Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

India Ale

Samuel Smith
United Kingdom

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 5.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

It’s Nigel’s final stop during the Second Annual International Beer Month, and I’d like to say I wish there was more month so I could sample more tasty foreign brews. Then I remember that it’s February, so I quickly change that to an emphatic “good riddance.” While I respect many international brewers and there are some world-class, unique offerings to be had, I still believe the U.S. dominates in quality and ingenuity, much like they just dominated the Winter Olympics (in your face, Norway!).

For my final review, I considered a few options, including going out with a bang (not sure how I would have done that, save for finding a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin). Instead, I’m keeping it simple and going with a traditional British ale from a traditional British brewer. So, you know … may God save the Queen and junk.

Samuel Smith Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire was founded in 1758. In the mid-1800s, the Smith family became proprietors, and the brewing has continued uninterrupted. While Samuel Smith’s is easy to find just about anywhere in the world, leading one to figure it’s adapted into a modern, macro-esque brewery, that’s not really true. Surprisingly, Samuel Smith’s has remained very traditional, to the point that they still utilize dray Shire horses to deliver beer around Tadcaster (can anyone say tourist gimmick?). Even the process is still somewhat traditional, using the old Yorkshire Square system, with the original 85-foot well from 1758 and a yeast strain that dates to around 1900. Cool stuff for any lover of British brewing history.

Samuel Smith’s products also reflect the past 300 years or so of British brewing. Most of the styles are classic ales native to the Isles, including pales, IPAs, stouts, porters, browns, and winter warmers. But these aren’t modern, “imperial” versions by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, virtually all of them check in at around 5 percent ABV, making them excellent pub drinks, which is where Sam Smith’s found its largest audience until recent global expansion. With the exception of a powerful barley wine, the strongest ale Samuel Smith’s produces is Imperial Stout, which checks in at a moderate 7 percent while many other European and American brewers have them checking in at 10 percent or higher.

India Ale is right along those lines. A mild, drinkable 5 percent ABV, this isn’t meant to get you blotto; rather, it’s meant for enjoying a pint or ten over the course of a dreary Yorkshire day while watching football in a local pub. While the history of the Tadcaster brewery is such that India Ale could have been an “original” IPA, one that was actually shipped to India during the days of the Empire, I haven’t seen any evidence to support that as fact. Regardless, if it’s not the real thing, it’s a damn close interpretation, and the Union Jack spread across the bottle makes Nigel long for his youth on the old dirt farm in Essex or Sussex or Wessex or whatever the Hell -sex I’m supposedly from.

India Ale pours very well … very well indeed. A solid pour reveals a creamy, puffy head reminiscent of a beautiful British summer afternoon (read: cloudy) that settles into a persistent lace throughout the drink. A golden brown, almost coppery hue reveals some sedimentation and little in the way of bubbly carbonation. A splendid looking brew!

The aroma is, well … British. It has the distinct aroma of a labradoodle after it rolled in a mud puddle. As is typical of an English IPA, it’s an earthy aroma heavy on the sweet, caramel malt and grassy, earthy tones. While touches of sweetness and very mild hop aromas do come through, as do notes of citrus, overall it’s a stale, timid aroma.

The flavor is fine, but that’s the best I can say. Perhaps a fallback beer should I find myself at a Euro pub with Heineken, Amstel, Beck’s, Grolsch, and Stella Artois as the other taps, but not something I’d order on its own on a regular basis. While flavors trump the stale aroma, there isn’t much in the way of complexity going on. Initial flavors are again malty, with sugary sweetness of caramel and toffee followed quickly by the underlying tones of European hops. It’s well known that European versions, be they English, German, or Czech in origin, are not nearly as effervescent, bitter, or floral as their American counterparts. Thus, a true English IPA isn’t tongue-numbingly hoppy, and India Ale falls right in line with that. The British hops add to the overall earthy profile, which is only cracked at times by a noticeable hint of sweet citrus. A balanced, tempered, by-the-books beer, it’s a good drink, but nothing to get your knickers in a knot over. Medium-bodied, smooth on the palate, and not overly alcoholic, it’s certainly a session beer, though it is only available in the states in mini-bomber bottles.

Samuel Smith India Ale is truly a trip back in time, and an appropriate way to finish off International Beer Month. A classic, pleasant drink, it won’t blow you away, but surely won’t offend. It has historical context, and it reminds Nigel of his childhood, when he ate his Cheerios swimming in ale. If you haven’t tried it, I’d suggest at least giving it a shot to experience a simple, relatively authentic English IPA. Raise a pint in celebration of a fine month of international brews, and until next February …


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 26, 2010.
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