After my last foray into the world of bottled beers I was beginning to wonder if my experience in Leeds had soured any chance I had of enjoying non-craft ales. Indeed, had I become as much of a beer snob as I am a curry snob? The answer, by the way, is probably yes. Heigh ho. Tonight I thought I would try another beer I got in for Christmas and whose services were not required in the event, Marston's Old Empire. An IPA, which was a good augur given how many times I tried them last year, and a strong one.
Upon opening I anxiously tested the aroma. This is not one of the lovely Thornbridge ales that my host from Leeds had gifted to me (I'm saving them for a special occasion - either having all three on an evening or because I feel like it, both would be special). I was not immediately electrified by the yeast-based smell, travelling with the barest hint of hops without any real fruitiness, but I was reassured that this would have something more to it than the Shambles Bitter. Colour on pouring was good and pale, as IPAs should be, but lighter than the straw of the White Swan. First taste belied the 5.7% ABV and went straight to a light and musty spice that one usually associates with yeast, though I confess that I didn't make that connection right away. There was plenty of that to go round, fuzzing away at the edges of the rest of the experience throughout without being overpowering. A light malt followed, but did not hang around as it wasn't really the star of the show, and was in turn succeeded by some light citrus before fading to a bitter and yeasty aftertaste that was not unpleasant.
In this sense then, the ale does well, the taste fills the mouthful and the colour matches what one would expect. The head was a solid one. Obviously the carbonation was artificial in the main, lacking any bottle conditioning that I have discovered I enjoy, and thus a little on the fizzy side but that wasn't a huge issue and didn't dent the enjoyment of it. As the pint progressed the taste mellowed, still with that yeast in the background adding spice to it, but the carbonation dimmed more to allow the beer to shine through a bit more. Something to remember with this one: let it stand a bit before supping. The flavour is rewarding enough and held its own against my evening meal of salmon pasta bake so it is probably enough to withstand even stronger flavours if not a decent curry.
Enjoy this as part of a meal, though I would counsel it needs something more than a fish pasta bake. If meat is your thing then this could go with something like a dark rare steak or, if not, try a mushroom based nut-roast with plenty of pepper. A curry would go well with it, something like a bhuna or even a jalfrezi but probably not something stronger like a biryani or dhansak. Be warned though, the strong yeast will leave you with the munchies. I was going to combat with further beer but settled, eventually, on Rochester Grape Juice (another Christmas leftover). In short, thank you Old Empire, I may be a beer bore but at least I'm not an awful beer snob, Shambles Bitter was that bad.
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