Although I like to try new beers and sample things from new breweries there are also beers that I view as classics and will always try again and again. One of these classics is Theakstons Old Peculier ~ a strong yet tasty brew from the Theakston Brewery.
There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of Theakstons Brewery. It can be found in Masham, North Yorkshire (the same place that now houses the Black Sheep Brewery) and began life as a brew pub (in the old Black Bull pub), back in 1827. They moved production to the present site in the 1870s ~ throughout the years they have expanded, bought a number of tied pubs and now supply a variety of bottled, canned and draught beers to outlets nationally and internationally.
The latest brewery news (as of April 2004) is that the brewery is now entirely back in the hands of the Theakston family ~ the family have reclaimed it and are once again an independent company. Details of this are still a little sketchy, but their website aims to keep us updated with the changes as they occur (refer to http://www.theakstons.co.uk/Intro_text.htm for details.).
Some Theakstons Cask Beers you may have seen include Theakstons Best Bitter (a standard English Bitter at 3.6% ABV), Theakstons Black Bull Bitter (a dry and bitter beer at 3.9% ABV) and Theakstons Dark Mild (a classic dark beer at 3.6% ABV).
Old Peculier (or OP as I will call it, for brevity’s sake) is brewed in the style of an Old Ale. According to the CAMRA beer styles section on the website an Old Ale is “predominantly a winter beer”. I would say that this is a generalization, because Old Ales are enjoyed all year round. Old Ales, in my view, tend to be dark, sweeter than bitter beers and are often, but not exclusively, strong (in alcohol content). They are often aged in Oak barrels to give them a mature taste and smooth texture. You will u sually find that Old Ales improve with age and benefit from maturing in the bottle or cask ~ there is truth in the belief that they were termed “old” because they were kept for longer before drinking (if you have read my reviews of porters, you may remember that old or stale beers were the ones that were mixed to make up this beer style).
*A Bit of History*
OP is certainly a beer with a history ~ and a LONG history at that! The Theakstons website gives an extremely thorough resume of where OP got its name, so I will just give a brief outline. “Peculier” refers to an independent ecclesiastical court attached to the diocese of York. Peculier is this sense doesn’t mean odd, it actually means particular in Norman French (the time period that OP’s history stems from).
OP weighs in at 5.7% ABV and this puts it firmly in the Old Ale/Premium Ale strength bracket. It also fits in with the Old Ale brewing process because it is produced using pale ale and crystal malts, torrified wheat, caramel, and three different sugars ~ ingredients traditionally used in Old Ales.
*Look, Aroma & Texture*
OP is a dark beer ~ at first glance, you may even think you have ordered a stout or a mild by mistake! It is dark brown, almost black, with a distinct ruby hue when held up to the light. The head is a light cream colour and is long lasting, thick and tight. The aroma is rather nice! The initial smell is pretty hoppy, but there are also hints of caramel, vanilla, treacle and fruit. Texture is rich, smooth and a little on the syrup/ treacley side, making it full-bodied with a pleasant though slightly mouth feel.
OP tastes strong! It starts off quite sweet; it has a treacle toffee taste and a sweet fruitiness (like raisins, blackberries and black grapes). The rich flavour of roasted malt develops as you drink, as does the fruitiness, which also ha s elements of banana (think of a very delicate Well’s Banana Bread Beer), combined with vanilla, liquorice, chocolate and a very small amount of hops. I find that there is an underlying nuttiness that softens the taste and balances the fruit. The finish is dry and leads to a long bitter aftertaste.
*What I think*
OP is a real classic Old Ale that reminds me very much of a stout or a porter. The combination of tastes leaves you in no doubt that you are drinking something strong and special. It is well rounded and is one of these beers that does change in flavour depending on its age ~ a “young” barrel of OP is tasty, but doesn’t have the complexity of a barrel that has been there for a while! OP is one of those drinks that definitely must be treated with respect and can probably be one that is an acquired taste! The flavours are strong and rich and certainly won’t appeal to those who like a light lager style beer after one or two sips ~ it will take a while to encourage your palate to appreciate the heavy texture and port-like taste!
I am quite lucky because quite a few of the pubs near me serve OP as a Cask Ale (some people have to rely on the bottled version available in most supermarkets and off licenses). We usually drink OP in the Derby Tup (to be found on Whittington Moor near Chesterfield) when we have worked our way through the Guest Ale selection), because we know that OP is consistently good. The only problem is that OP is rarely cheap! Due to its higher alcohol content it generally costs more than the standard strength beers. Expect to pay in the region of 2.40 to 2.80 a pint dependent of where you are. We usually pay about 2.50 a pint, but are never disappointed with the quality of taste and texture.
Just make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of drinking too much OP in one session. It has a kick and will soon leave you feeling slightly tipsy! Our tip is to just have the one pint at the end of the evening ~ though we often forget our own advice and waddle for the bus in a distinctly drunken fashion! What I really like about OP is that it is strong AND tasty ~ often higher strength beers lose out on the subtleties of flavour in the aim of being strong for strength’s sake! OP manages to pack a punch while combining a variety of tastes and a rich, lovely texture.