I believe I've mentioned my parents' somewhat progressive stance on alcohol consumption. As I grew older, it actually became a bit of a bonding experience for me and my dad. He used to be, if not a connoisseur, certainly an adventurous beer drinker. I used to be his spotter, alerting him to when something new showed up on the shelves of our local grocery store. As a reward, I was given a few sips' worth in a glass, and allowed to keep the bottle for my collection.
The built-in shelving in the closet I shared with my brother was lined with the treasured bottles, kept in order based on which bottles I thought looked cool. These were kept in front, for easy display. Among my favorites were a bottle of Fischer d'Alsace (prized for its swing-top closure) and nearly the full line of Samuel Smith beers.
The Sam Smith bottles looked old and distinguished to me, as if they must contain something serious and formidable. The lettering, emblems, foil wrap, and esoteric (to a 12-year-old) names were intriguing, and I was proud to have them in my collection. Where are they now, you ask? I'll tell you.
Back in '94, my brother and I spent the summer staying up far past our bedtime, watching reruns of the entire series run of Northern Exposure. Our parents, of course, didn't want us staying up until the crack of dawn, captivated by the foibles and adventures of the good people of Cicely, Alaska. Stealth was in order. To me, this meant keeping the volume down on the television in our room. To my brother, it meant not going to the bathroom. More specifically, it meant not going to the bathroom in the bathroom. My poor, defiled bottle collection.
Now that I've set the mood, let's talk about my most recent experience with the fine, fine beers from Samuel Smith.
Stingo is a variety of strong English ale, dating back hundreds of years. Samuel Smith's version is aged in oak barrels for a year or so, coming out full flavored and complex. The beer pours a clear, nutty brown with a slim, off-white head that quickly fades to a thin and creamy cap. Some slight carbonation is apparent, though not particularly active.
The nose is rich in dark fruit; currants and raisins dominate. Wood comes through, oaky but also a bit piney. It's a bit boozy, with a dark, molasses-tinged rum aromas coming through, followed by a slightly sharp, almost tart aroma I can't quite place. If you really pay attention as the scents make their way through your nostrils, some red apple and blueberry notes round things out.
The first taste reminds me of deliciously dense sticky toffee pudding. There's a very pronounced caramel, toffee flavor, but not buttery. Golden raisins return, carried in on the satiny and slightly mouth-coating feel of the beer. The booze shoes a bit here, too, as does a bit of toasted grain, almost like toasted oats. There is just a hint of apple in the front.
As you swallow, it's all wood and spice, with a bit of the alcohol coming back in. As the beer warms a bit, and what carbonation there is becomes further tamed, the beer just improves, showing off its rich flavors without coming on as sweet. There's plenty of residual yeast at the bottom of the glass, with the barest glimmer of banana esters showing themselves as you approach.
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Interestingly, this is a much brighter beer than expected. All of these dark, heady flavors taste, for lack of a better word, "shinier" than you might imagine. There's nothing heavy or leaden about it, though I could certainly see this serving as a comforting and warming brew on a night with an edge of chill to it.
As it was, I'd chosen to drink mine on one of our recent, mockingly pleasant evenings, and it fit the bill nicely. It's not so heavy, though, that it would be out of place even in warmer weather. One thing's for certain, though; I'm not letting my brother anywhere near it.