I’m enjoying my beer and relaxing into it a little more each month. I have re-read a couple of my earlier posts and see my initial instincts were to hoard my beer and make sure nobody was looking before enjoying them all to myself. I’ve always been aware of the merits of sharing and as I have previously explained, I’m aware that sharing beer is something that adds to the experience, but try telling that to the me of 6 months ago.
So tonight I have a wingman, he’s a beer rookie, whereas I’m more a pilot who still can’t get insurance, but flying solo nonetheless. My brother-in-law Ben (@boodrums if you Tweet) has the enthusiasm about beer that will see him go a long way to quench his thirst. He’s already been to Cask on the recommendation of some friendly Twitter folk and came home with his knapsack full of Mikkeller treasures. He frequents the excellent Sparrow Bier Cafe in nearby Bradford, shops at Headingley’s Beer Ritz and I have a sneaky feeling that he’ll be hard to stop should he ever find out that there are online bottle shops. During a recent chat he told me “I’m not sure I like ‘dark’ beer“…how could I possibly let that slide? So last night we got together to try a few ‘dark’ beers to see if I could get him to retract such a statement. I supplied the beer, he dutifuly adorned the table with cheese and oatcakes. Don’t mind if I do!
After some much needed advice from the friendly folk on Twitter (thanks to those that chipped-in but especially Steve Lamond at Beers I’ve Known and the knowledgable Matt at Cheese and Chutney, Saltaire). Ben brought along a mouthwatering selection including Steve’s recommendations of Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher, Tuxford & Tebbutt Blue Stilton, Old Amsterdam Gouda and a couple of picks by Matt in Smoked Wensleydale and Bronte Black.
We decided before we sat down that this was to be an informal session with no real agenda, other than making the odd tasting notes. So we set about the beer in an order I felt would work best, made a few observations, chatted a while and then nibbled the cheese as we went to see how the choices worked.
First up was Ilkley Brewery‘s Ilkley Black, a 3.7% Dark Mild. It poured black and had a red hue when held to the light, a small head which didn’t last and had very little carbonation as you could expect from the style. Aromas of roasted malts and chocolate carried through into the first sip and had a good roasted after-taste. When paired with the cheeses it didn’t really have the depth to stand up to any of our selection, with fairly dire results with the Poacher and Old Amsterdam, “wet dog” tastes will never be a winner.
Moving onto the Anchor Brewing Co. 5.6% Porter. A firm favourite of mine and one I thought Ben would want to try early in his beer tastings. It poured black and had a red hue when held to the light, lively head which lasted the duration of the drink. With aromas of sweet caramel, black treacle, vanilla and woody notes it’s a beer you just have to keep on sniffing. Its smooth, thick mouth feel and bitter/sweet balance is spot on in my opinion. Best match was with the Stilton, but a definite no no with the Poacher.
Some may say my next choice is the odd one out in the evenings line-up, but I had just received it the day before and was looking forward to trying it. I also thought it would help break things up a little and it is a ‘dark’ beer after-all. Hardknott Code Black, is a bottle-conditioned 5.6% Black India Pale Ale (see here for links before you comment). Dave of Hardknott also explains that “Black IPA is completely contradictory and silly. We all know there’s no point to such a beer, apart from to keep all those beer geeks happy“… and you can’t say fairer than that. All said and done, it immediately brought a smile to my face, the huge citrus hit, mainly grapefruit, bursting from the bottle. Rather surprisingly it poured more a murky-browny-red but with a good head which stuck around. Before tasting, the freshness and big fruity notes are in your face and led nicely to the punchy bitterness and gentle roastiness. As it warmed in the glass the roasted malts came through much more. My opinion was that aside from the Smoked Wensleydale, each cheese went well and more importantly the beer stood up to the Poacher.
The next choice was to be the Buxton Brewery Tsar, a bottle-conditioned 9.5% Imperial Russian Stout. As with the Hardknott IPA, I was looking forward to finally trying this coveted beer. It poured pitch-black and with an obvious oily appearance, the suspense was killing me so I got stuck in! The aroma had a fair bit going on with on overriding earthiness, peat, burnt malts and the alcohol was upfront and letting me know it was there. First tastes brought liquorice and a roasted, smokey deep hop bitterness. As it warmed a little the sweetness was more noticeable along with hints of coffee, 100% cacao and more alcohol! A lovely drop! At this point I had given up on the Smoked Wensleydale, and yet again the Poacher didn’t pair favourably. This was fine by me and I enjoyed more of each of the Stilton, Bronte and Amsterdam.
Maybe rather naively I thought we should save the Summer Wine Brewery Barista until nearer the end of the evening due to its caffeine bomb status. I think with hindsight this should have been drunk before the Buxton Tsar. This 4.8% Espresso Stout announced itself with unmistakable honk of freshly brewed coffee, along with tobacco and whiff of ashtray. Pretty potent stuff. The result of drinking this after a 9.5% RIS is that the Barista came across as thin and reminded me more of drinking an iced coffee, strong iced coffee. Its flavours were well-defined but as I have no reference point I can’t be sure whether this beer was spoilt by the previous beer or maybe I just didn’t enjoy it as much as other beers I’ve tried from Summer Wine. To add insult to injury the cheeses didn’t get along well with this beer either.
To round the evening off I had plucked a bottle of The Kernel Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 from the back of my beer cupboard. Bottled on 15th February this year, this 10.1% stout has received the plaudits and I couldn’t wait any longer to try it. Whether it was the beer taking over or just a cumulative effect of the other beers, I didn’t make too many notes. We both enthused over its luxury. With flavours ranging from caramel and vanilla through to black treacle and dark chocolate and its smoothness in the mouth were just a joy. Loved this beer! and I didn’t bother with any more cheese at this point.
All in all a cracking evening and something we will be looking to recreate again soon with a few other people involved. I’m thinking beers of Belgium may be the way to go next time around.
Steve – my CABPOM would have to be Hardknott Code Black and Old Amsterdam Gouda. It sounds like a Mission Impossible plot. But to be honest I think I need to undertake further cheese/beer pairing research to get the hang of this.