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Des de Moor


Robinson’s Old Tom Strong Ale

First published in BEER December 2006 as part of a page about strong beers. See previous post for more strong beers.

ABV: 8.5 per cent
Origin: Stockport, Manchester, England

Robinson's head brewer Chris Hellin with Old Tom Strong Ale. Photo: Tony Carter.

The Unicorn brewery, in the former hat-making town of Stockport on the suburban fringe of Greater Manchester, began as a pub owned by the Robinson family which started brewing in 1865.

Robinson’s is now one of Britain’s biggest regionals, with an extensive tied estate and a big 1920s red brick brewery complex that contract brews and bottles alongside producing its own brands.

However it’s still family owned and traditionally minded enough to find room for beers like Old Tom in its portfolio. This barley wine with tendencies allegedly gained its name when a brewer annotated a notebook entry with a sketch of the brewery cat back in 1899.

Despite potentially malodorous connotations, both the name and the beer have stuck around. It’s now being marketed afresh, with stylish new embossed bottles popping up in supermarkets a long way from Stockport.

Old Tom is brewed from British pale and crystal malt, touches of chocolate malt and caramel, and Goldings whole hops with a little Northdown; it’s then dry hopped with Goldings pellets during conditioning.

The resulting beer is deep ruby brown with a bubbly, rapidly subsiding head. The cakey aroma has burst of sweetish esters with hints of cherry and marzipan.

A rich palate boasts vine fruits, almonds and sherry, sweetish but well-balanced with a slightly woody dryness and nutty hops. A warming swallow leads to a port-like finish with ripe fruit, rooty hops and more wood.

Old Tom also pops up on draught, in which form it won Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 2005. The bottled version is not bottle conditioned, but is still brimming with quality, tradition and character, and a worthy addition to the supermarket trolley.

Read more about this beer at

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