In my quest to try as many different beers as possible, I’ve periodically gone on English beer kicks. These have varied from drinking every IPA I could get my hands on to searching all over in an attempt to find a decent session beer. One of the few styles of beer that I have not been able to try until very recently is English Old Ale. This week I finally found one.
The beer in question is Old Stock Ale from North Coast Brewing Co. This brewery was founded in 1998 in Fort Bragg, Calif., but quickly became well known in the American microbrew community for their consistently high-quality products. Mark Ruedrich currently serves as brewmaster and has won numerous national and international awards, including two gold medals and one silver medal at the 2010 World Beer Championship. North Coast has also revived the Acme brand name, bottling a California Pale Ale and an India Pale Ale under this historic label.
The Old Ale style is a historic style, which consists of a very malty beer, fairly dark in character, but with little or no hops. This beer is traditionally aged, which leads to flavors such as oxidation, leather or even a sour character, which in other beers would be viewed as defects. The description of the style, as well as the recipes and the few examples I’ve tried, remind me of a Barleywine without the hops and a bit more specialty malt. This style is traditionally served either straight, or more often blended with fresh beer. The style should pair well with very strong flavors such as a roasted red meat or sharp blue cheese. This beer is far too strong for most white meat dishes, although pulled pork could go well.
The beer poured a clear, deep, dark-red color. The white head formed a thin layer but almost immediately dissipated with little or no lacing. The aroma was a strong, sweet, almost red wine character with raspberry and chocolate notes. The body was full, but not syrupy like I’ve experienced in some other beers. The carbonation was fairly low, which served to accentuate the full body and mouthfeel. The taste was a very deep maltiness with little or no hops. Chocolate and raspberry tastes complemented the malt character, but were eventually overwhelmed by it.
Overall, this beer was too strong to drink quickly. I tried pairing it with some extra sharp aged cheddar, which actually went quite well with it, but I would recommend having it with a full, heavy meal. This beer was so strong in character that I had trouble finishing it without lots of cheese.
This beer is pretty good, but it is not for the faint of heart. I would recommend trying some English Barleywines first and sharing the beer with some friends over dinner the first time you try it, as I found it to be a surprisingly strong and unique taste.