Five O’Hanlon’s Ales

Earlier this month, Ontario beer drinkers got the very good news that the latest vintage of the renowned Thomas Hardy’s Ale was now available for private ordering in our province thanks to import agency Roland + Russell. Not much was known about these folks in the beer community as they previously specialized in importing wine, spirits and fine food, but their great prices and excellent customer service won them a lot of fans very quickly.

Almost lost in the Hardy’s hype, however, was the fact that R+R is also carrying other beers from O’Hanlon’s, the brewery that revived the Thomas Hardy’s brand in 2003, a couple of years after the original brewer, Eldridge Pope, shut down their brewing operations to concentrate on their pub business. When I contacted R+R to place an order for some of the Hardy’s, they replied with info on the other O’Hanlon’s beers which I posted to The Bar Towel, and after exchanging a couple of more emails chatting about the beer business, they were kind enough to offer me sample bottles of the four O’Hanlon’s ales that they will be carrying year round, as well as a Christmas seasonal bitter.

One interesting thing about these beers is that they are bottle-conditioned, which is rare amongst the UK ales that we usually see in Ontario. When it comes to bottle-conditioned brews, I’ll often give the yeasties a swirl and pour them along with the beer, but with four of these five beers, I decided to pour slowly and leave as much of the sediment in the bottle as possible. (The exception: the wheat beer, which is a style that I prefer unfiltered.) The way I figure it, these beers are attempts to replicate cask ale in a bottle, and cask ale is always best when the publican has allowed the yeast to properly settle so the pints can be pulled as clear as possible. But if you prefer your ale with the little chunky bits, knock yourself out.

So – here’s what I thought of ’em:

Yellowhammer Premium Golden Ale
Light golden colour, and a nice aroma – a bit minerally with pleasant Cascade hop notes. Light, refreshing flavour of mellow malt, with some sweet fruitiness and an expertly hopped finish with a fresh, citric character. A pretty simple beer, but quite an enjoyable one.

Royal Oak Traditional Bitter
This is another former Eldridge Pope beer that O’Hanlon’s took on. It pours a deep amber-orange with a small white head that sticks around to the end of the glass. Great aroma right from the get-go – earthy, almost funky malts, some caramel, a bit of alcohol, and pungent hops. Soft, creamy mouthfeel. Lovely flavour of sweet and woody malt, a hint of honey and peach in the middle, and a well-hopped finish with notes of citrus and wood. Really nice!

Double Champion Wheat Beer
Initial slow half-glass pour is clear, bright yellow-gold with a good sized white head. The aroma, body and flavour are all sharp, with nice citrus and herbal notes, somewhat tart and quite dry in the finish. Second pour brings the yeast, turning the body cloudy and adding some dustiness to the aroma and flavour. The few UK wheat beers I’ve had before this haven’t done much for me, but I enjoyed this one.

Goodwill Christmas Bitter
Garnet colour with a wispy tan head. Nice aroma of sweet caramel, malt and orange candy. Same soft mouthfeel as the rest of the beers. Pleasant flavour, fairly sweet with mild spice notes, and a moderately dry finish with a faint medicinal tinge. I liked it, but I expected a bit more from an Xmas ale.

Original Port Stout
This interesting concoction is modelled after an old Irish tradition of starting the morning after the night before with a stout laced with a splash of Port. It has a nice, dark ruby-brown colour with a good sized light tan head. Interesting aroma that’s fairly malty/roasty with notes of coffee and smoke, and a tinge of sour fruit. The body is on the thin side – decent for an ale, but light for a stout. Flavour follows on the aroma, with sweet roasty notes of the top, some mild smoke and coffee, and a dry, sourish finish. Pretty neat little beer.

In general, I was impressed by the O’Hanlon’s line-up. It’s too bad that attempts to get some of them into the LCBO have been rejected so far, but at least they can be found in some of Toronto’s better drinking establishments, along with the Thomas Hardy’s Ale.

And to prove that they’re serious about this beer thing, Roland + Russell announced this week that they are now carrying a half-dozen beers and a a couple of unique beer-based distilled spirits from Austria’s Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, including the one-time strongest beer in the world, the 14% abv doppelbock Samichlaus. Between this and recent cold and snowy weather, it’s like Christmas came to Ontario a month late!

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