Tasting the Old Tom

Rarely would you think that a beer bottle with a drawing of a cats face would be a big 8.5% Barlywine/Old Ale. Old Tom though has made it so. And the bottle and one eyed cat is somehow fitting to the old English beer. Old Tom is now brewed based on the original recipe that was found in the original head brewers note book written in 1899. The recipe had a hand drawing of the breweries resident mouse killer, Tom, the cat.

This beer has raked up the beer awards over the years, and is now recognized as one of the very best beers to be brewed in England. The World Beer Awards have even crowned it the World’s Best Ale. It is described as an English Strong ale, and I would consider it somewhere between a Barleywine and an English Old Ale. It is 8.5% abv, and comes in a custom printed dark short 330ml bottle. I like this sort of beer. Old school, not shouty or trying to prove anything. Just real good, and thats all.

Aiming for the Barleywine side of the spectrum, I opened Old Tom at cellar temperature around 14C (57F) and poured it into a tulip glass. The pour was gentle and smooth building an oily deep nutty brown beer with garnet reds emanating from the edges, and hints of ruby peering through. It was transparent but very deep with a heavy blackness right in the center. It did build a nice lush and dense creamy tan, lightly browned head with tight carbonation and excellent retention.

The nose is sweet and matly with easy notes of caramel, toffee, syrup, dates, figs, plums, more dark and sticky fruits with the lightest note of candy apple, toast and walnuts. It was smooth and not very boastful – however the aroma was certainly apparent. It didn’t show any bitterness, and alcohol was perfectly muted. I was thinking much more of this and an Old Ale rather than a Barleywine by now.

The flavor was mildly rich and sweet showing a large complexity of fruity malts and brown sugar. First in on your tongue is a smooth flow of toffee and caramel malts and a even balance of dates, figs, prunes, mashed plums and peaches – all very gooey and warming. Still though all this is fairly gentle. The mouthfeel is somewhere between smooth, oily and carbonated if that makes any sense. Its is not sharp or aggressive, but is not creamy or slick. It sort of has hints of all of the characteristics and actually creates a very enjoyable sensation.

This off-mild mouthfeel matches the off-sweet flavors perfectly. Hints of toast, walnuts, roasted chocolate, and big wide round malts wash into your cheeks and bring big flavors to the top of your mouth and beyond. It comes off pretty fresh, and actually very soothing. I was expecting more of a musty sensation, but it is actually very lemon like with notes of zest and pepper.

In the back is a wine like dryness that is smoothed out by the warms of sweet malts leaving me with a very satisfying and lightly cloying sticky date pudding flavor on my palate. Again, no hops to be found, maybe there aren’t even any in here. Hints of port and raisins show greater strength as the beer warms even further.

This is certainly not worth considering as a Barleywine; it lacks both the potency and depth in the mouth to be. However, as a soothing and just delicious Old Ale, I think it sets the standard. Smooth and lush malts meet sticky fruits and wide custard flavors in a harmonious and masterfully crafted beer. Awesome.

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