On Saturday, we drank Cornish brewery Coastal’s black IPA and enjoyed it but found ourselves, once again, scratching our heads in bafflement: it was yet another black IPA that might have been sold to us as porter or stout without controversy. Sure, it had evident citrusy hops which we might have made note of, though we wouldn’t have ‘marked it down’ as not being ‘true to style’.
People keep trying to explain the distinction to us:
- black IPA should be black but not roasty — it’s a different ‘black’ flavour than stout
- if you can’t taste any difference from ‘normal’ IPA, then the blackness is superficial.
This is a level of subtlety which, at the moment, is just beyond us, especially as the water is muddied by hoppy porters (complete with roastiness) bearing the black IPA label. (Failed attempts, as we understand it, as measured against an emerging set of rules surrounding the style.)
Maybe we need to try making one ourself to really understand this other ‘black flavour’?
Or, actually, maybe ‘black’ alone is enough of a style descriptor to cover everything from dark mild to black IPA, via porter and stout? After all, even beers just dyed black with caramel taste darker to us, because our brains and palates are wired to our eyes and are easily fooled.
This isn’t a moan about black IPA being oxymoronic, by the way, because we’re over that and everyone’s bored of hearing it/refuting it.
At the Driftwood Spars on Sunday, we were overjoyed to find cask-conditioned porter on the bar for various reasons.
As Ron Pattinson has pointed out, dark beer is surprisingly refreshing when you’re hot and bothered, and that’s especially true when it has an authentic, subtle sourness.
We’ve also felt starved for dark beer in Cornwall throughout the winter. St Austell Proper Job and Penzance Brewing Company Potion 9 see to our pale-and-hoppy needs, but we’ve hardly seen a pint of anything darker than Nan’s sideboard since moving from London.
And, finally, there was something nicely old-fashioned about this beer. It wasn’t ‘massively’ anything, and there was no hop perfume hovering over the surface like hairspray. The hops were there, but in that way which is pleasantly reminiscent of stewed tea. In short, it felt like the kind of unpretentious beer you could drink four pints of with your grandad.
Bolster’s Blood is 4.8% and dense black, even when you hold it up against the sun.
In search of Fullers London Porter, and following a tip from reader Ant, we found ourselves back at the Royal Oak in Borough, south of London Bridge. The Porter was great, as always, if a little flat. Harvey’s Old Ale (4.3%) had rich fruit cake flavours and reminded us of Adnams Broadside. It was also a little sour, which made us wonder if they really do add some aged beer to new to make it, or just a happy accident.
The highlight, though, was the Imperial Stout (9%). The cheery barman was delighted when we asked if they had any and bounced off to get a bottle. He apologised profusely for the fact that it no longer comes in a corked bottle and presented it with some pride in a big wine glass. We’ve had before but fairly early on in our beer drinking adventures, when our tastebuds were less mature, and then found it too intensely flavoured to actually finish. This time, it was love at first sight. There is something very sexy about a dark beer with a brown, caramel-coloured head. The smell was pure Cantillon — sour, sweet, and (bear with us) bordering on manure. The flavours exploded with every sip: blackberry, chocolate, tobacco (never thought we’d enjoy that), leather… we could go on. Astounding, in short, and now in our top 10.
As we drank, it began to snow outside. A Victorian pub, snow and black beer: it couldn’t have been more Christmassy.
NB – Fuller’s London Porter is also on at the Mad Bishop and Bear in Paddington Station, in cracking form.
A merry Christmas to all our readers – we’ll be back in a couple of days.
Does anyone know why Fuller’s have apparently decided not to release London Porter in cask-conditioned form this year?
Their website boasts that it is “widely regarded as the World’s finest porter” and it’s certainly a personal favourite of ours. It’s also had rave reviews from other beer bloggers.
So, why drop this one but continue to push the mediocre Jack Frost?
Fuller’s London Pride from a cask mixed with Fuller’s bottled London Porter makes a cracking half-and-half.
My Dad has developed a deep affection for Fuller’s beers and, when he’s in London, always finds an excuse to drop into one of their pubs. On his most recent trip, he’d only been off the train five minutes when he had us installed in the Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington Station. (“Best wait for the rush hour crowds to pass.”)
Another of his favourite things is mixing his beers. At home in Bridgwater, it’s a necessity — every third pint of Butcombe Bitter down there is a bit stale and he relies on Mann’s Brown Ale to rescue them. On this occasion, he insisted on mixing Pride and London Porter, not because the Pride was bad, but because he really wanted a pint of mild and that, in his view, is the next best thing.
Usually, I find mixed beers are less than the sum of their parts, but this really was very drinkable, and offers yet another reason for more pubs to offer a good bottled stout or porter.
It’s always interesting to see the old adverts that pubs sometimes use to decorate their walls. A poster for Bateman’s Salem Porter from the early 90s caught our eye this week.
We assumed this beer had been discontinued because we’ve never seen it for sale anywhere, unlike their ubiquitous XXXB and Rosey Nosey Christmas beer. But, no, they still make this multiple award winning cask only beer.
Keen as we are to find it on cask one day, it would also be nice if their bottled range (which we can get very easily in corner shops in our bit of London) included this apparently brilliant beer. Perhaps they could drop one of the three very similar golden ales to make room?
Maybe they feel there’s no market? If so, that’s a shame, because we really believe dark beers (milds, porters, stouts, lagers, whatever) are going to be the next big thing. After all, what’s a cooler looking pint than one that’s pitch black?
Gadd’s of Ramsgate should be very proud of their 5.6% bottle conditioned porter. It was first brewed by another company in 1979 for Firkin pubs, but Gadd’s have revived the recipe and the brand. It’s heavy, chewy, slightly sour and, once the initial yeasty smell has passed, full of the roasted aromas you’d expect from a good black beer.
The only thing is, we can’t remember where or when we acquired the bottle. Did someone leave it after a party? Who knows.
I wish more British pubs had a porter on tap, at least between September and March. More as in all.
I’ve been weaning my brown-beer-loving Dad onto dark beer for a few months now. He was bowled over by Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter at his birthday dinner; loved their Imperial Stout when he tried it in London; and had his socks knocked off by a particularly impressive bottle of Meantime’s London Porter on Christmas Day.
On Boxing Day, he sighed and said: “I might go to the pub if they had a nice porter on, but they won’t, will they?”
Knowing the pubs in my home town, I had to agree that the chances were slim of finding a dark beer other than Guinness.
It was with some excitement, then, that he reported his discovery of a pub in Plymouth (the Thistle Park Inn, where his band were playing) which was serving Sutton’s Plymouth Porter. It sounds delicious — Dad said treacle; Adrian Tierney Jones suggests it’s made with Cascade and/or Bramling Cross hops. It made my Dad’s day.
Anyone know where we can find a cask-conditioned porter in London this this evening…?
Oakham Ales‘ Hawse Buckler is just the thing for a cosy pub on a chilly autumn evening.
Thanks to the handy colour coding chart in the Helter Skelter in Frodsham, Cheshire, I spotted that it was the only black beer on offer and ordered a pint before I’d clocked the strength – a not insignificant 5.6%.
It was black, with a beautiful tan head, which I’m always pleased to see on a dark beer. The first sip was one of those rare moments where a smile spread across my face before I’d even had chance to engage my brain. I was instantly reminded of a beer which seems to divide opinion — Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout.
Oakham reckon HB is a porter, but it’s got enough body to justify calling itself stout. It’s got all the coffee and chocolate flavours you’d expect up front, followed by a massive smack of citrusy, sharp, grapefruity hops. These flavours don’t work together, but they sure as Hell contrast nicely. It’s like drinking two different beers at the same time and therefore an extremely stimulating experience.
Yes, it’s a bit extreme, and, no, I couldn’t drink it all night, but it is exactly what it claims to be — ‘a special’. I’m not surprised it won best strong dark ale, best dark ale and was a contender for the world’s best overall ale at the World Beer Awards this year.
Maieb is also a fan of Hawse Buckler. And Beer Justice answers our queries about why the Helter Skelter isn’t in the Good Beer Guide here.