Cotleigh Tawny Owl 3.8% - A refreshing and well-balanced copper coloured bitter, with a slight, but not unpleasant, tartness. Packs in plenty of taste for its low gravity, with a good hop bite which blends in well with the juicy sweetness from the malt.
Cotleigh Buzzard, Dark Ale 4.8% - A very good dark ale, dark brown in colour, rather than jet black. The beer has a chocolate and slightly nutty flavour, combined with a smooth bitter finish. Unfortunately the beer is bottle-conditioned and despite chilling for an hour or so before opening, it was way too lively, and I ended up with a glass full of foam. This was in spite of slow and careful pouring on my part. This experience serves to remind me of the problems with BCA’s. The process adds nothing to the beer, and if anything takes something away. Because I had to pour the beer in several stages, I inevitably ended up with a cloudy glass, and was not best amused.
Cotleigh Golden Seahawk 4.2% Like its name suggests, a gold coloured ale with a fruity taste, against a background of malt and honey. Presented in a clear glass bottle, to show off its golden colour, the packaging has unfortunately allowed a stale-cardboard taste to develop in the background. Is this the dreaded light-struck “skunked” effect, caused by the beer being packaged in clear glass? When will brewers stop doing this?
Cotleigh Peregrine Porter 5.0% - Bottle-conditioned, and don’t I know it! I could only pour half a pint, and even then the foam kept rising, over-flowing the rim of the glass and running all down the side. Taste-wise, very bitter with a lactic taste lurking in the background. Possibly an infection? The long creamy and mellow finish, promised on the label just isn’t there. A shame really as I was really looking forward to this beer.
Cotleigh Barn Owl 4.5% - A dark copper-coloured ale, with a background of toffee and nuts from the Crystal and Chocolate malts used in the grist. The beer has a pleasant bitter finish from the Fuggles, Goldings and Northdown hops. Barn Owl is one of Cotleigh’s original beers. I am not normally a fan of dark-coloured bitters, but this brew is particularly good and rather more-ish.
So the verdict is Tawny and Barn Owl come out tops, and guess what? They're NOT bottle-conditioned! The review speaks volumes for the deleterious effect bottle-conditioning had on the Old Buzzard and the Peregrine Porter; both of which were far too lively to be poured in one (or even two!) goes. Furthermore the Porter appeared to have picked up an infection; certainly the lactic taste I noticed didn't fit in with the "creamy and mellow finish", promised on the label. As for the Golden Seahawk, packaging this beer in a clear glass bottle did it no favours whatsoever, with a define stale-cardboard flavour completely spoiling the brewer's efforts.
Surely it's time to admit that we just don't do Bottle-Conditioned beers properly in this country, and for CAMRA to get off its high horse about them. As for packaging beers in clear glass, well brewers really should know better. I suspect most of them do, but those who really care about how their carefully crafted product ends up tasting in the consumer's glass, need to take a much stronger stance against the morons in the marketing department, with their carefully staged photo-shoots, who seem to believe in the triumph of style over substance, rather than in the true merits of their product.