Theakston Old Peculier

“Legend” is a word that can be overused in today’s fawning celebrity culture, and is increasingly being applied to almost anyone and everything – even, of course, beer. As a county, Yorkshire is never shy about promoting locals to legendary greatness, whether it’s Captain Cook or Fred Trueman. However, the website of Masham brewer Theakstons claims their 5.6% ale Old Peculier is simply ‘The Legend’. Canny self-promotion? Or genuine accolade? Well, we do like a Theakstons beer on the BeerCast, as Theakston XB made it to our first ever Beer of the Year show, narrowly losing out to a festive stunner from San Francisco’s Anchor.

We tend to write one-off reviews about new, unusual or far-flung beers, as by their nature we’re compelled to try them and report what we find. But I’ve been drinking Old Peculier for years, so it’s almost unusual to try and put into words a summary of what the flavours are. It’s also quite hard, as Theakstons say in the marketing speak it has a “mysterious and distinctive flavour”. From the bottle – and it is much nicer on cask, as most things are – it’s very dark ruby, almost black, with a highly carbonated head lasting for some time. It has a rich, sweet molasses aroma, similar to the smell from a can of treacle, although with some hop and malt aromas added.

This darkness continues into the taste, the syrupy molasses cover your palate – it’s a fireside beer if ever there was one. There’s some malt components on the tongue as well, although no roast or burnt caramel flavours at all – Old Peculier is very thick and very sweet. It reminds me of a Scottish 90/- wee heavy – although at 5.6% it falls under the ceiling for those stronger beers. It’s very full-bodied though, and if anything it gets nicer as it warms because the sweetness fades into the malt. That’s where the shilling comparison ends, as they characteristically get sweeter as they warm to room temperature, but this one becomes more balanced. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to bestow legendary status on it, but as Fred might have said, it’s blooming tasty.

BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32.0%)

There’s really no escaping Fraserburgh’s BrewDog at the moment. The unorthodox twosome from the Aberdeenshire coastline must account for more column inches than all other Scottish brewers combined. Of course, we’re no different – we’ve featured and reviewed several of their beers over the last couple of years. With our recent 2009 Beer of the Year Show being recorded, I decided to spring a surprise on the other panellists by slipping in a fifth beer at the end of the recording session – BrewDog’s (and now arguably British brewing’s) most infamous beer, Tactical Nuclear Penguin, at 32.0%abv currently the world’s strongest beer.

As one can imagine, the mainstream media are in uproar. Even the beer media got involved, with CAMRA’s head scribe Roger Protz falling foul of the internet army who rushed to defend James and Martin for their imagination/irresponsibility (delete as applicable). To create Tactical Nuclear Penguin, two separate phases of barrel ageing were followed by flash freezing the beer in a local ice-cream factory. ‘Eisbocks’ might not be a new style – but it’s certainly an effective way to ramp up the alcohol. The frozen water is discarded, and the concentrated solids refrozen to repeat the process. Apparently as the proteins and hops are retained it is still a beer – they would be removed during distillation if you were after a spirit.

So eventually it turns into a tar-black 32% monster. We sampled it as was intended, from shot glasses as a de facto spirit. Without doubt it got everyone’s attention – and unsurprisingly opinions were mixed. The spirit drinkers tolerated (or even liked) it, the non-spirit drinkers found it hard to get past the massive upfront smoky tastes. You can ask the question who would buy this beer – at £30 for a 330ml bottle it’s totally out of reach of the average beer drinker. But then BrewDog’s mission statement is not to cater for them. ‘Experienced’ beer drinkers might also balk at the £5 a shot pricetag, but would possibly try one out of curiosity. I’m not sure many would go back – it’s that kind of thing that you’d try once just to say that you had. In the end we were reduced to taking photos of each other’s screwed up faces while drinking it. But maybe that says more about us than the novelty status of Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

“It’s got that massive peaty smokiness about it, and the ‘legs’ run down the glass like a whisky. In context (with a Burns Supper?) it would be very good; otherwise this one is definitely a sipping beer.”

“This is a winter beer because it’s warming – it burns when it goes down the oesophagus. You feel like you should be drinking it as a beer but really it should be sipped over a couple of years.”

“I can’t stand the smell but the taste is OK. I have to hold my face when I swallow it though.”

“It’s like chewing logs from the fire, I really don’t want to finish it but it’s so expensive I’m going to – you could buy a bottle of single malt for that price.”

“Oh my goodness, it doesn’t smell like beer, and it’s six pounds a sip! I don’t drink spirits so I’m quite scared. It’s so smoky, it’s like peat in a glass.”

“As a man who often drinks a sherry or port I can appreciate this. It’s closest to whisky but is more palatable – I like the smokiness and peatiness. I can imagine Russians drinking this.”

“It’s pretty disgusting, it’s like a very malty peaty beer but with a shot of Laphroaig in it.”

BrewDog Official Website

BeerCast #44 – Beer of the Year 2009

The first podcast of any year is always one to look forward to – as tradition dictates it’s our BeerCast Beer of the Year show. As highlighted in our recent preview, the four highest scoring beers from the podcasts recorded in 2009 are re-sampled, and a winner picked. Previous winners are Anchor Christmas Ale 2006 (2007) and Hop Back Summer Lightning (last year), so whichever beer came out on top this time, it would be in good company. Re-tasting is always an interesting experience, as a second go often brings a different result from last time – and so it was to prove. The four beers in our BOTY show were St Austell Tribute (4.2%), Carnegie Baltic Porter (5.5%), Stone Ruination IPA (7.7%), and Goose Island Christmas Ale 2009 (7.0%). On the extended panel – Shovels, MrB, Andy, Richard, Jess and Grooben, all of whom were seconded to a remote and snowy location to sharpen the tastebuds…

1. St Austell Tribute (4.2%abv) 500ml glass bottle
St Austell Brewery, St Austell, Cornwall.
BeerCast#33 scored 40½/50 (81%) 28th May 2009
Originally tasted by Steve 9; Richard 9; Grooben 8; Shovels ; Stu 7

What They Say“Tribute is a magnificent example of a bronze coloured English bitter, with a rich aroma of biscuity malt and tart citrus fruit from the Willamette hops. Juicy malt, hop resins and tangy fruit coat the tongue, while the finish is long and lingering, with a fine balance between malt, hops and fruit, finally becoming dry and bitter.” [Roger Protz]

What We Say
Grooben – Much nicer than your standard session beers
Richard – As an English bitter you can’t get a better example
MrB – I don’t like it, it’s too watery and too biscuity
Shovels – It’s very subtle but very nice
Jess – There’s some kind of citrus in there, it’s very drinkable
Andy – It reminds me of drinking Tennents in working men’s clubs around Edinburgh

2. Carnegie Starkporter 2008 (5.5%abv) 500ml glass bottle
Carlsberg Sverige AB, Gothenburg, Sweden.
BeerCast#28 scored 32½/40 (81%) 1st January 2009
Originally tasted by Jess 9; Shovels ; Andy 8; Richard 7

What They Say“Carnegie Starkporter är Sveriges äldsta ännu använda varumärke. Smakrik, fruktig och med en tydligt rostad ton och stor beska. Inslag av karamelliserat socker, kaffe och choklad. Carnegie Starkporter kan lagras upp till 10 år. När den lagras mjuknar smaken och aromenens komplexitet ökar.” [Official Website]

What We Say
MrB – I like porters a lot, but that’s far too sweet
Shovels – I think we’d had a lot of mediocre beers that night
Grooben – It’s a half-pint beer – although it is smooth
Richard – Sweet and it’ll get sweeter, I’m not that keen on it
Andy – I’m not sure it deserves to be in the BOTY Show
Jess – Can’t believe I gave it a 9, I think we were maybe too happy because we were on holiday

3. Ruination IPA (7.7%abv) 355ml glass bottle
Stone Brewery, Escondido, California.
BeerCast#36 scored 38/40 (95%) 13th July 2009
Originally tasted by MrB 10; Shovels ; Steve ; Richard 9

What They Say“So called because of the ‘ruinous’ effect on your palate! This massive hop monster has a wonderfully delicious and intensely bitter flavour on a refreshing malt base. One taste and you can easily see why we call this brew ‘a liquid poem to the glory of the hop!’” [Official Website]

What We Say
MrB – I stand by my 10
Richard – Love that piney resinous hop aftertaste
Jess – I can see why everybody go excited about it
Grooben – Expertly balanced, I’d give it 9½ too
Shovels – It’s the single malt whisky of IPA’s
Andy – They’ve managed to get the perfect balance point so you don’t taste furry-teeth sugary-ness

4. Goose Island Christmas 2009 (7.0%abv) 750ml glass bottle
Goose Island Brewing Company, Chicago, Illinois.
BeerCast#43 scored 25/30 (83%) 16th December 2009
Originally tasted by MrB 9; Grooben 8; Richard 8

What They Say“Specialty Belgian malts create a deep garnet color and a truly rich old European flavour in our classic Christmas Ale. And the generous amount of crystal hops adds that extra spicy aroma to your pint, perfect for a wintry night.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Jess – It’s smoky but not as interesting as the Ruination
Richard – This one makes good use of it’s brown ale base
MrB – Not Christmassy, tastes like a nicer Goose Island IPA
Grooben – I think Ruination would blow away anything
Shovels – Gets high praise from me, it’s easy to drink
Andy – Pretends to be smooth but leaves you with a sharpness I don’t like

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #44 Beer of the Year 2009
  • Subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or our site feed
  • So that was the thoughts – or re-thoughts – of the panel during the tasting of the four beers that had made it through to the final. The next thing to do was go round the table and mark down a first and second choice for beer of the year. Given the comments about one of the beers above, it wasn’t really a surprise when the slip of paper had circumnavigated the table. Stone’s Ruination IPA was a resounding choice for BeerCast Beer of the Year 2009. Fitting, given that it debuted with a record score of 95% that will struggle to be beaten. There was a tie for second between the Goose Island Christmas and St Austell Tribute – despite certain comments on both it seems festive warmers and English bitters always seem to do well in our BOTY shows. But there was really only ever going to be one winner – the fantastic balance of massive hops and punchy alcohol really came through in Stone’s strong India Pale Ale. It was a deserved winner.

    Our panel also tasted a fifth beer – a surprise bought by Richard and smuggled to the podcasting under the strictest secrecy. BrewDog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%), the strongest beer in the world. Listen to our tasting after the BOTY voting, and check back to the website in a few days for a full review post on what’s becoming the most infamous beer in Britain…