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Classic Beer of the Month June 2015: Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo

Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo, 8–9%

When, around the turn of the millennium, breweries rediscovered the joys of maturing beer in oak casks, there was one brewery better placed than most to join the party.

Samuel Smith Yorkshire StingoSamuel Smith is about as traditional as you can get when it comes to breweries and part of its image comes from its continued commitment to serving its one cask-conditioned ale – Old Brewery Bitter – from the wood. There's a cooper on site making the casks and a cellar full of wooden vessels of various vintages.

So, whereas other breweries were going out of their way to secure former whisky casks, or casks that previously held another spirit, in which to age some beer, Sam's was sitting on its own plentiful supply of seasoned oak and it was a natural progression that the Tadcaster brewery added a wood-aged beer to its selection.

Yorkshire Stingo, first released in 2008, takes its name from a local term for barley wine. It's a lovely word, Stingo, a sort of warning sign for the inexperienced, letting you know that you have to tread carefully with the contents of the bottle, but, in Sam's highly-private fashion, little else is revealed on the label about the beer itself.

We are told that there is some cane sugar in the mix, presumably to help raise the strength to such a level, without generating too much body or deepening the malt profile, but the types of malt and varieties of hops employed remain undeclared and not even a journalistic prodding of brewery staff can prise free the details.

A Year in the Wood

The brewery does reveal that the beer spends more than a year in the wood, although this is oak that has previously only held beer and so there are no spirit notes emerging. Because of the long conditioning, the alcohol content varies from batch to batch, sometimes settling at 8% and at other times as high as 9%.

Samuel Smith Yorkshire StingoA rich chestnut-red colour, Yorkshire Stingo oozes aromas and flavours of butter toffee, raisins and red berries.

The oak, as well as adding to the creaminess, introduces a faint tannin dryness, before a dry, softly bitter finish with more creamy, buttery fruit, a suggestion of cherry and a more notable wood character.

Stingo is also the only beer Sam's produces in bottle-conditioned format. That's a good move, as the continued work of the yeast produces a light texture that really lifts and separates the flavours.

As a result, it is surprisingly delicate for a beer of such magnitude and so easy to drink that its old-fashioned, somewhat alarming, name seems particularly appropriate.

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