Nick Carr on April 27, 2015 0 Comments Quick Characteristics Brewery: North Coast Brewing Company Location: Fort Bragg, CA Style: Old Ale ABV: 11.9% IBU: 34 Hops: Fuggles & East Kent Goldings Appearance: Deep Mahogany Brown with Foamy Tan-Colored Head Aroma: Aged & Big; Sherry-like Backbone, Dark Fruit, Dark Spice & Vanilla Notes Flavor: Big & Brute; Brown sugar & Caramel Sweetness with a Sharp Alcohol Burn; Notes of Cherry & Grapes; Moderate Bitterness Availability: Seasonal Pairs With: Roast Beef, Shepard’s Pie, L’Amuse Gouda, Toffee Apple Crisp Time for a big one. Old ale are one of my favorite styles, maybe because it harkens back to an aged brewing past not often expressed these days; Barleywines and imperials garnering most of the glamor of higher ABV beers. As I state in the Old Ale style profile it is hard to determine the difference between Barleywines and the Old Ales of today. Where does an Old Ale end and Barleywine begin? You could look to the ABV. If the BJCP style guidelines are adhered to, the Old Ale should run between 6 – 9% while a Barleywine will be between 8 – 12%. As you can see there is some crossover, but in this case, the ABV of North Coast’s old stock would put it firmly in the Barleywine realm. You could look to the hop character. Barleywines usually carry more of a hop load (especially in the aroma) then do the Old ales. Or you could put it down to the presence of a tart character, due to an addition of Brettanomyces, which would only show in an Old ale. I personally welcome a small tart character in high alcohol beer and would consider it a defining difference between the two styles, alas Brettanomyces isn’t always used, especially in modern versions. I’ve never had the North Coast Old Ale so I’m anxious to see if either of these characters make an appearance. North Coast adhered to the English tradition, using Maris Otter malt and Fuggles and East Kent Golding hops. It has won multiple awards including several World Beer Championships and a couple Great American Beer Festivals. The label is clean, unassuming, and elegant; reminding me more of a wine label then a beer label. Nice. The Pour and Aroma North Coast Old Stock pours a deep mahogany brown that highlights red when passed through light. A half inch of foamy tan-colored head forms but drops away fast under the strain of holding repose above some much alcohol. Even with this young beer the aroma reminds me of something aged and big, as if something more than itself sleeps under the surface. Big sherry-like backbone, dark fruit (fig, raisin, and prune), dark spice, and flecks of vanilla; small sense of caramel sweetness but the fruit and alcohols dominate. No definable hop character. Mouthfeel and Taste Body is surprisingly thin, but warming alcohols and the mouthcoating feel give it a pleasant fullness. It has very little carbonation, which goes along with the English style and makes it rip for the sipping; on the same level as a nice evening tumbler of port or brandy. This is a brute monster in the mouth, big, impressive, unapologetic, and uncaring. Its young and so the alcohol burns sharp and true, some subtleties are definitely lost behind the screen of rambunctious alcohol run amuck… but it’s good too. Brown sugar and caramel sweetness along with the first hints of cherry and other dark fruits play at the front end. A wine-like quality of grape jumps mid-palate along with a more subtle honey sweetness. Moderately assertive bitterness rises at the back end, like an echo of the monsters roar as it lops away into the night. It belays the 36 IBU profile and drags into the finish, over staying its welcome just a bit, but then what do you expect from a monster. Finishing The Impression I’d be more inclined to call this a Barleywine based on its alcohol content, but the hop profile is more Old ale. In reality Old ale has a longer history then Barleywine and because it is such an undefinable style there is an argument to be made about whether or not Barleywine should even be a style category, but let us move on before I open that can of worms any wider. I’ll just say it’s a good example no matter what style you want to label it. This is a great, but young beer. It captures the essence of oldness still in youth, all the sharp lines, and fusel corners are present, ready for a long sleep, before, down the road somewhere, being awakened in a prime moment, to be discovered, corners gone, having become aged, round, and balanced. Think I’ll have to go buy a four pack for exactly that purpose. Cheers!