06 September 2017

Black Hook down

Mooching around the judging room after the Killarney Beer Festival awards had been decided, back in May, I spotted a pair of tall handsome swingtop bottles among the leftovers. Hook Baltic said the label, a Baltic porter from Arthurstown Brewing in Wexford. I was intrigued, and a little excited: Baltic porter is not a style that gets sold much in Ireland, never mind brewed here, and this strong black lager popular in Poland can be absolutely delicious when done well. Chief steward Kellie had deservedly earmarked both bottles for herself but very kindly yielded one to me, for which I am extremely grateful.

When I finally got around to pouring it a couple of months later, I found a dense jet-black and thickly textured beer. The head is a dark tan colour but I kept having to top my glass up to get it in the photo at all: head retention is not a strong point here. It tastes sweeter than I'd expect from a Baltic porter, full of rich chocolate and wholesome cereal, missing the bitter liquorice that often features and getting no more herbal than a touch of cola nut. I'm not bothered about authenticity, however: this Irish iteration of the style is beautiful. The chewy and filling quality of Baltic porter is present, as well as the intrinsic cleanness, so even though you're feeling everything that a dark beer brings to the table at 8% ABV, it doesn't clag up the palate as you go through. I've no idea what the availability of this is -- I've certainly never seen it for sale -- but it deserves to be more widely enjoyed.

For good measure I also half-inched a small bottle of Hook Porter, seemingly a more commonly Irish sort of dark beer, although at 5% ABV it's perhaps a little bigger than the norm. It's a very dark brown colour with little by way of head so seems like it would be dense and chewy. It's not, however, proving surprisingly lightly textured. The flavour is unusually floral, presenting a bouquet of lavender, violet and rosewater up front. Some chocolate would be nice to balance that, but the thinness strikes and only a faint burnt and smoky roastiness answers back. In what I'm guessing is an attempt to make the beer sessionable, all the taste is at the front, with a very quick finish, leaving just water and a slightly stale oxidised burr on the end.

This is very nearly superb. The hallmarks of high-quality porter are there but there's a depth lacking, a heavier texture that should have been perfectly possible given the strength. Throw in some more silky chocolate and it would be a world-beater.

Nevertheless these are two very well-made dark beers. Arthurstown has tended to go in more for the pale ales, lagers and reds so far. A few more like this would keep me happier.

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