With the June beer shipments just beginning to arrive in our members’ hands, it’s time again for me to highlight my top pick from among our US and imported 12-oz beer selections (which I have the tough job of sampling each month in order to bring you the write-ups in the newsletter). I hope this preview whets your appetite for this really great brew. (Or would it be whets your thirst? – or perhaps it should be wets your thirst, ‘cause, you know, it’s a beverage we’re talking about here.)
So let’s get to it. My top pick this month is Old Crafty Hen, a special version of one of England’s more iconic beers, Old Speckled Hen. The key difference is the inclusion of a very strong Old Ale from parent brewery Greene King called “Old 5X” which weighs in at 12% ABV and is the culmination of 2-5 years of age in giant oak barrels. That’s right, this is a blended beer – with wood aging – pretty unusual for English ales in this day and age.
So how well does it all come together? Really well for my palate, let me tell you. A short description of a complex beer just won’t do it justice, so here’s the full monty:
On the pour this Hen presents an attractive amber color with a head that drops plenty of lace. Richly malty on the nose, there’s also a distinct fruity quality that only a fine ale can deliver. There’s a sweet impression along with a distinct raisiny note, prominent caramel and some bread dough. Look for a touch of butter to lend a bit of a toffee character, while hops and oak age add some floral, mildly spicy notes with hints of citrus and wood. Complex as hell on the palate, expect a prominent dark fruit character composed of cherry, raisin, and currants, all surrounded by robust, satisfying caramel malts which deliver some honey notes as well.
We found this crafty brew fairly sweet, but there’s a moderate hop bitterness and a hint of tartness (thanks to the aged 5X) to balance, along with just a hint of spicy, drying alcohol. A touch of buttery diacetyl is a hallmark of many English ales, and we get some here, as well as mild oak notes and slight hints of oxidation from the prolonged barrel aging, which provide a sherry-like component. Enjoy this fine brew on its own, or pair with a plate of complex cheeses. Cheers!