Despite the allusion in the name to Old English 800, English Old Ale from Hudson, Wisconsin’s Pitchfork Brewing is a delicious dark beer that reminds us that winter is coming. This seasonal release is available to drink in the taproom and for purchase onsite in 750 ml bottles for $9, with a limit of two per customer.
With a spicy, clove-evocative nose and a whiff of alcohol, the beer pours softly to create an ivory head that dissipates once you begin drinking it. The beer has low carbonation and a strong maltiness, with a flavor that has strong gingerbread notes. Its creaminess hits you first on the tongue and is followed by a swift sweetness that segues into nutty tones throughout.
As the beverage warms, the alcohol flavors grow, and a cherry finish blooms along with some light chocolate and coffee notes imparted by the Maker’s Mark barrels used to age the brew. English Old Ale has a thick mouthfeel, yet it is not bready, and given the beer’s deep mahogany color, the entire experience is not unlike finishing a bag of dark-chocolate-covered raisins. As a whole, it’s big, yet subtle.
At 8.4 percent ABV, the alcohol content is pronounced but does not inhibit the taste or the overall experience. As an Old Ale should be, Pitchfork’s product is not well-hopped, and the hope is that when it ages, it will become even fruitier and almost reminiscent of sherry. The barrel aging is appropriately done, and avoids the astringency that can riddle a brew if it’s not tended daily.
Compared to similar “winter warmer” beers we’ve sampled in the past, this one is truly a treat — deep, dark, and handsomely malty. While it may not be made again after this batch runs out, other seasonal brews to look forward to at Pitchfork Brewing include the Vanilla Rose Imperial Porter, an English porter combined with braggot brew, aged in Four Roses tequila barrels on vanilla beans. It will be available around Thanksgiving, just in time for the holiday festivities.