I have a bit of catching up to do with regard to the winter beers I have in stock. I don't want to be drinking them as the evenings are getting noticeably longer, when they're plainly intended for the dark and cold. So last week I made a point of opening the pair of winter specials that Wicklow Wolf released before Christmas. It's a nice idea for a two-beer set: a dark one and a pale one, utilising northern and southern hemisphere hops respectively.
I started with Poles Apart North, a porter brewed to the nicely cosy strength of 6.5% ABV. It looks comforting too: densely black and with a soft pillow of off-white foam on top. The label says it's hoppy but I still didn't anticipate the blast of vegetal green bitterness I got from the aroma. Intriguing. Sipping revealed a beer that's lighter than I was expecting, but what it loses in unctuous warmth it gains in drinkability. This may be strong and bitter, but it's perfectly possible to take lovely big satisfying mouthfuls of it. The hops are very present all the way through the flavour: spicy and herbal up front, turning to citrus and sherbet for a moment in the middle, before fading on a slightly acrid, but not unpleasant, acid burn. There's no chocolate sweetness, only a hint of cherry liqueur, or even ruby port. It's not quite enough to balance those hops, but it doesn't really matter, they don't actually need the balance. I'm reminded a lot of good old Wrassler's XXXX: an uncompromisingly bitter and hoppy dark beer that also happens to be easy session-drinking. This is maybe a little more relaxed in its bitterness but is no less fun, serving as a reminder that hop-forward dark beers are something we don't see nearly enough of around here.
I was not expecting to be similarly wowed by Poles Apart South, what with it being a white IPA, a style I generally don't have much time for. I decided to just pretend it was a straight IPA and ignore the wheat, and the appearance is happy to let me do that as it's a clear golden-amber colour. The aroma is a little unsettling, being sweet and funky, while the flavour is a strange mix of coconut, grass, lemon zest and a harder pithy bitterness. Unlike the porter, strangely enough, it's not an all-hop affair, with an almost sickly pink-icing malt sweetness. It's a bit of a busy combination, pulling in several directions at once and difficult to settle into. I appreciated the boldness of the flavour, but it left me hankering for a bit of nuance. If you like a winter IPA with punch, however, this is the one for you.
While the second beer didn't suit me as well as the first one, I did enjoy the contrast demonstrated by drinking them sequentially. I also like the point proved here that winter specials don't have to be all toffee and cinnamon: masses of hops are just as acceptable, thank you.