Originally commissioned in 1999 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show, Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale is somewhat more than just an excuse to cash in on brand recognition.
Get past the licensed silliness on the label — "tempered over burning witches" — and the massive sculpted tap pulls depicting the Holy Grail characters and tower crammed in a goblet, and you'll find both a capable beer and a heartbreak story. Story first because, to be honest, it's more interesting: Paul Theakston started Black Sheep Brewery in 1992 after an acrimonious and heartbreaking split from Theakston Brewery, an endeavor that had been in the hands of his family since 1827. In 1987, his family sold the business to mega-brewer Scottish and Newcastle, against his wishes.
Paul didn't want to work for corporate masters, so he purchased a rundown building in Masham, England that once belonged to Lightfoot Brewery, which in turn had been owned by Theakston's grandfather. He wanted to resurrect the Lightfoot name, but found that that had gone to S&N with the sale. Isolated from his family, naming the new shop Black Sheep seemed the obvious choice. Modern day Black Sheep beers are known for intense hops and a commitment to old-fashioned ale styles.
Holy Grail Ale is no exception. It pours a golden amber color with fine carbonation, the ivory head receding almost instantly. That carbonation hits your mouth like a summer rain, distracting your palate until the burst of bright hops hit. There isn't much fruit to the beer, just a coating sensation of caramel and slick butter that wars with the rather thin feel of the body. Overall, Holy Grail Ale is a respectable beer that manages to convey both richness and cleansing, hoppy carbonation in the same swallow.
If you're a Python fan, buy a bottle to stick on the shelf. Then go out and find some other Black Sheep beers to actually drink.
Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale, Black Sheep Brewery, U.K., 4.7-percent ABV; available in 500ml bottles, traditional six-packs and draught.