05 February 2016

Chill out

Session logo"Snowed in" is the topic Jon Abernathy has chosen for this month's Session, raising the perennial controversy over when winter ends and spring begins. Ireland persists with the daftly optimistic notion that 1st February is the beginning of spring, which is, of course, nonsense. Look outside if you don't believe me. Does that look like spring to you?

Anyway, to 57 The Headline again, on a chilly, damp January evening. The draw was the Christmas special beer from Connemara's Independent Brewing: a Barley Wine presented in two different barrel-aged forms, one in Jack Daniels casks, the other in an unspecified type of brandy. I failed to secure any bottles of it but fortunately the pub had commissioned a 20L keg of each.

Surprise no. 1 was how pale it is: almost golden. Kevin the brewer happened to be on hand to explain that it's a 100% pale malt grist. First for the taste test was the Brandy version and I didn't get much barrel character from it. Kevin said it was much more apparent as it came out of the conditioner but admitted that it seems to have disappeared here. There was a certain rich fruitiness to the aroma which could have been the spirit at work, but I quickly began treating this as though it were an unaged version, enjoying the heavy warmth and sharp grown-up bitterness. Very much in the style of an English strong ale, I thought, though it turns out the hops are a mix of Magnum and Willamette. Go figure. It's an enjoyable winter sipper without much by way of novelty enhancements.

All the enhancements are present in the Bourbon edition, however. A big vanilla bang right at the outset and then a tang of classic JD sourness which goes a long way to cover the bittering effect of the hops. Thankfully the warming properties of the base beer remain intact and aren't boosted past the point of comfort. The end result is a beer that's heavily bourboned but at 8.1% ABV has all the heft required to counterbalance it.

A taster of each was enough before I reverted to a sessionable pint of Graffiti. Our host asks "Imagine you were snowed in at a cabin in the mountains for the winter. What one beer would you want with you?" If I'm honest that's more likely to be the session beer than any of the strong ones. Big winter beers are OK for a short while but they do tend to leave me hankering for something sunnier soon afterwards. Now where has spring got to?

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