Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
When I started this blog back in January I never thought for a second that a brewery would want to send me a beer for free. I’ve since read a lot of different opinions on amateur beer writers being sent samples and have since formulated several opinions of my own. When I was contacted by Old Worthy Beer via twitter (at the same time as several other bloggers who I follow) asking if I wanted a bottle to try out I jumped at the chance.
So far every beer I have written about on this blog has been paid for with my own money, except perhaps those bottles I raided from my Dads fridge the last time I was over in Colorado. I write for pleasure and I am not on the take but if a brewery wants to send me a beer to review then I would never turn it down. At the end of the day Breweries must turn a profit to survive and if their marketing departments (assuming they are big enough to actually have one) think that sending out free samples to amateur writers will ultimately sell them more beer then so be it. In reality it’s no different to when in my University days I wrote for my student union magazine, got sent free records and got into lots of gigs for free. Plus for me personally it’s an honour to get sent a beer for free, it hopefully means that the brewery has read my blog and thinks that it’s well written enough to add value to their product.
A couple of weeks after said I’d love to be sent a sample a bottle of Old Worthy Scottish Pale Ale arrived at my door. Before I laid it to rest in my fridge I had a good look at the label and pondered it’s slightly old-worldly but still refreshingly well thought out design, it’s not going to win any design awards and it’s not particularly eye catching but it’s an appropriate enough label. The label proudly states that this beer is brewed on the Isle of Skye and is brewed with peated barley malt from the Ardmore whisky distillery. This got me quite excited because I am very partial to a peat-laden malt whisky and so it wasn’t long before I decided to wrap my gums around this brew.
Old Worthy Brewing say that this beer is supposed to be enjoyed as an accompaniment to a malt whisky as this brings out the complex flavours and aromas in the beer but in moment of blind arrogance I decided to drink this beer on its own. I thought that by doing this I would have put myself in a customers shoes as if I saw the beer on a supermarket shelf but after reading some other reviews it looks as if I’ve cheated myself out of tasting this beer at its best.
After opening the bottle and carefully pouring it into my New Belgium branded snifter I take several large whiffs in an attempt to dissect the complex aroma of this pale ale. I immediately detected the peat laden aromas from the malt and as with whiskies such as Laphroaig. I also detected a not-unpleasant hint of TCP but there was something else there as well, hints of smoky mesquite and barbecued pork also lingered in the background. Holding the glass up the window the beer produced a beautiful and very clear golden hue, there were plenty of bubbles busily going about their business producing a small, ever so slightly off white head.
Finally it was time to get into the tasting, maybe it was because it was my first ‘press release’ beer but I spent ages mulling over my first couple of sips. I definitely detected that peaty, TCP flavour I associate with good malt whisky but there were some really interesting ‘Umami’ like flavours of barbecued meat, glazed with honey. It wasn’t as full bodied as I had hoped, in fact with the high amount of carbonation and super dry finish it almost resembles a Pilsner or a Kölsch. It was refreshing, different but ultimately I found it a little bit lacking in overall depth. It also lacked the high amount of hop bitterness my palate craves these days but that’s a personal preference and shouldn’t take anything away from this beer.
Reading back over my tasting notes I find myself ruing the day I decided not to enjoy this beer with a decent whisky by its side. When this beer receives a full release (I believe at the time of writing this article that this still hasn’t happened yet) I will definitely purchase a bottle and try it again with a single malt in hand, I’m interested to find out how much a whisky will help those smoky flavours come out of their shell.
I’m not entirely sure who this beer is aimed at as I think it’s a little too specialist for the mainstream market and not exciting enough for the die hard beer geek. I guess it is aimed purely at the whisky connoisseur who is looking for a long drink to enjoy alongside their regular tipple but time will tell. Thanks again to the guys from Old Worthy Brewing/Isle of Skye Brewery for sending me this bottle and I’d like to wish you every success with your beer.