I was hoping I would run into one of the gift packs with the nut brown ale, pale ale and oatmeal stout. $13.95 CND at the LCBO in addition to the Imperial Stout and the previously reviewed Winter Welcome which go for $3.95 CND each. Samuel Smiths was founded in 1758 and still uses the open top square fermenters which are well described at the website of its North American distributor, Merchant du Vin, and which have been lovingly copied by student breweries like Shipyard of Portland, Maine.
- Imperial Stout: soft and chalkey with a nip of carbonation on the tip of your tongue. A flush of dusty cocoa and espresso around the cheeks and a hint of burn down the throat. At 7% a light version of an Imperial Stout, lighter and drier than Sinebrychoff, the licorice much farther back. The aroma of plum butter and chocolate truffles. Of its colour, one of the happy beer advocates writes: "Only other thing darker than this is my ex girlfriends soul." No Satanic imagery here, however. Just the dark warm arms of sleep. A great ale to accompany a spare one or two dozen raw oysters. Hmmm...that sounds like a Christmas Eve well spent to me.
- Old Brewery Pale Ale: This beer is the one that best portrays the yeast that is the hallmark of the brewery's range. Rich and tangy like an English cheese, the yeast merges with the bitter hops rather than sits in counterpoint as is usually the case. Otherwise, the ale is fairly dry with little in the way of raisin or other crystal malt indicators - unlike, for example, the big malty Winter Warmer. The effect is somewhat like Bohemian lagers and their metallic Saaz hop tang. For me the pale ale by Samuel Smith's is more of a marker of the brewery's traits than something I could see bumping off some other favorite English Pale Ales. Here is what they are saying over at the Beer Advocate.
- Nut Brown Ale: Just the thing for Christmas afternoon. This is a brown ale in the northern English style, like Newcastle Brown but deeper, rather than the sweeter lucious southern English style. It sits somewhere between the brewery's pale ale and Winter Warmer in terms of richness with its own particular use of crystal malt and pale malt giving the sweet nuttiness of the grain. The mouthfeel is slightly oily indicating perhaps a little oat malt in the mash. The trademark yeast fits very nicely. This is one of the ales I wish the LCBO could find a way to keep on the shelf rather than only provide once a year as part of a Christmas gift pack. How many Sammy Smith pint glasses do they think I need? BAs discuss.
- Oatmeal Stout: ...or rather "The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout" if the label is to be believed. This is the business. I probably have had four pints of this in my life and can remember each individually. Molasses, maple syrup, chocolate, cocoa and coffee are all there in the malt along with a nice graininess that lets you know they are all real and not just created by some tanker load of syrups. The hops may be Northern Brewer as there is a minty thing to the bitterness. The water is soft but not flabby. The same yeast traits are there that are in all the other Samuel Smith beers but they are perfect here - a creamy undertone beneath the oat silky buffet of dessert flavours. This is one of the perfect beers of my life. It is as simple as that. I have had a few oatmeal stouts in the last 12 months - the worthy Wagner Valley, the honourable St. Ambroise, the interesting blackberry flavoured Ebulum, and the very very unfortunate Strike Out and this is clearly the best. Two percent of BAers are clearly mad.