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Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale

by Matt O'Connor

Sometimes it’s hard to really grasp how little, in time at least, the history of the world has included us Americans. Giving us the benefit of history (and sadly ignoring American Indians) we were taught in grade school that we Americans have been on this continent since the early 1600s, at Jamestown and Plymouth colonies.

That sounded really impressive to a eight-year old kid in the 1990s. Today it’s sort of funny to see historic markers slapped on the sides of 80-year-old buildings, when there are castles in Europe that are thousands of years old. If it weren’t for the pesky fact that wood is flammable and fires can burn an entire city (e.g., Great London Fire of 1666) there would be even more of these ancient structures around.

So, beer, right. Well, it occurred to me that until now I hadn’t reviewed any foreign beer. This wasn’t a complete oversight on my part, there are many deserving American breweries producing excellent beer, as should be obvious to any beer enthusiast. However, I didn’t want it to go too long without including some of my favorites from around the world.

There are variables to imported beer that are not always present when you’re drinking beer brewed down the road. The first is freshness. Beer is a perishable product; don’t forget this when you see stacks of dusty, warm cases of beer in your local store. Domestic beer can suffer from lazy stock rotation, poor sales that keep stock around too long, and the abuse of temperature, but it’s nearly always a consideration with beer from across the ocean.

According to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization 90.1% of the world’s commerce travels by a boat at some point in its life. Beer is subject to this transport, then unloading at an American port, then storage in an importer’s warehouse, then transport to a distributor, then to your retailer. Along all these steps, you’d like to think the freshness of the beer is a high priority, but I think it’s telling that almost no imported brands into the US contain a freshness date.

Here in the US, Sam Adams began in the mid-1980s to put a freshness date on all its beer. Since then, many brewers, not the least Anheuser-Busch with its “Born on Date” has copied this practice. In the EU, beer is required to have an expiration date, but the same brewers that print it on packaging for European usage skip it when packaging products for the United States. Do you really want to know your summer Heineken was brewed in last winter?

Now, I’m not in the import/export business (hat-tip: Art Vandelay) so I don’t know if I’m inflating a small issue, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. So, the best thing to do is find a store that stores its beers well, shy away from dusty or faded labels, and if you can stick to either favorites that rotate well, or seasonal offerings that arrive at a known time. Chances are you’ll be lucky and won’t notice anything, but it pays to be aware.

Today’s beer should be widely available and to me it tasted great, so even though it didn’t have the freshness date I’m extolling, chances are in your store it will be as good as mine. The beer I picked for today hails from England, the Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale. The Sam Smith brewery is located in Yorkshire in the North of England, near the middle of the island of Great Britain for those near a map. Sam Smith is the oldest brewery in Yorkshire, brewing since 1758.

If you’re in an American liquor store you probably have seen their lineup of intricate, old-fashioned labels, in 550ml bottles, slightly larger than your average beer bottle. On the bottle they mention quite proudly that they draw all the water for producing their beers from the same well tapped 254 years ago. Also, to note from the label, the Nut Brown Ale contains no actual flavorings, just malt, hops, yeast, and water, the four holy ingredients of beer. It’s fitting to pick ale from England to expand my geographic horizons; beer has been brewed in England for as long as they have recorded history, but I’ll spare the history lesson and get to the review.

First, don’t drink this straight from the fridge. The common knock on Europeans, that they serve warm beer, isn’t totally true, but it does have some truth to it. Nut Brown Ale is a traditional English brown ale whose flavors are best exhibited at around 50 degrees. The beer pours reddish brown with an inch of tan foam head. In the smell there is toasted almonds and a sour apple note, with a little bit of sweetness hidden back there.

Taking a sip there’s a big sweetness immediately, but that soon mellows out with the richer malt flavors taking front stage. The nuttiness shows up in the dry, refreshing finish. I was surprised how refreshing the beer was, with a relatively high level of carbonation. I had expected this to be a more savory sipper, but the surprise wasn’t unwelcomed. This beer is a solid choice to try if you’ve never had the opportunity.

Grade: B+


Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale

ABV: 5.0%

Enjoy at 50 degrees (this may seem warm, but worth it)

Style: English Brown Ale


Also Try:

Resin, Sixpoint Craft Ales (Brooklyn, NY). In a quest to create a true celebration of hops, Sixpoint has come out with a double IPA that ranks at a stunning 103 on the international bitterness unit scale. That being said, it really has some great malt flavor and hides its 9.1% ABV very well. Pick this up, it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s great. Grade: A

Image courtesy of the author

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Matt O’Connor lives in Boston and is a proud graduate of Boston University. Explore beer with him as he quits his job in the sciences and starts law school. Send any requests, beer, or job offers to him at: matt.oconnor[at]