Name – HSD (Hicks Special Draught)
Brewer – St Austell
Classification – Strong Cornish Ale
Strength – 5% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Tawny toffee. An utter delight to behold.
On the nose – Rich fruit cake and faint celery. Quite a subtle aroma for its strength.
On the tongue – Hop dominant...but bitterness never tasted so sweet!
On the subject – The folks at St Austell must have known how good this ale was before naming after their founder Walter Hicks, who began the St Austell tradition back in 1851.
On the market – Not the most widely available beer from the St Austell portfolio... Ocado stock it, or try the brewery direct.
On the whole – 8/10
Try as I might to overcome it, there's just something about the words 'strong ale' which never fails to excite me.
This beer fully encapsulates the reasons why.
The flavours in play here, which mostly orbit around a dominant hop theme, are both delicious and understated - but its the second of these qualities that is so attention grabbing and exciting. After all, this is not the weakest alcoholic beverage in the cosmos – and therefore you might expect its flavours to be pretty bold and aggressive.
Not a bit.
And, in this case at least, that's a very good thing.
The fact that this 'strong' beer doesn't push its weight around, or isn't insistent on forcing any one particular flavour upon you, makes for a strong ale with a pretty good attitude, in my view. All too often a beer wearing the name 'strong' will consider itself permitted to bully your tastebuds with whatever it pleases - which you won't always thank strong beers for.
This ale has a different approach.
Don't imagine, though, that this brew is without flavour at all. This is really my point – it is packed with flavour. But the various flavour themes are there for you to choose to savour, or to focus on at your own pace, reather than having it all hammered-home regardless.
Of those various flavours on offer - date pudding, treacle-laced biscuits, ginger and blueberry do the best job of standing out amidst the ever present bitterness of the hops and the constant reassurance of the skilfully selected malts. But beyond even this, there's plenty of other stuff to discover over the course of a glass or two.
And on that subject of multiple glasses – at 5% ABV, this beer lies well outside what might be considered 'session' strength. But, believe me, I wouldn't allow that to prevent me from setting up something of a camp with a few jars of this stuff.
It's just so marvellously modest and reserved, it really isn't very long before your mind drifts away from trying to pinpoint precisely how strong it is, or what ingredients are making it so tasty – you just wind up savouring it regardless.
This is a very fine strong ale, which I strongly recommend.