Sunday, May 31, 2009

Samuel Smith's India Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (597) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
I’m a hop head by nature and my favorite style of beer is the India Pale Ale. Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve only drank American versions of this inherently British style (that’s where it was invented, after all). I decided to give world-renown British craft brewery Samuel Smith’s India Ale a try to see what a beer of this style from across the pond would taste like. The difference between ours and theirs is about the same as night and day!

Beers of this style are supposed to be intense with hop bitterness, but this beer takes a nearly opposite approach with a rich, sweet malt character with minimal hop presence. How it can even be called an IPA I do not know. However, the fact remains it is a tasty, easy-to-drink beer and that’s what counts.


The thing that annoys me about English 550ml (18.7oz) “Victorian Pint” bottles is how rough they pour. Fortunately, this beer was still able to produce a perfectly-proportioned head which was thick, white, creamy and left plenty of lacing on the glass. The body is a dark copper color and is a little hazy although I didn’t notice any sediment. The aroma is nothing I would expect with an IPA since it’s very sweet, malty and light. I did notice a slight floral presence, but nothing that would indicate strong hoppiness.


If you look at the name of this beer closely you’ll notice it’s simply “India Ale” and not India Pale Ale. I think the missing word might be actually be “brown” since this beer is so rich and sweet, not tart and bitter. No doubt we Americans have gone a little nuts with our hops, so it wouldn’t surprise me if an authentic British brewery would be much milder, but in the case of Samuel Smith’s India Ale I was wondering where the hops were.

The first thing I noticed is a sweet caramel-like taste not unlike a brown ale. There’s also a bit of spice reminiscent of molasses and toffee and finally a subtle fruit component of plum and raisin. These are ingredients I’d associate with a maltier-style beer, not an IPA. In fact, many critics (including reviewers here on have criticized this beer for deviating from the IPA style so much as to be a flaw.

While I would agree this definitely isn’t your typical IPA by a long shot, the fact remains it is very tasty. The smooth malt sweetness is rich but not dry and sugary. There definitely is a slight hop bitterness as it finishes, but like the rest of the beer it’s very mild. In fact, “Earthy” is probably a word that best describes the overall palate here.


I love beers with a soft, gentle mouthfeel and Samuel Smith’s India Ale may be one of the most comfortable beers I’ve ever encountered. The liquid itself feels quite thick, but the flavor is so genuine and so tasty it’s tempting to slug it all down instead of savoring the beer. There’s no bitter or dry aftertaste, although I might describe the overall finish as slightly sticky.


Since this beer is already so much different from the usual IPA, it doesn’t come as much surprise to me that its body is much lighter as well. At 5% ABV, this would make a great session beer, especially considering its high drinkability. It doesn’t feel heavy at all, and yet it’s not so light that it doesn’t satisfy.


As a lover of IPAs I was definitely thrown for a loop with Samuel Smith’s India Ale. But as an appreciator of tasty beers I was certainly satisfied. I wonder if they’d consider changing the name to something more accurate, and if so I’d recommend calling an “India Brown Ale.”

Grade: 8/10

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