When brewers make English style Old Ales, they often forget the old part.
Two hundred years ago, Old Ale wasn’t a style, it was an age descriptor. Mild Ale was fresh and ready to drink. Old Ale had been aging anywhere from a few months to a few years. Often the exact same recipe was sold in mild and old condition. The difference in flavor came down to oxidation – which neutralizes hop flavors and gives the beer a sherry-like feel – and the influence of wild yeast – which in small doses adds a funky tang, but can turn a beer into vinegar. Brettanomyces claussenii was first isolated from a barrel of English ale in 1904. Within a few decades, wild yeast was completely eradicated by commercial brewers.
More recently, brewer have been making beers under the Old Ale moniker, which may be strong and flavorful, but lack the funky, fruity flavors of the best aged beer. But the farming brewers at Agrarian have done it right. Colossal Blue was brewed with fire roasted Blue Hubbard squash grown on the farm and aged in rye whiskey barrels for eight months.
Don’t let the squash scare you, this is not a pumpkin ale. Blue has a slightly funky, fruity scent. It is tangy, almost tart, with cherry notes, with a light caramel undertone. The finish is very dry with a quick kiss of whiskey. The barrel aging gives the beer a slight sweetness and rye spice. It’s been a while since I’ve had a rye Manhattan, but Blue Colossal tastes like a nice stand-in. Slightly sweet like vermouth, dry and spicy like rye, with a maraschino cherry for garnish. Very tasty.