Although a giant of 19th century engineering, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was in fact only just over 5 feet tall – which might explain his fondness for top hats. Despite his lack of stature however, Brunel successfully wooed the beautiful Mary Horsley. Whether she judged Isambard dark and handsome we don’t know… but we like to imagine she found him as companionable as this traditional ale.
This was poured from a bottle so the head created is quite small to non-existent: however, the top of the beer retains a good lacing and it effuses aromas immediately. The beer pours as a dark ruby brown, almost black, in colour. The aromas that come to the fore are mainly caramel and a smokey liquorice note with hints of chocolate. A roasted malting quality comes through too, if only as a rear guard action.
The taste is immediately smokey, almost like charcoal, giving reminders of the by-gone age of steam trains from which the brewery takes part of their heritage. The smoke wafts away leaving hints of liquorice and coffee coming to the front of the palate, whilst subtler notes of caramel and chocolate mingle around the mouth. All in all, fairly pleasant interactions of flavour give this beer a good pleasing quality.
This beer is mildly carbonated which gives some of the more zesty notes a chance to breathe, as lemon and blackcurrant burst on the tongue. These all melt away into the smoke again, much like the trains of yore.
All in, this is a good beer: well flavoured with good levels of complexity on the palate. The ABV of 5% gives a nice kick to bring this beer up to muster, however some may find the beer feeling slightly ‘thin’. Maybe a smidge more alcohol or more fruity roundness would help bring this up to a top notch pint.