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Remember how I told you I brought home some beers from Yorkshire?
Yes? No? Does it matter?
Well, I did. And one of these beers was OLD TOM.
Old Tom is brewed by ROBINSONS of Stockport in Cheshire. Dating back to 1838, they remain a family business - the family being the Robinsons, I expect.
They produce a range of ales, including: Double Hop, Unicorn (named after the pub where it all started) and Hartleys XB which they supply to over 400 tied Pubs in the North West of England and North Wales.
OLD TOM is brewed using: pale and crystal malt, with a small amount of chocolate malt and caramel for colour adjustment. The hops used are Goldings whole hops with a small amount of Northdown and it's dry hopped in the cask with Goldings pellets.
The label of this beer features an image of a cat. A cat that's winking. This may explain the relevance of the title.
BTW, did you hear about the thrifty Tom Cat?
He put a little in the kitty every night
" A heady, vinous aromas of dark fruit. Booming balance of ripe malt and peppery hops; deep port wine finish with bitter hops balance. A dark, rich and warming superior barley wine."
OLD TOM pours a slightly hazy, rich and deep mahogany colour with little more than half an inch of tight, off-white foam that's slow to dissipate, but doesn't leave an awful lot of lace on the glass.
The aroma of is of dark, vinous fruit - raisins, dates, prunes etc, with sweet malt and hints of caramel and chocolate. It's
a little estery, and the alcohol level is noticeable on the nose too. It's quite bready and treacly and almost has the feel of a fruit-cake. Quite a substantial malt aroma, but there's not a lot of hops evident.
It's full-bodied and has a smooth mouth feel. The taste, as with the aroma, is initially of sweet malt and dark fruit - prunes and dates, but it turns a little thinner midway and the alcohol kicks in. The treacly, molasses-type flavour is there, but not quite so prominent as in the aroma. The hops finally make an appearance towards the finish with a late, nippy bitterness and a fairly dry aftertaste.
* THE VERDICT *
At 8.5% ABV, this is a decent enough barley wine but it's not up there with the best. It's certainly complex enough, and there's no shortage of different flavours and aromas to keep you interested, but I thought it just a little heavy-handed, alcohol-wise. I like beers that nudge the 7-8-9% mark, but I don't want the alcohol taste to be so up front. Subtlety's the key.
Having said that, it's still a nice beer and would be ideally suited to drinking on a chilly Winter's evening (or an afternoon in the middle of August around here!).
As it's a barley wine, it would probably be better suited as a dessert beer than a meal accompaniment, but who am I to tell you what, or what not to eat. Or indeed when and what/who with. Or where. Or why...
As for availability, according to their website, Robinsons say that this beer is available on draught at many of their pubs and as a guest ale elsewhere - I wouldn't know. I bought mine in a small off-licence and paid £1.99 for a 275ml bottle. Not exactly cheap, but you'd expect a higher ABV beer to be that little bit more expensive.
I drink it again? - To be purrfectly honest, maybe.
...it was love at first sight! My husband was with me, as were two of our friends, but no-one seemed to mind. It was at the Chesterfield Beer Festival when this tall, dark stranger came into our lives. It's not as bad as it sounds, though; Old Tom (the subject of my infatuation) is a beer! Old Tom was the second beer we tested during our evening at the Festival. It had been recommended to us by one of the other guests, so we decided to give it a try. Often recommendations provide a really good choice of beer; we always listen to the comments of others, and bear them in mind when choosing our next beer. Old Tom is produced by Frederic Robinson Limited, based at Stockport in Cheshire. Robinsons Brewery is another old family business, founded in 1838, at The Unicorn Inn. They moved to their present premises in 1865 and have continued to grow ever since. In 1982 they bought out the old Hartleys Brewery, finally closing it in 1991. This is a bit of a shame, but they do continue to produce the old Hartleys XB beer, as well as concentrating on their own brews. Robinsons produce some well respected ales. These include Frederics (5% ABV) and Hatters Mild (3.5% ABV). If you are really lucky you will be able to sample some Old Tom, and their other offerings, at over 400 tied Public houses in the North West and North Wales. They are also available at a number of outlets nationwide, often as a really popular guest beer. The distinctive Unicorn sign indicates a Robinsons House; my nearest ones tend to be on the way to Manchester and Stockport. They are well worth looking out for, so keep your eyes open! Before I had the chance to try Old Tom, I had previously tasted their Best Bitter (4.2% ABV) and Hatters Mild. They were both very pleasant and of a high quality, so I was expecting great things from dear Old Tom. This beer weighs in at a mighty 8.5% ABV. It is strong and really packs a punch! It has received great critical acclaim; so m
uch so that it was voted Champion Winter Beer of the Year in 2000 by CAMRA. It has been brewed continuously since 1899 and is still a contender for awards today. Looks wise, Old Tom is a very dark, almost ruby coloured beer. It is very full bodied and is a cross between a Barley wine and an "old ale" in style. Its texture is rich and it is very warming on a cold winter's night. When you first pick up the glass the smell is very rich too; it is a strong ale and the smell tells you that it is going to be powerful, fruity and have a strong presence of barley. Taste wise, it is a complicated mixture of malt and fruit, with a hint of dark chocolate. It is quite bitter, although there is some sweetness present in the after-taste. I told you it was complex! The flavours that hit you first come from the ripe malt and hops used. Old Tom is made from Halycon, Pipkin and Crystal malt and from Goldings and Northdown hops. The beer is also brewed with caramel and wheat to give it the right colour (according to the manufacturer). This may be why I also got a nice taste that reminded me of treacle or toffee. This is a beer that doesn't keep its alcohol content a secret. The texture and smell all come together and punch you in the face. A few mouthfuls of this and you know that it is wise to stop at the one half! It doesn't deceive and does exactly what a beer of this power should: Approach with extreme caution! Price wise, Old Tom set us back £1.05 for a half pint measure (that's one token plus 20p in "Beer Festival money"). It isn't cheap, but then again, I wouldn't expect something of this strength to be much cheaper Old Tom is available on draught and can also be found in 275ml bottles. It's available in some Supermarkets and off-licenses at around the £1.50 to £2.00 mark. I haven't tried it in bottles so I can't comment on how well it translates into this format. The manuf
acturers recommend that it is good as a replacement for an after-dinner liqueur. This sounds like a very similar concoction to the draught variety! I would be interested to hear from anyone who has sampled it in a bottle to see how it really tastes! I can, however, heartily endorse Old Tom as a draught beer. An infatuation began that night between me and this dark, strong ale. It's still going strong after over a hundred years and is worthy of great respect. I only hope that they continue to brew it for many years to come. It's nice to see traditional brews remaining popular and it's great to know that people have the chance to carry on sampling them! So, I might even share my Old Tom with you......but only if you ask VERY NICELY! ~~~Brewery Information. Frederic Robinson Ltd, Unicorn Brewery, Stockport, Cheshire, SK1 1JJ. 0161 480 6571 www.frederic-robinson.com
A famous winter warmer and that rarity an 'old ale' on draught, it has been brewed continuously since 1899 to produce a flavour richly redolent of the malted barley, 'winey' colour and no less than 8.5% alcohol.