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Brewing Birds: Barn Owl Premium Ale

February 11, 2011
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I’ve been waiting to do this beer since I first picked up a mixer sixer at the beer store lo those many years ago.   For all the usage of bird imagery on the labels of beers, there’s scarcely any that do it for a reason beyond having a cool label.  As far as I can tell none of the brewers are birders and their interest in birds ends at their graphic design potential.  That’s fine, of course, they’re beermakers first, but the prospect of a brewer that manages to bridge the divide between my personal twin passions of good birds and good beers has been the holy grail in this little project of mine.

I may have found the beer I was looking for across the pond, as they say, in Cotleigh Brewery.  The only variety from Cotleigh at my local beer store is the Barn Owl Premium Ale, a traditional English style bitter with a gorgeous Barn Owl on the label.  But this isn’t the only raptor themed beer they offer.  In fact, just a glance at the home page clearly shows that this is an organization that cares about birds, from the Tawny Owl to the Albatross.  The illustration is spot on and practically a work of art, and they put their money where their mouths are, because for every bottle of beer purchased a portion of the sale goes to birds, as Cotleigh Brewery has a charitable partnership with the UK Hawk and Owl Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting raptors through carrying out research, managing reserves, and building nesting and roosting structures.  It’s a win-win.

All of this is moot if the beer isn’t any good though, even the best of intentions can’t save a bad beer but I’m happy to report that this is a really pleasant drink.  Bitters are a style more popular in Europe than America, and lie somewhere between pale ales and amber ales on the continuum line from hoppy to malty.  They generally have a sweet fruit aroma and flavor, and this one is no exception.  Apple is the predominant flavor in Cotleigh’s Barn Owl Ale, but it’s mellow, interacting with the grains in a way that was admittedly a little sour and off-putting at first, but grows on you through the session.  I liked the beer more as I was finishing at than when I started, which is generally better than the other way around.  And at only 4.5% by volume, that’s a feeling you can trust.

In the end, supporting a great organization like the Hawk and Owl Trust while drinking a good beer is too good an opportunity to miss.  Given the experience of this beer, I look forward to looking for Cotleigh Brewery’s other bird themed options when and where I can find them in the US.

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