Saturday, 26 March 2016

Thornbridge Hall Double Scotch Ale

The impulse to hoard beer is a strange one. Some beers seem too special to just drink - they demand some ceremony, a special occasion, some good news. The trouble is that these occasions arise all too rarely and, when they do, you may find you're not in a position to transfer a bottle from your stash into the fridge and gather an ensemble of admirers to share it with you. And, if I'm perfectly honest, sometimes I'm glad about that. However much I might scan my beer cupboard wondering what the contents will taste like, the thought of eventually dropping the bottle into the recycling bin is a little sad. I want to have my beer and drink it.

You can justify the cobwebs on your bottle collection by telling yourself that flavours are developing all the time, that the beer you're not drinking now will be so much better by the time you finally crack it open. But if you find you're actually pushing the limits of best-before dates, as was the case with the bottle of Thornbridge's Double Scotch ale that I pulled from the cupboard last night, the only thing to do is to tell yourself you're worth it and pop the damn cap. This beer, a Scotch ale aged in Auchentoshan casks, was bottled in 2014 under the ultra-artisan Thornbridge Hall sub-brand produced at the original brewery site. It's technically almost two months out of date, but tastes so glorious I highly doubt I could have caught it at a better time.

The aroma jumping from the glass suggests a rich, port wine-like booziness, along with a big burst of blackcurrants. These are joined by raspberries on first taste, along with some musty, woody notes and some milk chocolate. Some whiskey flavour from the cask carries over, and the faint suggestion of peaty smoke is an element of this flavour, but the resulting toasted character is key to this beer's complexity as well as its moreishness. It seems to suggest a whole collection of flavours which aren't necessarily actually there - vanilla, coconut, fudge, coffee - which lighten what could be a heavy, overbearing beer. The complexity in this toasted finish has me coming back for more and more.

This is a master-class in barrel ageing - a simple beer made fascinating with time in the wood, neither element threatening to overpower the other. Thornbridge were an important brewery for me as I first discovered great beer, and whilst I often admire their beers as solid examples of particular styles, these days I'm rarely strongly moved by a Thornbridge offering. This makes the triumph of the Double Scotch all the more exciting, and I'm now determined to seek out Eldon, their latest foray into barrel-aging.

Another great excuse to open an interesting bottle is Open It!, a Twitter tasting event in aid of the Evalina Children's Hospital. It's on Saturday 16th April and further details are here.

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