Shipyard Old Thumper ESB

July 10, 2012

The image of the wild boar appears again and again throughout European history both as a symbol for entire armies and on many a noble family’s coat of arms.  Despite being known as consummate omnivore scavengers, boars are common in heraldry due to their courage and their fervor while under attack.

I only mention this here in a beer column because there’s a stern, surly-looking boar staring at me from my bottle of Old Thumper.

Its bright white eyes burn a hole through you; chiaroscuro against a black frame of bristly fur.  It’s like it can see into your soul, judging your conviction, measuring your merit.  Well, that and it also looks like if you make one wrong move, you’re dead meat.

Basically, don’t trifle with something that’s seriously good.

Old Thumper is one of British brew master Peter Austin’s beers from Ringwood Brewery.  In 1988, this flavorful version of classic Extra Special Bitter took home the top prize from the Campaign For Real Ale.  CAMRA, for short, is a European beer preservation society, if you will, dedicated to keeping massive, faceless conglomerates out of their ale, lager and cider.

A couple of years after the award, an aspiring American brewer named Alan Pugsley made his way over to England to learn how to brew from the famed Austin.  In 1994, he and partner Fred Forsley opened Shipyard Brewery in Portland, Maine after a stint running their own brew pub.  One of their most consistent products just happens to be Old Thumper, the recipe on license to Shipyard by Peter Austin and Ringwood.

I find it a neat juxtaposition; one of the breweries known for being at the forefront of the American craft ale movement is also making one of the finest British beers.  Old Thumper is intensely dark brown with a great head of foam that settles down to a nice cap with some sticky lacing left behind.  The scents coming out of the glass are fantastic; caramel, toasted nuts, butterscotch and red apple.  All of the flavors in Old Thumper are just as impressive with excellent sweet malt bringing in the dessert and tropical fruit while citrusy hops deliver just enough lemon bite at the finish.  Crisp mouth feel rounds out a very drinkable beverage while low-ish 5% alcohol leaves lots of room for repeat business.