Boulevard Brewing’s Collaboration No. 3 recently hit our North Texas market, and the general sense seems to be confusion and a mild disappointment regarding this beer. Brewed in conjunction with Dann and Martha Paquette of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, this Stingo is meant to be a tribute to the classic Yorkshire Stingo, a strong English ale.
Most of the confusion seems to be due to a simple unfamiliarity with the style, and maybe some misplaced expectations. For example, many believe the term “stingo” is slang for bad beer, or at least beer that has “gone off.” This is only half true, as stingo traditionally describes an English old ale style, which does have elements of age in the taste. More on that in a moment.
Another misconception is that this beer should be a sour ale (re: innoculated), which is far from the actual malty flavor of this beverage. Traditional old ales do rely on some measure of “open fermentation” but this is Yorkshire, not the Zenne Valley. Consumers accustomed to imported lambics and American sour ales may be expecting too much pungent and tart fruit.
A little confusion is natural as few old ales are available commercially in our market (though that may change soon!) and many craft beer fans may never have encountered the style. Although old ales are old, dating back to the 17th century, the “old” in this case refers to the aging that is part of the beer. Note that the recently released Saint Arnold Divine Reserve No. 12 is an old ale style but my bottles will be aging for at least a year, so that review will have to wait.
Old ales are a traditional English style that is typically a blend of several batches, one or more of which may have gone slightly sour as it aged. For Boulevard’s version, portions were aged in clean oak barrels and then mixed with other batches that were either freshly fermented or had been allowed to sour in the tank. More authentic versions such as Samuel Smith’s may have portions aged in open stone “Yorkshire squares.”
The resulting beer from Boulevard is magnificently complex and malty, dark like a porter but not too dark, roasty like a stout but not heavily so. It has a well-caramelized sweetness but is not too sweet, instead with a slight soured-mash character, a cardboardy oxidized taste — the benchmark of the style — and a slight sharp acidic bite in a dry balance. Elements of toffee, coffee and cocoa should be obvious, and some may pick up on a bare citrusy note from the work of wee microbes other than yeast.
The alcohol heat is entirely hidden (8.5% ABV) and is usually what keeps old ales from becoming too sour and undrinkable. They share many qualities and some history with barleywines, with age being the largest difference. Some can be decades old and elegant enough to enjoy on their own, or maybe with a fine cheese plate.
Availability: A limited edition, currently in large 750-ml bottles as well as on tap at all the usual craft beer places.