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Classic Beer of the Month January 2015: Wadworth Old Timer

Wadworth Old Timer, 5.8%

It's hard to imagine but, only about thirty years ago, the range of draught beers produced by a British brewery was incredibly limited.

Wadworth Old TimerThere was usually a bitter and a best bitter (generally called just that, no flashy names), possibly a mild and then, for winter, something a bit stronger and richer.

Wadworth's Old Timer is a fine example of that special winter offering, although, of course, it is just one of a number of seasonals produced by the Wiltshire brewery these days.

First brewed in 1961, Old Timer is available on draught for only two months of the year, rolling out in December and drying up in January.

Despite the name, it is not an old ale. It's really just a strong bitter. In fact, Wadworth head brewer Brian Yorston reckons that this is what the brewery's flagship beer, 6X, might have tasted like before it lost some strength and body during the Second World War.

Fundamentally, it's a very simple beer. The mash is composed just of pale and crystal malts, and the hops are the English stalwarts Fuggle and Golding. Throw in the impact of fermentation, however, with the generation of exotic esters, and you have a beer that is big, satisfying and has a little festive sparkle.

Teasing Esters

Caramel in the aroma is echoed in the rich, malty taste, which is slightly salty and savoury but by no means heavy on the hops. Instead, those esters tease the palate with hints of pear drop and apple, and these run on into the dry finish.

Caramel lingers here but the hops at last have their say, ensuring it all ends firmly bitter. Gently warming alcohol notes provide a nice counterpoint to the cold, dark nights outside.

The brewery has played around with this beer during its fifty-four-year history. For a number of years it was marketed under the name of Old Father Timer, to take advantage, one assumes, of the New Year celebrations.

On another occasion, the brewers experimented by maturing the beer in whisky casks. I was lucky enough to sample the outcome and was impressed by the effect of the spirit and the oak on the brew.

I suggested they called it Auld Timer but I don't think that ever resulted in anything as I've not received any royalty cheques.

Five years ago, Wadworth took the bold step of releasing the beer in bottle-conditioned format. I thought it was terrific, that little extra carbonation just lifting the veil of malt that shrouds the beer and allowing other characteristics, including hints of orange and tea, to shine through.

The bottle is a great year-round option, but there's a certain anticipation in Wadworth houses in the run-up to Christmas when Old Timer is due in on draught.

You don't have to wait for winter for something a little unusual from Britain's breweries these days, but some beers are worth looking forward to anyway.

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