Thursday, May 30, 2024

Beer Review - Old Speckled Hen

A freshly poured pint of Old Specked Hen foaming from the top of the cup to the very bottom.
A foaming pint of "Old Speckled Hen"

My beer journey started in the Midwestern parking lot of a Farm Aid concert. My brother-in-law handed me a green bottled domestic European lager knockoff. It was not a good introduction. I’m pained just remembering the sips.

Years and two moves later I was in London for an extended period. Before the trip, I would drink a super light domestic lager with friends. But beer, whatever! It’s a drink for fitting in, and is it even good? Then on my second night in London, I visited a nearby pub. I asked the barkeep for what’s good and he slipped me a “Fuller’s London Pride”. My pallet then opened to flavor as the mild hop bite and the caramel-colored liquid combined minting me a new beer fan. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve had my last “London Pride”, an experience I am still chasing.

At Walt Disney World, Epcot’s Rose & Crown Pub is the best opportunity to capture the British pub experience. The staff are British, as confirmed by every other patron asking the cast members if they are really English, British, or from London. I wanted to yell back at my fellow patrons, can’t we just ask once? The beers on tap are all British imports, though it seems some of the Whiskey offerings are domestic. It’s fast-paced, loud, and a great place to grab a beer, and as authentic as possible United Kingdom pub experience…knowing you are steps away from Canada (member of the British Empire) and France (it’s just a Chunnel away) Central Florida.

Let me first say, I did not expect a show. As the bartender drew my pint, I saw bubbles…bubbles, bubbles everywhere. The plastic glass filled, not with liquid, but with a glass full of bubbles. This is cascade effect is most prevalent in beers that have been kegged with nitrogen. The tap releases nitrogen gas found in the keg, forming small bubbles that give a creamy finish to the beer. This is most typical in a beer like Guinness, which has gone so far as to add a widget to cans and bottles to give you a cascade effect at home. My understanding is that “Old Speckled Hen” is not typically kegged with nitrogen, but I did find a video that’s over 3 years old showing a can that has a nitrogen widget! In short, I didn’t ask questions and I’m not sure what was happening, but I liked it.

“Old Speckled Hen” is listed as a Pub Ale, sometimes known as an English Pale Ale, sometimes known as a bitter. That’s why I grabbed it on this visit, chasing a “London Pride” family member. I will admit, it tasted like a nice well well-balanced English ale with a mix of malt to give it a caramel color and flavor, with the yeast making it taste like, well beer. The ABV is only 5%, which would easily have allowed me to have a second or third. But what was missing for me was the hop bittering that I remember from my “London Pride” when I first experienced it, and everyone told me it was so vile and bitter. “Old Speckled Hen” has an IBU of zero! It was refreshing and was a great sipper as I sat in the sun next to the World Showcase Lagoon catching up with friends.

A settled pint of amber Old Speckled Hen sitting on a table.
A less energetic pint!

And when I say well-executed, in an age where beer brands jump quickly in and out of the market, it’s been brewed since 1979. Originally it was brewed by the Morland Brewery, founded in 1711. So yeah, they may have known something about beer. In 2000, young upstart brewery Green King bought Morland, having been established in just 1799. Needless to say, as you sit in a country established in 1776, there’s some brewing legacy in your pint.

Who drinks this?  First, it is a solid delicious, and refreshing beer. It’s not too bitter, and the yeast and malt give you more flavor than a lager to let you know you are drinking a more complex beer. So if you like good well-produced beers, here you go! Some in my party found the taste to be too flavorful as it’s not a light lager. Second, it’s for those who want to have an English pub experience in Central Florida. It is an import. You can and will find it in London. So if you are drinking around the world, please split drinks, and want to check off the United Kingdom, you could do a lot worse! Finally, for those looking to manufacture and recover memories of days in the United Kingdom, allow taste and smell to bring you back. It’s a beer that sets a mood and reclaims memories, representing a brewing tradition that was established well before the United States pavilion. And if one wishes to say I did something authentic, and good, you can’t go wrong with the entertainment and refreshment this pint will bring you.

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