3.2AROMA 5/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 6/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 13/20
There have been quite a few beers I’ve encountered in my amateur beer-reviewing career that I’ve essentially forced myself to enjoy when I really haven’t. Certain beers thrive on name recognition alone regardless of quality, or are beers that are only enjoyed by select audiences. A lot of British pale ales, milds, and bitters tend to fall into this category - as is the case with Old Speckled Hen (which could be considered among all styles).
It should be noted that this is one of those rare beers that is available in a variety of serving types with each type having a noticeable impact on the way the beer tastes and drinks. It’s available on cask; nitrogen draught; carbonated bottle; carbonated can and nitrogen-charged can. I was able to drink OSH on cask, bottle and nitro can and each version definitely had its own pros and cons. However, taking into account all three servings my overall opinion of the beer is that it’s definitely not a bad beer, but it’s far from a truly great one.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
Old Speckled Hen pours to essentially the same appearance in all serving forms - the difference being it’s cloudy when nitrogen-charged and on cask, but crystal clear when carbonated. It’s a very attractive shade of pure copper with orange and red hues. It forms a generous head, initially, but dissipates somewhat slowly in the carbonated version. On cask and via nitrogen the head is very creamy-looking and leaves generous lacing on the glass (unlike the carbonated version).
The major difference between the various serving types of this beer is noticeable when you smell it. Cask and nitro-cans are extremely mild in the nose with hints of red apple and toffee but not much else. The bottle is stronger with toffee and caramel scents, but slightly skunky due to the fact the bottle is clear. It’s not quite Heineken-level skunky, but it’s strong enough for the average beer drinker to notice (but weak enough to ignore).
I was genuinely surprised by how rich and sweet this beer was out of the bottle. The initial taste is slightly sour from the skunkiness, but is eventually overtaken by a sweet combination of caramel and toffee - similar to an Oktoberfest. It’s medium-bodied, so the flavor makes itself known without jumping out at you. As it warms the flavors become sweeter and more robust, but so does the sourness from the skunk. It’s only mildly bitter and leaves a slightly sour aftertaste, albeit brief. If there hadn’t been any skunkiness it would be really appetizing, but as it stands it’s only a little more than tolerable since you have to reach for those sweet notes.
I’ve never been a fan of nitro-can beers because I find the creamy texture often overshadows the taste. I’d say that’s true this time since the first thing I taste is a buttery creaminess. Unlike the bottle, I don’t find much presence of sweet flavors like caramel and toffee, although there is a fruit juice-like component to the palate. Although the can is obviously skunk-free, there is still a bit of a sour taste and a stronger bitterness in the back end of the palate. The beer is medium-bodied, but I just don’t find much in the palate to fully enjoy. It’s an easily tolerable taste, but I’d prefer something stronger.
I was fortunate enough to find OSH on cask at Mahar’s shortly after I tried it at home in the aforementioned versions. Upon my first sip I was pleasantly surprised at how much better the beer tasted (at first). My first impression was that this beer was closer to a cider than any kind of English bitter, pale ale or mild. There is a sweet Macintosh apple-like flavor which is quite refreshing. It finishes with a noticeable bitterness, but as I drank on I detected a slightly sour flavor similar to the nitro-can. Of the three versions I tried, OSH seemed the lightest in body on cask and had the flattest mouthfeel. As it warmed the caramel and toffee flavors only seemed to show up in the aftertaste.
While the palate of Old Speckled Hen was noticeably different between serving types, what all three had in common was an easy drinkability. The cask and the can have a creamy texture while the body itself is a little thin. The bottle is also lighter in weight than you’d tend to associate with a beer like this and is easy to drink while it’s cold.
It’s no wonder OSH is known as a working man’s beer considering its mild palate, smooth finish, and relatively low weight at only 5.2% ABV. It’s the kind of beer you could drink for hours on end without feeling overwhelmed or bloated (although the sourness might be difficult to take if not paired with food).
Old Speckled Hen was one of those beers that I’ve heard a lot of good things about, but once I tried it I couldn’t honestly say it was anything special. Sure it’s got some good qualities depending on the serving type and it’s easy to drink across the board - but it just doesn’t do anything else but the bare minimum of satisfaction. I can’t force myself to love it, but I can appreciate what it has going for it.
It’s also something of a letdown, fiscally-speaking, since it’s $9 for a six pack of bottles, $12 for a 4-pack of nitro-cans, and $6 for a pint on cask.
Bottle grade: 7/10
Can grade: 5/10
Cask grade: 8/10