad I like this beer, by the way, as it was recommended to me by the bloke who went and got married a couple of weeks ago and in the process set in motion a chain of events in which I drank and ate so much that I was forced to resort to actually trying to get healthy with chicken salads and water for a while. I am hoping this never happens again. I’m using that as my latest excuse for being absent from here lately as well even if it doesn’t really add up. Regardless, cheers and congrats again Rich and Leanne.
Name: Black Sheep Ale
Style: English Pale Ale
Brewed by: Black Sheep brewery (Masham, North Yorkshire, UK)
Price: $6.95/500ml bottle from Moore Wilsons
Verdict: It says crisp, dry and bittersweet on the label and so it is. For what it’s worth it’s also close to being my favourite English ale. Gets bonus points (+6) for having a fine website, a distinctive label and for being the brewery that makes the official beer for Monty Python. 79/100
* Yes, I know 4.4% is hardly ‘low-strength’ but after a number of 10% and up beers lately these things are relative. And as was pointed out to me recently it makes little sense to quibble over these things when some of the big-selling mainstream beers tend to hover around 4% in this country.