Taking a Sip of History

Photo: twitter.com/WellingtonBrew

by Stephen Beaumont

It is hardly revelatory to note that many of today’s craft beer faithful are obsessed with the new and unusual. Sure, they’ll speak fondly of a pale ale or IPA that’s been brewed since time immemorial, or at least since 2014, but what they really want, no, crave is that new kettle sour or monster double IPA or rye and oat barley wine. Good is great, goes their mantra, but new is greater.

Which is precisely why I find myself increasingly advocating a little beery time travel now and again. Because while I too am always on the lookout for new and exciting beers, I also see the great value in re-tasting old classics, partly because they’re considered classic for a reason and partly because sometimes you need a taste of where we came from in order to understand where we are and where we’re going.

The Wellington Brewery’s Iron Duke is such a beer. Appearing in this winter’s ‘Welly Re-Booted’ four-pack, the 6.5% ale is said to have been brewed true to the original 1986 formula – hence its new name, Iron Duke Recipe 86 – and it tastes like it. Dark brown, almost purple of hue, it boasts a minerally, earthy-cacao aroma and a rich, spice cake body that combines chocolate-toffee notes with a leafy, drying hoppiness, all ending in a dry, warming finish. It is, as I noted on Facebook after sampling it, simply lovely.

It is also a beer that you could easily overlook in today’s crowded marketplace, since malt-forward ales of somewhat significant strength hardly stand out these days. But remembering that Iron Duke was, in its heyday, one of the strongest regular production beers in Ontario and among the boldest in terms of flavour helps to illustrate how much things have changed since those early days. And sampling a beer that is simply very good, without being over-hopped or soured or just ‘weird,’ should provoke a greater appreciation of those other beers on the market, both old and new, that are able to impress without the need of bells and whistles.

The rest of the Welly Re-Booted pack are also worth at least trying – the Helles Bock standing out – but I hope that the success of the pack will prompt Wellington to release Iron Duke on a more regular basis. That way, we can all from time to time engage in a bit of worthwhile time travel without needing to buy three other beers we might not at the moment need or even particularly desire.     

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Short Sips with Stephen Beaumont

A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.

Twitter: @BeaumontDrinks