As part of The Brew Club’s English Ale month I’ve found a bottle of Robinson’s ‘Old Tom’ which at a hefty 8.5% ABV is one of the stronger ales regularly available in the UK.
Robinson’s is a family brewery, based in Stockport, just outside Manchester in the North West of England. The brewery was founded in September 1838 when William Robinson bought the Unicorn Inn in Stockport.
His son Frederic first brewed beer in 1865 and over the years the company has enlarged by acquisition – including Wards (of Sheffield) and Hartleys (of Ulverston in the Lake District), the company is now being run by the sixth generation of Robinsons.
As well as brewing a range of sixteen beers and bottling beers for other breweries under contract, Robinson’s have an estate of 400 pubs around the north-west.
Robinson’s Old Tom was first brewed in 1899 as a ‘winter warmer’ – unlike the major breweries Robinson’s are prepared to share some clues about their recipe and they list the ingredients for Old Tom as : “Halycon and Pipkin pale malts, crystal malt, small percentage of flaked maize and torrified wheat, caramel for colour adjustment. Goldings whole hops and small percentage of Northdown; dry hopped in cask with Goldings pellets.”
So we’re looking at a pretty complicated recipe here, this should produce a complex flavour. The beer pours with a pale caramel head, that disperses quickly and leaves the merest hint of lacing; the nose is mainly malt, with a strong hint of liquorice. The ale is dark, really dark, but if you hold it up to a sufficiently bright light (and we’re talking halogens here) you’ll see that it’s actually a very dark red.
And that liquorice comes through in the flavour, the first taste you get is chocolaty, with subtle hints of fruit. Then the aniseed and liquorice comes stomping in over those subtle flavours and that’s it, liquorice all the way.
I was really looking forward to tasting this beer and, at the end of the glass, I was disappointed. There was just too much liquorice for even my taste, and that spoiled what could have been (and probably was) a complex beer.