The second leg of Friday’s beer run had me visiting, once again, the Four Seasons beer store. This time Barry was there and greeted me with a “Hello, Frank!” Wow. He remembered my name. That’s nice. I acknowledged the salutation and proceeded to the craft beer shelf which was about half the length of the MBS’.
But a realization popped into my cranial cavity, that despite the stunted length, there were quite a few and varied selections, some of them even newer than I remembered from my previous visit last week. Down at the end, on the top shelf was the bomber section. Large, 20-some-ounce bottles of beer with exotic names and bizarre labels. And higher prices. Today I concentrated on the middle shelves, crammed with sixpacks, not really knowing what I wanted.
Towards the end of the shelf at the bottom, was a beer which caught my eye. The label graphics were reminiscent of some of those Samuel Smith bottles and other olde English brands. The sixpack container depicted the drawn image of a mean looking, badass wild boar. The beer was Ringwood Brewery’s Old Thumper Extra Special Ale.
I had with me, my iPod touch and it was loaded with an app called Beer Scores from Rate Beer. It had a pretty decent database included in the app and didn’t require Wi-Fi for results. I typed in the name of the beer and waited while the device spun its pinwheel. Finally, some results.
The beer was rated at a 3.17 out of 5.00 from over 400 reviews which would put it at about a B or a B-plus. Although the ABV wasn’t listed on the label, the app showed me that it was 5.9% right then and there.
Frankly (!), I bought this beer just for its name, the ratings and the ABV, all the time wondering whether or not this was an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) or not. After plopping down a sawbuck for the brew, I bade Barry a farewell until next week.
I had plenty of time to do a little research on this beer.
In the shell of a nut, Ringwood is an area of England which has brewed beer since the medieval times. In 1978 the Ringwood Brewery was formed and thrived and in 1979, Old Thumper became its flagship brew. In 2007 the business was sold to Marston’s Brewery who continues brewing O.T. in casks in the U.K. and bottles in the U.S. under contract from Shipyard Brewing out of Portland, Maine. It’s almost as if Old Thumper and Ringwood were a football in a double or triple reverse.
#1 son and his dog were home for a time of surgical recovery and coulda, woulda, shoulda MMA fight conversations with the brothers. The place was filled with occasional raucous laughter and dog hair. After a great evening meal, I retired to the solitude of the Manly Garage with glass in hand. I wondered what I was in store for.
Some more preliminary research. It seems that the term Bitter that’s applied to these English beers is reflective of their alcohol content, rather than their taste. And with a 5.9% ABV Old Thumper in hand, I was sure that what I held was an ESB. I grabbed the opener and uncapped it. Hmm. Twist-off. Silly Americans. Leave those for the B/M/C guys who don’t don’t really know what they’re drinking.
The liquid poured with an amber color, coppery, looking like iced tea with an off-white head of about a half-inch. Tons of large bubbles raced to the top. The aroma was very slight but still had whiffs of light malt and a little yeast.
The first sip felt rather thin and only slightly malty but it may just have been my taste buds in shock over the new visitor. Is wasn’t long before a nice, soft sweetness came out. But something was cooking along the sides of the tongue that seemed to blend in nicely with the overall taste. It was a touch of tartness, a tad bit of sour that accompanied each taste. It was as if one drop of vinegar was added to the bottle. This made for a quite unique taste.
I don’t know if this slight sourness put this beer among the class of English bitters or not. The taste of this beer, whether it be sensed as sour or bitter or “what’s the diff?” would be up to the individual taster. Perhaps I’m dwelling on the tartness of this beer too much, but that little zing to the tongue is most certainly it’s most distinctive characteristic. The more I drank, the more I liked it.
By the second bottle, everything was in tune with this beer. The head came up higher and fluffier, the bubbles were smaller and slower and the liquid showed off it’s crystal clarity. Hop flavoring was almost nonexistent. The sweet, malts and tarts moved towards the middle of the tongue where they blended to make great overall drinking experience.
If you are an experienced beer geek and are familiar with the ESB style, I urge you to try this beer and compare it to others you’ve had. This beer is like the frontage road off the interstate; same direction, different experience. Nicely malted with with a snip of bitter, this beer will definitely lift an eyebrow or two.
Taste: B+ > Great taste with an almost imperceptible zing.
Smoothness: B+ > Why yes. I’ll have another… maybe two.
Drinkability: B+ > They’ll be gone before ya know it.
Bang for the buck: B > Worth the cost of admission.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: (Sip) I don’t know. (sip) Ya start to think it’s bitter but then it goes down and its not bitter. (sip) I can’t pinpoint any specific flavor. (sip) It’s not bitter even though you said it was. I don’t know if I could drink a whole one, though. (Sounds like she nailed the taste, eh?)
The Shipyard Brewing Co.