I recently reviewed Abbot Ale as part of a selection of beers kindly sent to me by the brewers – Greene King.
I now turn my attention to the third beer in the selection (I had already reviewed Old Speckled Hen back in 2009), this is Greene King’s Strong Suffolk Ale.
It’s a fascinating recreation of what English ‘country ales’ were like in the 18th century. It’s made by blending two different Greene King Ales – Best Pale Ale (brewed to 5% ABV) and Old 5X which is brewed to a rather intimidating 12% ABV and stored in wooden vats for at least two years.
This blending technique is something Greene King accomplished with their Old Crafty Hen Ale using techniques learned from Rodenbach in Belgium. (You might recall in my review of Rodenbach Grand Cru that Eugene Rodenbach learned the art of oak ageing beer on a trip to England in the 1870s.)
As I said in my Rodenbach review, what goes around, comes around.
The mighty 150 gallon oak tuns are stored in ancient tunnels that lead to the ancient abbey and each has a layer of local gravel (or ‘marl’) on the barrel lids to prevent the beer being exposed to wild yeasts that might cause secondary fermentation. Wouldn’t want that now would we? – for every sour Lambic there are a hundred ‘off’ ales.
Again, Strong Suffolk Ale comes in 500ml bottles, which is about an American pint, leaving room for a generous head.
That head is a rich caramel colour, but subsides quickly leaving a dark resinous ale.
The nose is dark and rich, treacle toffee – sort that’s called ‘cinder toffee’ and is popular around bonfire night in November over here.
Taste wise, this isn’t quite a winter warmer, it’s not as heavy as Robinson’s ‘Old Tom’ for instance, there’s almost an oiliness to the texture, difficult to place. The flavour, like the nose, is dark and resinous, hints of liquorice, tobacco and dark spiced fruitcake.
All in all, very rich and very satisfying – four stars.
Michael Jackson said “There are yet stronger English Old Ales, but few more complex in flavour.” He recommended pairing it with Stilton, or Christmas pudding, but then admitted he always drank Old Peculier with his Christmas pud.
For the record, last year I enjoyed a bottle of ‘Duchesse du Burgogne‘ with my Christmas pudding.