Coniston Old Man Ale
Coniston • England
‘Who’s the Old Man?’
It’s Paul’s grandfather. Well, actually, not, but that was a nice guess all the same . . .
The Old Man of Coniston is a mountain in the English Lake District (though Americans might describe it as more of a large hill), that can be seen from the Coniston Brewery at the Black Bull Inn, a comfy little place tastefully set on the lakeshore. This softly-rounded landmark in England’s most picturesque region is the inspiration for Old Man Ale, Coniston Brewing Company’s rich and satisfying second brew. The Old Man is the worthy companion to Bluebird Bitter, created in the same tiny brewery on the lake by master brewer Ian Bradley. But Coniston has only a tiny brewing operation, with no bottling line, and replicating the nuances of fine cask ale in a bottle is no easy art. This task was therefore entrusted to famed brewmaster, Peter Scholey, the undisputed master of bottle-conditioned beer in the U.K., whose Ridgeway Brewery now brings us both Coniston beers.
Several years ago, Bluebird, then brewed by Peter at the late and lamented Brakspear’s Brewery, was the first truly live bottled beer to come to our shores from England, and it set a whole new standard. Like Bluebird, Old Man is bottle-conditioned; the live yeast in the bottle keeps the beer fresh, lively, and flavorful. The trouble with so many English beers sent over here in bottles is that pasteurization kills the yeast and the natural fermentation process, leaving the beer stale and flat right from the start. Old Man is darker, richer, maltier counterpart to Bluebird’s signature hoppiness. If you find Bluebird Bitter enticing, this Old Man is certain to warm your heart.
At the Coniston brewery, they blend Old Man and Bluebird to make a third beer called Opium that many swear is the best of the lot. Though our government would never allow us to bring in a beer by this name, one of our favorite pubs, Mahar’s in Albany, New York, make their own Opium by blending Old Man and Bluebird straight from their respective casks. The result is the hottest thing in the house, so maybe you do want to try this at home . . .
Old Man is made with world-famous Maris Otter barley malt, a little crystal malt for color, and fresh Challenger hops. It is 4.-% alcohol, by volume.
According to beer writer Roger Protz, Old Man Ale is “a radically different beer. . . . it has roast barley added to the pale and crystal malts. It has a deep, burnished copper colour, a rich port wine aroma, a big chocolate and creamy malt palate and a dry, grainy, roasty finish balanced by hop bitterness and tart fruit. It is a remarkably complex beer that deepens and changes as you sup it.”