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Coniston Old Man Ale

They say that you can never go home again. Try, and it’s never as you remember it. People move, places change, the smells and colours that you remember from younger years are somehow less vivid. The world has moved on, and we can never go back.

Somehow, that’s been the case with this beer – some years ago I went to Coniston Water to visit the site where Donald Campbell, my childhood hero, died whilst trying for a water-borne world speed record in his boat Bluebird. Whilst there, I did drop in to a local pub to sample their wares, and along with a pint of Bluebird Bitter, sampled their Old Man Ale. Imagine my delight when I spotted this beer in my local World Market, and of course, I took a couple of bottles home to try.

Sitting down with the Old Man

Coniston Old Man Ale

Coniston Old Man Ale

I poured Christine and I a pint glass each, and we sat in the garden to try it out. It’s said to be a brown ale, and as such, I was moderately disappointed in the colour, which was a reddish-amber rather than the more chestnut I’d expect. The head was thin and quickly vanished into spectral fog, matching the faint cloudiness of this bottle-conditioned beer.

The nose was quite fruity, a mix of citrus and almost malic undertones, with a faint mustiness, an almost earthy quality that carried into the flavour. There’s no distinct hoppiness in there, though a little leafiness does come out in the flavour later, as the beer warms a little.

What I did get was a little zing in the mouth from the carbonation, and combined with the light nature of the beer, it was quite refreshing, but I couldn’t quite get over that fustiness. The flavour and body were both a little thin, not what I was expecting, and not at all like the draught beer I remembered. For the most part what’s left after the earthiness is a faintly sweet malt, with an almost composty aftertaste. The hops are only faintly present, with a faint bitterness that provides the sweet balance, but there was little to highly recommend; although there is some fruit in there, a mix of apples and grapefruit, it’s subtle.

I can’t get over the thought that the beer might have suffered during its long journey over, that maybe having the yeast sediment subjected to the jiggly stresses of transport might have disturbed the balance. Then again, it’s possible that I had a bottle that had been on the shelf too long in the light of the store, and that it was slightly skunked. It gets a B- rating on my beeradvocate review, but if I asked myself the question “would I buy it again?” the answer would be “Sadly, no”.

Frankly, I found myself slightly disappointed – I can only assume that this is a beer that doesn’t take well to travel. Given that the label says that it’s best served “at 58°F at the Black Bull In in Coniston”, I’ll go with that. So if you get the chance, go to the pub and sample it as God intended, and sample one there, or if you’re feeling energetic, walk the mile or so to the peak of the Old Man fell and marvel at the Cumbrian countryside. Just remember to stop and raise a toast to my childhood hero.

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  1. 21 November, 2009 at 16:31

    i’ve never actually tried coniston ale. i will definitely try a pint when next in coniston

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