It was receiving some unexpected but hugely welcome gifts that made me think about how habitual my beer choices had become; always looking for the pales or IPAs, or maybe a NEIPA if I’m feeling fruity. Southey Brewing and Horsforth Brewery exposed me to their full range, including stout, gose and even lager (but thankfully not sours).
I found myself knocked out by the variety of beer I enjoyed that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose, such as Manjit’s Pale, brewed with coriander and lime, in collaboration with an Indian restaurant. And Southey’s Ursus III, their big, smooth oatmeal stout.
So I paused my happy beer subscription with Villages that every fortnight provided me with a quality assortment of, well, pales, IPAs and NEIPAs, and spread the love to various local sources: Park Fever, theRusty Bucket and Plumsteadshire, ordering 20 different dark beers one night. I even ordered a Mikkeller stout brew kit from waterintobeer, which looks very interesting and is, as you would imagine, still in its box.
I became aware that I was only scratching the surface of a world of porters and stouts that one could devote one’s life to, if one was an explorer or an alcoholic, or an alcoholic explorer. So this is not a comprehensive study of the dark world, more a mere snapshot. The reason I haven’t reviewed all 20 is that I don’t have 20 words for delicious and such notes as I kept often simply said: ‘Wow.’
Rest assured, I thoroughly enjoyed all the dark lovelies from Boxcar, Buxton, Duration, Gun, Kernel, Little Faith, Pressure Drop, Siren, Thornbridge, Tiny RebelandUnity. But here are a few, in no particular order, that stood out in an outstanding field:
Brass Castle – Black Russian – Baltic Porter – 7%
I had already enjoyed their Vanilla porter, Bad Kitty, but this was something else – a Baltic Porter with coffee beans that made me want to get up off my arse up and high-five somebody, right in the face. Baltic Porters have a bit of the imperial stout about them, but with lager yeast, so not especially complex, but strong, hearty and fun.
New Bristol Brewery – Big Cinder Toffee Stout – 6.5%
The aroma and flavour of this stout blew my tiny mind. This is an imperial version of their award winning Cinder Toffee Stout and features blow-torched honeycomb. Unlikely as it sounds, it really works. It’s one of those I would never normally order, yet am so glad it came into my life. Tasting notes include: ‘Fuck me sideways’.
New Bristol Brewery – Chocolate Macaroon Stout – 6.5%
Incredible. These boys have really smashed the sweet stout combos. Very smooth but with choco coconut ice cream vibes, it’s a triumph over common sense. Though not hurt by the fab can art, we all know it’s what’s inside that counts, like people, or, I don’t know, envelopes.
Back on the Baltics, I have to admit to a little fear, looking at the ABV. I needn’t have worried. Verdant are masters of the big bangers and literally teaming up with a Baltic brewer, like Põhjala (Estonia), did no harm either. All that lovely alcohol did not, I’m happy to say, obscure the balance and complexity of this, the most interesting shipping forecast I’ve ever experienced.
Northern Alchemy – All Connected – Dark Chocolate & Mint Milk Stout – 5.1%
This was a stunner. Like a liquid Chocolate Mint Aero, with booze. The mint is subtle but ever present and surprisingly at home in a pint of beer. I could not see this working but it totally does. Pours like oil and goes down like nectar.
Villages x Land – Chocolate Oboe – Porter- 5.8%
Villages changed the malts in their porter, Oboe, and added some cocoa and cacao nibs, whatever they are, from Land, Hackney’s chocolate types. That makes it sweeter and more complex and frankly, lovely. Another cracker.
Cloudwater x Rock Leopard – Step Up – Stout – 5%
The can promises an easy drinking stout and it really delivers. Smooth and bitter, this could be a session stout, I thought, before remembering that Arthur Guinness has had that territory sewn up since 1759. Step Up arrives with coffee and leaves with chocolate notes. 5% of its proceeds go to charity too, so you can do good while you’re feeling good.
I rarely order a stout in a pub, unless it’s St Patrick’s Day (for religious reasons), or I am in a pub with no decent ale. Or perhaps, if Titanic’s Plum Porter had just been tapped. But now, I have been beer-ducated a little, I will incorporate a good stout into my balanced ale diet.