What the Devil Is This?!?

There has been some blog talk lately of the Devil’s Pale Ale 666 by Ontario’s Great Lakes Brewery, and I have been called out, erm, invited by Uncle Jack to offer my view. So here it is.

Great Lakes 666The Devil’s is certainly a dark pale ale, being somewhat coppery brown in colour, but I put little stock in the stylistic relevance of hue, so let’s proceed with the aroma. There is fruit there, as Martyn suggests is essential to Burton ale, but more so I get treacly caramel, which tarnishes the complexity of the nose with simplistic sugar notes. How this jibes with Martyn’s definition of Burton pale ale I do not know, as his post on the subject does not mention fragrant sugars like caramel, but it differs greatly from enticing, intriguing and, most importantly, wonderfully complex aroma of the Worthington White Shield I was supping last Friday.

On the palate, this beer certainly suggests a mix of fruit and hop, with dark and dried fruits like raisins and prunes holding the former banner and toasted nuttiness (walnuts, perhaps) standing in for the hops. On the finish, there’s a fair degree of bitterness, along with the roasted malt notes that arise in the second half of the taste and a whisper of smokiness.

What I like about this beer is its middle, the point where hops meet malty sweetness and begin the drift towards the bitter finish. What I don’t like is the clumsiness of that selfsame finish, which offers a coarse bitterness that stands in stark contrast with the softer approach of the front end.

As for the question of whether or not it might be in the Burton style, even if unintentionally so, I’d say not, or at least that’s what I’d say when comparing it to what I know of the classic Burton ale, it being White Shield. Which is not to say that the Devil’s is a bad beer – it’s a fine enough ale, if not necessarily one to get too excited about – but rather that the Worthington is an exceptional one.

6 Replies to “What the Devil Is This?!?”

  1. Having never had a WWS (though the brand oddly had an ad on my blog for a year), I can’t compare but isn’t there a difference between earlier Burton ale and later pale ales made in Burton? I don’t mean to go all “Pattinson” [ 😉 ] but I didn’t think Ratty and Mole in Wind in the Willows were going all giddy over White Shield… though maybe they were.

    And I agree – I have gotten more excited about beers bought in central NY gas stations but for a Ontario product it is up there.

  2. All I know is what I taste, Alan, and White Shield must surely be the closest we have these days to true Burton ale. Save for whatever bottles of Ratcliff Ale might be still kicking around the White Shield Brewery, at least.

    So far as your second paragraph goes, well, I’m not a big fan of qualifiers, as in “not bad for a ______.”

  3. Fair enough. But when you can get Ommegang quarts in Albany area gas stations for under five bucks, well, it is in fact not bad for a beer at a gas station.

  4. Burton Ale should not be confused (though often is, today, when the style has almost disappeared) with Burton pale ales and IPAs such as White Shield: Burton Ale was what Samuel Allsopp was brewing when he was encouraged to make the first Burton pale ale for the Indian market in the early 1820s, and is descended from the strong ales the Burton brewers were sending to Russia and the Baltic. Bass No 1 (and Ratcliff Ale, which was a version of that) was/is a Burton Ale, and used the red diamond trademark Bass reserved for its Burton Ales: Bass Ale is a pale ale and uses, in contrast, the famous red triangle trademark. In its later incarnations, as made by brewers outside Burton, Burton Ale generally had a fair amount of dark brewing sugars in the mix, which seems to have added to the fruity sweetness of the style and the darkness in hue: Young’s Winter Warmer is a classic example of a modern Burton Ale, as is Marston’s Owd Rodger. Alas, Burton Ale suffered a massive collapse in popularity in the UK in the 1950s, and has almost disappeared.

    Martyn Cornell

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Martyn. As ever, I bow to your impressive expertise.

      Still don’t think that puts the Devil’s anywhere near the Burton Ale style, though. In fact, if anything, it would be nearer White Shield than what you describe as a traditional Burton ale, and it isn’t very close to that.

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