Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Robinson's Old Tom Strong Ale

Do I love cats? If you know me at all, you know that it's true; but if you knew me before 2000, and knew me never again until now, you might be shocked at contemporary circumstances. I had been told, cajoled, and strongly insinuated that cat "ownership" would be beneficial to me in some way, shape or form, for many years, It took a crazy Cameroonian (seriously certifiable, no joke) to force one of her kittens upon me, and the bond we (little Hepzibah the cat and I) shared was so sweet and special, that, though Hepzibah only lived 5 years with me, I had been burned from then on as a cat man. She crawled up the length of my body to nestle on my shoulders! Who can survive that and not come out a cat lover?
My second cat after Hepzi wasn't quite as sociable, but that didn't make her any less lovable. I named her Naima, after John Coltrane's classic, gorgeous song. Maybe she caught the same disease that killed hepzi, I'm not sure, cat autopsie's are expensive.)
Now, my home is filled with two male cats, Rollie, who was quite a swinging male member when I took him in five years ago, (and only neutered earlier this year) and another orange striped stray, (with me one year now) who is known as Sonny Boy. Fourteen years ago, I would have called you crazy for calling me a cat person, but now, ...you're the crazy one!


Robinson's Old Tom Strong Ale, Frederic Robinson Brewery, Cheshire, England.

I've heard of this beer for so long, wanted to try it for seemingly forever, and finally it's here, and I just tapped a keg of it. An English Strong ale, a recipe from 1899, named for the brewery's cat (someone's got to kill the mice), a brewery that F. Robinson began after purchasing the Unicorn Pub in Cheshire, so long ago.

We're at a period of American Exceptionalism in brewing, locally and nation-wide, and it's both justified and baffling. Yeah, there's a ton of invention and evolution and boldly-going with the current American brewing scene, but this often is celebrated at the expense of what happened before Fritz Maytag ever ordered an Anchor beer or Ken Grossman ever thought of Cascade hops. Those old school originators knew from whence they came, but the current crop? And especially the fans and scenesters? I see the appreciation for English beers dwindling. German, even Belgian. Man, it came from somewhere, people. We didn't think it all up by ourselves, we just tweak it some.

And so, I enter into my first tasting of Robinson's Old Tom Ale. A strong ale (8.5% abv.) from the Robinson Brewery, Cheshire, England.

Very dark coloring, nearly black, with a beautiful off-white, creamy head above. Wonderful.

Aroma: deceptively soft, smooth and creamy. Malty-sweet, but even-tempered and expertly balanced.

Taste: Enters the palate full, rich and in complete domination. Rowdy, ruddy, and taking no prisoners. This brew tastes like an old tom behaves, it throws itself around without regard for societal norms and common regard. Dark fruit on the flavor, some spice, massive malt, some toffee and a touch of caramel. All very well-played and perfectly put. No over-weening hops, no over-bearing malt, but this is still a large beer, just like any Tom Cat strutting it's stuff.

I will now play some Lee Morgan. Great record with McCoy Tyner, Bob Cranshaw, Art Blakey, Jackie McLean, and Curtis Fuller. 1964, Blue Note records. And when that's done, we turn to "Stray Cat Strut" by The Stray Cats. We see it's composer Brian Setzer rather regularly, now that he's located in Minneapolis. He's got cat class, and he's got cat style.

Philosophical question: is the American barley-wine style better because it's bigger, and hoppier? I say, not necessarily. If you can't handle some subtlety, if you  need to be pounded on by every beer you try, …well, you're missing a lot. There is so much to be said with just plain old good taste. This is a barley-wine, but don't expect a ton of American-style over-hopping. Don't expect to be burned by over-…alcoholing…?
What's wrong with the classics, I ask, and I don't expect an answer, because I know what it should be. If you want something delicious, and beautiful, cool, calm and slightly cacophonous, Old Tom's your man. Deee-lightful. Tasty, tasty, tas-teee……

this is so good, so malty, cool, calm, and utterly lovely. My goodness. I like this more and more, as I drink it down. I'm practically in love with it, ...mmmm.


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