RCH is a fascinating little brewery in Cheddar country north of Dorset, England. (The initials stand for the name of the hotel - Royal Claridge Hotel - in whose back room the proprietors began the brewery before outgrowing the digs.) Its cask ales are consistently well-made and stellar even on this side of the pond.
Ale Mary's fun begins with the label, where this impudent inscription wraps above the portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots: "a well-executed bottle-conditioned ale".
Pour the beer into a LARGE glass and allow a minute or so of anticipation for the great mass of goo-goo eyed bubbles to escape and form a spumous head. Then...what an aroma! It's like the smell of a fresh-from-the-oven fruitcake wafting in from the NEXT room with a vase of long-stem roses nearby. That is, it's there but not cloying. The label claims the beer was infused infusion with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and pimento(!). [The exclamation point for that last ingredient is mine.]
The flavor and finish with the verities of English-style bitters: a biscuity maltiness and a bracing dryness. But, at 6% alcohol by volume, Ale Mary is stronger than the average UK bitter. And, for all the spices used, the beer is quaffable and well-balanced.
In 2001, Ale-Mary was awarded Bottle-Conditioned Beer of the year at the Great British Beer Festival.
tasted at the Brickskeller, Washington, DC, 15 Nov 2002
500-ml crown sealed bottle