29 February 2016

Critical conditioning

Just like on the last leap day, I'm in northern England for today's beers, both of which arrived via the kind offices of Myles. I've enjoyed the small number of Durham Brewery beers I've had in the past so was excited to get to these ones, though not so excited that I didn't leave them sitting in the back of the fridge for about six months after Myles handed them over.

Temptation is the first out, a 10% ABV "Russian stout". You can keep your imperial, it seems. As expected it gloops out of the bottle, gradually forming a deep café crème head on the dense black body. The aroma is beautiful: sweet and flowery, all honeysuckle and rosewater, with only a hint of light creamy milk chocolate as a reminder that this is a powerhouse stout. Surprisingly, the flavour is a little underwhelming. It's beautifully smooth, and there's a definite danger-here warmth at the centre, but not a huge amount around that. Subtle malt sweetness, yeast esters and hop bitterness mingle in a complex and nuanced way, but there's no bang, no distinguishing features, no USP. In particular I miss the coffee-ish roasty kick that beers of this stripe usually have. Temptation is a fine sipper and would make an excellent end-of-evening warmer before heading out into a blustery Wearside evening, but I was expecting more bells and whistles.

And so to the IPA. I don't know what makes Bombay 106 an "original" India pale, but it is very foamy. Maybe it's because bottles of early IPA were extra-shaken on the sea voyage east, resulting in that Marge Simpson head. It's a medium orange colour under the froth and I did my best to pour carefully to keep the yeast dregs out, but it's a tough job. Aromawise, it smells cheerily pithy with a warm richness which displays that 7% ABV from the outset. Big, big bitterness kicks off the flavour, and no small amount of yeast bite adding a gritty, savoury tang. The fun hop notes are juust about visible behind this: satsuma and even a New World mango thrill, but their presence is brief and the harsh, acrid yeast makes short work of covering it up. A soda-water softness helps take the edge off, but doesn't restore the hop fruit. I often complain about hop-forward bottle-conditioned beers in 33cl bottles where it's hard to keep the interfering yeast out of your glass, but this guy is even worse than any of them. Perhaps it's because the hops are English and need a clear clean run to do what they do well. There's a lovely beer underneath here, but bottle conditioning has all but destroyed it.

I've long held the belief that bottle conditioning enhances the strong dark beers while risking ruining pale hop-forward ones. I didn't expect to have my prejudices confirmed quite so neatly by these two beers, but there we have it.

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