24 May 2010

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

My poor beer fridge was neglected while I was writing all about Copenhagen this last couple of weeks. It's time now to get a few of the beers that have been languishing in there into a pint glass and down the red lane to immortality.

Top of the list is Black Rock Stout from Dungarvan Brewing Company. They didn't have this at the Franciscan Well festival last month, but I subsequently had a sneaky sample from a rogue bottle that wandered to Dublin all on its ownio. I didn't write it up at the time because I was, quite simply, stunned by what I tasted and needed to double check. As a session-strength stout, Black Rock should be unremarkable. Bottled stouts at the 4.3% ABV mark aren't exactly rare in Ireland -- I can think of six others straight off -- so a new one shouldn't be making much of a splash. Black Rock's USP is being the only one which is entirely unfiltered and 100% bottle conditioned, but so what?

So an awful lot, as it turns out. I had been waiting for a bottle to myself to confirm this, but this is dry Irish stout with the volume turned up to 11. Following directions to have it south-eastern style ("from the shelf", ie at room temperature) the nose is fresh coffee and a herbal complexity which the label describes as aniseed, and I concur. The body is light, with a fairly gentle fizz. It wears its hops up front -- fresh, green and definitely bitter rather than any way fruity -- then a quick burst of chocolate and a long long dry roasted finish, with those bitter herby hops running alongside.

I have a nasty, pessimisitic suspicion that what I've been drinking will some day be regarded as the "classic" Black Rock, back when Dungarvan were a six-barrel plant and still bottle-conditioning everything. It would be a crying shame if they changed the specs on this to make the sort that's just acceptable as an Irish stout, like everyone else. Filtering and pasteurising really do suck much of the life out of bottled session stout. Black Rock, I hope, will lead to a few palates being awakened down Waterford way.

More about the brewery, and the unique beer culture of south-eastern Ireland, from Séan here.