Some beers are iconic, some even have an icon on them, one which fits this description is Robinson’s Old Tom. This beer is a strong ale (8.5%) and so has a few characters which are not often found in a regular beer. For those who have never enjoyed the stronger ales then this is a good springboard into the style as although Old Tom is strong it is not ridiculously so and neither does it have some of the more acquired tastes in it’s flavour which some strong ales can include.
Right from the start you can tell by the smell that this will be highly alcoholic and rich beer. The nose is rich and fruity with scents of raisins and plums. The initial flavour is something like a strongly brewed black tea leading into the promise fruits and raisins ending with a pleasant airy fruit cake finish when the alcohol taste is revealed.
For those who have not had a strong ale before this beer presents some of the most pleasant aspects of the style, the deep fruity flavours and warming alcoholic finish. One of the things which you will notice with stronger abv beers is that there is a lot more room to pack flavours in, with the alcohol comes the opportunity for a much sweeter, bitter, sharp or punchy beer. However there is a catch, brewers can lose control of some of the flavours, either making the beer overpowering or introducing some unpleasant tastes which detract from the overall beer taste. This is the opposite problem to weak beers where the act of getting the flavour in is the challenge, in strong ales it is often hard to keep the flavours out!
In Robinson’s Old Tom there are none of these problems, it could be said that some of the more adventurous flavours are left out to achieve this, but I would argue that sometimes it is best to brew a quality good beer rather and maybe have less adventurous flavour but make it attractive to a lot of people rather than go with a highly adventurous beer which only a drinker with certain preferences will enjoy.
A word of caution, this beer is strong, it is served in the smaller bottle to encourage care and I have not sessioned it before and would choose not to. It is of course personal taste but Old Tom is, in my opinion, best had as a single beer on a cold night or with a few other dark beers such as porters or the weaker stouts, this will particularly highlight its qualities.
The beer is supposedly named after the brewery cat and the sketch on the bottle has changed over the years but was originally based on a sketch by the head brewer.
I always check the brewers website when writing these reviews, this time around I was interested to see that the beer itself has a website and that there are chocolate and ginger versions of the beer (the chocolate certainly sounds interesting, sadly you have to buy a case of 12 in the online shop). But for those looking to try Old Tom it is readily available in most supermarkets and beer retailers.
Note: I intend to try and find bottles of the other two Old Tom beers and will review them if I find them.