15 December 2017

International dark young thing

Guinness was currying favour with the geeks when it set out an impressive array of guest beers for its International Stout Day celebrations at The Open Gate Brewery last month. Eight beers from three countries were new to me, though it was good to see the crew from Dungarvan Brewing representing our native micros and serving two lovely stouts on cask.

At the centre of attention were four large-format bottles from Californian brewer The Bruery. In the expectation that these would go quickly, they were the first that manager Padraig opened and shared with the early arrivals.

So Happens It's Tuesday is the place to start, a comparative lightweight at 14.6% ABV. This has been bourbon barrel-aged, and that's fairly apparent from the light woodiness in the middle and a vanilla aftertaste. It's quite highly carbonated and yet there's no aroma to speak of. Maybe it was the context in which I drank it but I found it very plain fare indeed.

There was rather more going on in Tuesday With Coffee, and not just because of the added ingredient. Somehow the whisky came through clearer, bringing with it extra heat. The oak was particularly strong in the aroma, turning out dry and slightly sawdusty. The big and oily coffee beans really help soften any harshness, and while it's not spectacular I enjoyed it a smidge more than the original.

We go straight up to the strongest of them next: Grey Monday, which is 20% ABV. And it really really doesn't taste like it. The texture is light and the chocolate flavours bright and fresh, as you'd find in sweet stouts a quarter of its strength. There's maybe a certain marker-pen edge, but the chocolate lessens its impact, rounding it into a kind of warming cream sherry effect. This one really deserved more than scribbled notes over a tiny sample: think snifter glasses, wing chairs, open fires and all the time in the world.

And even that was bested by Black Tuesday, though it's a slightly more modest 19.5% ABV. The gloves are definitely off now, with a cavalcade of hot tar and fudge just pouring onto the palate from the get go and all the way through. The two sides actually have a balancing effect on each other, while the flavour is further complicated by a ripe cherry fruitiness and then a whisky burn on the finish. It maybe lacks the multifaceted complexity of the highest grade imperial stouts, but it's impressive nonetheless.

The award for longest distance travelled goes to Devil's Peak of Cape Town, who brought two brand new offerings brewed especially for the event. There was a touch of Tweedledum and Tweedledee about the pair. The Chocolate Shake Stout, a large enough animal at 8.3% ABV, was staggerly sweet, full of perfumey lavender and sticky pink marshmallows. I'm sure it's as the brewer intended, but I found it tough going. And then there was the Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout which was harshly dry to the point of being acrid, plus edges of savoury autolysis and damp cardboard oxidation. After the luxurious Bruery imperial stouts, this tasted like dropping back into third class, with hard seats and drafty windows.

The final pair for me were Londoners. The London Brewing Co. was one I last met in late 2012 when it was still the house brewery at The Bull pub in Highgate. It has since moved out to standalone premises. The 4.6% ABV 100 Oysters Stout was what they'd brought, served on gravity cask and needing a long pour to establish a head. I liked the burnt caramel aroma, though it promises a sweetness that isn't delivered by the flavour. If you like your session stouts very dry then this will suit you; for me it was just too harsh and lacking softness, creaminess and all the other comforting things about good stout.

And then there was 40FT, a brewery whose beers I rarely seem to get on with. Deep, another sessioner, was almost another one on my shitlist: it's dry again, quite astringent, all sharp pointy angles with a weird aftershave flavour. But it works: it provided an effective antidote to all the bigger-hitters and the candy-and-caramel confections I'd been drinking. While I had my reservations while actually drinking it, I felt cleansed and ready to attack the range anew after it.

The evening ran