Bottled Up: Old and Older

A chill in the air is all the excuse I need to open up some heavyweight beer. Something that coats the throat and keeps you playing the flavour guessing-game. Two bottles sprang to mind. Suffolk, UK and San Marcos, USA may be several thousand miles apart, but they're both home to brewers who know more than a thing or two about strong beer.

Former Greene King and Broughton brewer Alan Thomson set up Old Chimney brewery at Hopton End Farm near Market Weston, in 1995 and ever since has been producing a comprehensive range of beers. I think they're under-rated even by beer nerds; maybe perhaps because the beers are difficult to get hold of outside Suffolk. One that does break out into the wider market is Good King Henry Special Reserve, an oak-aged imperial stout weighing in at a cockle-warming 11%.

There's a warm vanilla fudge-ness floating from the bottle, just a hint of phenolic whisky with loads of wet fig taking over the aroma. It certainly turns vanilla-sweet on the palate, still with a dry malty backbone and a dash of licorice root. Before it all goes crème brulée, dark chocolate drops in and bitterness counters the spun-sugar sweetness. You just have to lick your lips to get the chocolate back and, wow, does it keep coming back.

Several thousand miles westwards in California, there's a fair few brewers who love to wood-age their beers. Port Brewing is most certainly one of them, leading the way with a bourbon-barrelled strong ale named Older Viscosity. Like the Good King Henry's Special Reserve, it has a thick slice of alcohol in there (12%) but this has a deeper sweetness to it. Stronger licorice notes, masses of bourbon and a robust roastness that's never astringent. It look fairly unappetising, to be honest, with little head and real gloopy legs left on the glass but there's a smoothness on the palate that carries the vineous fruit flavours along with the warming alcohol behind.

A powerful duo for an evening's tasting. King Henry gets the nod, just; I'd like to stash a few bottles away and see if that sweetness mellows over time. Now that I've found a supply that's closer to home than Suffolk, I may have to give that a try.

To decide for yourself, try online sellers like Beermerchants who have stocked both beers on occasion. Thanks to (I think) Fin and Scott for these beers. I love well-travelled beery mates!