A beer claiming to be a Belgian IPA promises a certain complexity that comes from the mingling of beer cultures. Too often, however, such beers either resemble tragic teleporter accidents, or simply get the balance wrong.
But we had high hopes for Dark Star Belgian IPA (7.2% ABV, £3.79 per 330ml bottle from Noble Green Wines).
Under former head brewer Mark Tranter, Dark Star were ‘early adopters’ of the saison style in the UK, and their Hophead (3.8%) is not only a favourite of ours, but was also cited by at least one very hip new generation brewer as a key influence. If anyone can successfully mash up Belgian and US influences, we thought, surely it must be this lot?
First impressions were of a distinct fatness. Relatively dark in colour (amber, but only a notch away from the dreaded brown), it rolled around the glass like oil, and reminded us (in ‘mouthfeel’ only) of sugary, unctuous desert wine.
It smelled wonderful, too — heady and heavy, as if — bear with us — someone had taken a basketful of particularly cannabis-like hops into a sauna. (We’ve all done this, right? Right!?)
Beneath the low-lying fog of hops was a surprisingly uncomplicated but pleasant apricot jam flavour, a balancing bitterness, and a jarring black pepper burn — a harsh note which was the only thing that brought Belgium to mind at all, and which we found rather fatiguing.
Overall, we enjoyed it; would recommend it to fans of big American beers; and would certainly buy it again, if only to see if we can find more Belgian character next time.