26 December 2017

Boxing night

Another seasonal post for all you Christmas shut-ins, this one with a particular dark and wintry theme.

Only one side of that equation applies to JW Sweetman Winter Saison. Though certainly darker than a typical saison, it's still a hazy golden amber. It earns its seasonal stripes with a dense and warming body plus a generous ABV of 5.8%. With that comes a lot of banana-ish ester, to the point of creating a first impression that's more like a weissbier. A more typical grainy dryness is present, and especially in the finish, but it doesn't do enough to balance the palate-clogging fruity sweetness. One pint does give the drinker a warming glow but I wouldn't be ordering a second.

It's hard to believe that no Irish brewer had co-opted the name Winter Is Coming for a seasonal, but 12 Acres got there first, releasing a 5.2% ABV oatmeal porter. This is a handsome dark brown shade, with a short-lived tan head. The flavour starts sweet, full of summery strawberries, before taking a bitter turn, finishing on a somewhat metallic tang. The texture is perhaps its strongest feature, getting full value out of that oatmeal for a silky creamy quality. A chocolate flavour develops and intensifies as it warms, while the metallic hit I got on the first sip rounds out into a gentler coffee bitterness. I felt there was more going on that I was missing because of the cold kegged dispense. If the brewery has the wherewithal to cask it I think it would improve it even further. As-is, you still get everything you'd expect from an oatmeal porter.

The Porterhouse has no fewer than three winter specials out this year, though two of them are still sitting bottled in my fridge at time of writing; expect reviews later this week. The new Winter Stout was draught only, nitro of course, but the brewery has a knack of making that work for them. Although this one is a sizeable 6.5% ABV, I was expecting it to be little different to the Porterhouse's other well-established stouts. It certainly looked the part when my pint of snow-capped obsidian was slid across the bar in the Parliament Street branch. The distinguishing feature here is a plummy fruit element which sits next to a gentle chocolate wheatiness. There's no trace of the alcohol, nor really of the promised warmth, but it's still a reliable Porterhouse stout with a discernible and fun twist. The nitro does have a muting effect, however, and I'd like to try this bottled.

The award for most intriguing name of the season goes to Larkin's for its Roasted Winter Lager, on draught at 57 The Headline last week. The Wicklow lagermeister has created another beauty here, even if the head retention is rather poor. Beyond that it's a beautifully balanced black lager, opening on a chorus of fresh coffee flavours, turning to sweet cookies with a dusting of chocolate on top. That sounds like a recipe for over-sweetness but it's beautifully clean and extremely drinkable. Happily also the ABV is just 4.5% ABV. This one is light and refreshing enough to be a dark lager for all seasons.

YellowBelly's foray into the dark for winter 2017 was a new version of The Night Porter, served up at their tap takeover in the Beer Market at the beginning of the month. It too was served on nitro and suffered badly because of it: I got a mix of crêpe paper, putty and a savoury beefiness, all things that go wrong with porter, with none of the redeeming features. There's nothing jarringly off about it, but nothing to rescue it either. Yet again I'm blaming the dispense.

Night Pod is Western Herd's enigmatic contribution to the season, a vanilla-infused porter which showed up at 57 The Headline. As expected it's very sweet, at least to begin with, and I got an almost Easter-egg milk chocolate impression from the foretaste. Then it suddenly changes direction, finishing very dry and roasty with a substantial bitterness. Much as I'd like to describe that as balance, the contrast is just too severe and the whole thing lacks integration. Bottle it and age it? Yeah, I think there's a theme emerging here...

Completing the "Night" trilogy is The Nightcrawler, a 4.8% ABV milk stout from O Brother. Nitro again but this is much more like it, with a fantastic hop-derived complexity of lavender and meadowy flowers, while also making full use of the dispense to turn thick, creamy and satisfying, yet very moreish and sessionable. Nitro milk stouts are ten-a-penny these days but few are as fun and interesting as this one.

And breaking from the naming convention but still every inch a winter beer is Hope Imperial Oatmeal Stout, number eight in the Dublin brewery's limited edition series, this one a collaboration with DOT Brew. It gloops out of the glass, leaving a jet black glassful topped with a dark tan head. Brown malt appears on the helpfully detailed list of ingredients and I'm guessing it's that which gives it a fresh roasted coffee flavour. The texture adds a creamy quality to the picture, and a warming alcohol burr Irishes it up a little. The soothing smoothness is spoiled a little by a burnt rasping dryness on the finish, but otherwise it's a beaut. Brown malt wins the day again.

Strong, dark and bottled is the optimum setting for winter seasonals, it seems. Everything else is trickier to get right.

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