A Harmonic Convergence of English-Style Ales

by Jim Lundstrom

It suddenly occurred to me recently that I left England 40 years ago this year. When I realized that, I thought for a moment that maybe it’s time to go back, see if the old fish & chippie is now a KFC and if they serve Bud Light at the good old White Swan.
And that’s as far as that idea went.
So a recent harmonic convergence of delicious ales from the sceptered isle put a big smile on my face.
First was a sampling of a very tasty homebrewed ESB (which, of course, stands for extra special bitter) from colleague Kait and her husband Shannon, both of whom are true beer enthusiasts.
That was followed by the delivery of a six-pack of Smittytown from Temperance Beer Co. of Evanston, Illinois, from Rob and Sherry Moore. Temperance calls this 5.5 percent beer both an ESB and an “English-style amber.” While many English ales are amber-colored, I have never heard of an actual English amber, so I don’t know where that’s coming from. Isn’t it enough to call it an ESB? Surely that’s not too esoteric for the American mind to comprehend.

Well, if calling it an English-style amber ale helps Temperance sell this tasty beer, more power to them.
The label tells us that while the beer is brewed with “refined English malts” it is also “bastardized with brazen American hops for celebrating a neighborhood that doesn’t exist.” What that is supposed to mean, I have no idea.
What I can say is that you get a big blast of caramelly malt, followed by the aforementioned brazen American hops, and while I would never mistake it for a true English ale because of the bastardization of hops, it’s a mighty fine beer. In fact, I think I can sum it up in one word – yummy!
And, finally, products from Odell Brewing of Fort Collins, Colo., recently appeared on the shelves of the local beer emporium. There were several varieties but I don’t recall what the others were because my eyes went right to 90 Shilling Ale, followed by my hand immediately grabbing a sixer of said beer.

This is the brewery’s flagship beer, and for good reason – it’s a lovely copper-colored ale made with British crystal and chocolate malt.
The name of the beer refers to a beer taxing system used in Great Britain and based on alcohol content that has been long forgotten everywhere except Scotland (some beer writers have mistakenly said it was a system exclusive to Scotland). 
The label on this beer and on the Odell website has it wrong when it states that “only the highest quality beers were taxed 90 shillings,” and that mistake has been repeated ad nauseum.
The truth is that a 50 shilling beer could be of the same quality or higher as a 90 shilling ale, or any number of shillings. The number refers to the amount of taxation based on alcohol content. The heavier the beer, the higher the taxation. The lowest shilling number I’ve seen referenced is a 50 shilling ale, and I have to believe that was the highly quaffable light session beer of its day.

And this 5.7 percent 90 Shilling Ale is highly quaffable, which makes me wonder if something calling itself 90 Shilling Ale should be this sessionable? Shouldn’t a 90 Shilling Ale be even more substantial, a wee heavy, perhaps?
You know what? I don’t care. It’s a great beer with a great name. I can’t say it yanks me back to an English pub stool circa 1974-78, but it’s close.