St. Katherine’s Tawny Ale

It’s very rare that I come into a beer review knowing absolutely nothing about the beer or even the beer’s brewer, but such is the case with this beer. All I know is that this beer is from St. Katherine’s Brewing Co. in New Zealand (a brewery I’ve never heard of), that the beer has been aged in port barrels (I’ve never had a port barrel-aged beer before), and that it is 6.5% ABV. I have no information beyond that which can be found on the label, nor have I consulted Beer Advocate or Ratebeer to get a sense of what the beer geek cognoscenti thinks of this bottle, if there are even that many reviews. I don’t even know what style it’s supposed to be, so this is a fresh, unfiltered review comin’ at ya live.

It does have a similar burnt-amber appearance to that of a tawny port; I’m thinking probably a tad lighter. The bubbles are large and coarse, and stick around pretty well before finally receding.

I’m getting a lot of rum-soaked grape and sweet apple in the nose. Underneath those obvious volatiles, a buttered-caramel malt character develops, especially as the beer becomes warmer. I’m going to describe it as smelling a Werther’s Original next to an apple Jolly Rancher. I’m also getting a kind of orchard-y smell, like fresh cut-up leaves and twigs.

It smells sweet, but doesn’t taste all that sweet. Granted, there’s likely more residual sweetness showing here than the typical 6.5% amber ale, but it lands on the palate crisp-bubbled and mostly dry. There’s a thick malt backbone, and the apple and grape show up as a “fruit skin” taste on the back end and throughout the finish, something akin to peeling the skin from a Red Delicious and eating the skin, discarding the actual apple.

Rustic and fruity with lots of caramel malt, it’s not so dissimilar from examples of French biere de garde that I’ve had. My guess is that many beer geeks would be disappointed, as this is not a double-digit ABV barrel-aged monster. It is more of a modest amber ale that added some character from its host port barrels. Not a knock-you-over-your-head beer, more of a whisper-in-your-ear beer. Treat as a curiosity.

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