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Five Brilliant Dark Ales

As I sit here typing this, outside my study window the snow is falling quite heavily onto an already deeply-whited landscape. I went for a walk this morning, and out in the fields I found drifts of snow that threatened to tip over the top of my wellies. Snow transforms the landscape into magical, fantastical vistas and yet also brings the very real threat of traffic accidents, delays (I’ve had no post today) and at the extreme, death. Snow is both exhilarating and frightening, beautiful and deadly.

Many people prefer to remain locked up tight and warm indoors at times like this, sipping cocoa and hot soup, but I like to get out, specifically to the pub, for a pint or two of a doughty, warming dark ale. You knew something like that was coming, didn’t you?

Of course it’s possible that you really can’t get out, in which case it is always advisable to have a good stock of wonderful dark beer ready for such an eventuality. Here are five brilliant dark beers, bottled and waiting for you right now on the supermarket shelves. In no particular order:

Williams Bros March of the Penguins 2 small

Williams Brothers March of the Penguins is a 4.9% dream of a stout, pouring a very dark brown colour rather than black with a good brown head. Masses of body complimented by a strong, dark flavour, the beer is creamy and sweet with a deliciously malty start which transforms into a finish that is both mildly hoppy and slightly fruity. Deeply satisfying.

TSA Glencoe 4 small

Traditional Scottish Ales Glencoe is our second stout from Scotland, described on the bottle as a ‘Premium Wild Oat Stout’ of 4.5% ABV. It is a very dark red in colour, the redness only really visible if you hold it up to a light. Coffee and chocolate aromas dominate the smell. The mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, a rich and malty taste with strong chocolate and coffee flavours. There’s something else here, nagging away at the edge of the taste – is it the oats? Could be. There is an underlying hint of smoke throughout the taste. Simply fabulous.

Blakemere Deep Dark Secret small

Blakemere Deep Dark Secret is again very dark red, virtually black, just hints of red in direct light. The head is light brown and short-lived. Weighing in at a respectable 5.2%, this dark ale, described on the label as a ‘liquorice porter’, is quite distinct in its flavour profile. The taste is very dark, malty and bitter. Yes, there is liquorice in the taste, but this isn’t like the stuff you chewed in the playground. It’s very dark and bitter and ultimately far more satisfying.

Tatton Obscure small

Tatton Obscure will blow your conceptions of dark beer right out of the water. Described on the label very vaguely as ‘real Cheshire ale’, this 5.7% beer is guaranteed to surprise you. If you’re like me, it will also delight you. It pours a beautiful deep red in colour, and the smell is not what you expect. You would expect malt, fruit, maybe coffee and chocolate, but no, what you get here is strong, dark hops. The taste is a revelation. It is strongly malty, giving it a dark chocolate taste with strong notes of burnt caramel and treacle. The overarching flavour, though, is those dark, bitter hops, making this a very hoppy, very bitter beer. Absolutely outstanding.

Ridgeway Bad King John small

Ridgeway Bad King John is the strongest beer in this selection. It’s 6.0% and is a dark reddish-brown in colour. This beer provides a whole mouthful of flavour. It’s very dark with strong bitter malt. The label says the flavour is ‘intense’, and that’s about as good a word as I could have thought of to describe it. It is full of darkness with a distinct espresso flavour along with hints of chocolate and dried fruit. Definitely a different taste experience from those earlier creamy stouts, but then it does not claim to be a stout, merely describing itself on the label, somewhat mysteriously, as ‘a very English black ale’. Well worth seeking out.

Thanks for reading. More dark beers to follow.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 21 January, 2013 in Bottled Beer

 

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The Bent ‘n’ Bongs Beer Bash

The first highlight of the beer year for me comes in the last week of January. The annual Bent ‘n’ Bongs Beer Bash is organized by Atherton and Tyldesley (Bent and Bongs in the local dialect) Round Table. It’s a charity do, a new charity being selected each year. This year the charity was the Marfan Association. Marfan is a little known syndrome which is not particularly rare, but can be fatal. More information about Marfan and the Marfan Association can be found here.

This charity was selected because of the death of Simon Taylor, a regular volunteer at Bent ‘n’ Bongs, who died suddenly from Marfan’s Syndrome in December 2010. He didn’t know that he had it, and neither did anyone else.

There are three sessions at the Bash, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening and Saturday afternoon. I volunteer for the three evening sessions. I work at the lager and fruit beer bar, which surprises people when I tell them, because I don’t like lager and fruit beers. The answer is obvious, really – I’m not tempted to drink the product. We get enough breaks for me to grab plenty of fine real ales for myself. Also, the lager bar is the busiest bar at the festival, and the time just flies.

It’s a great festival, one of the busiest I regularly attend. The venue is Formby Hall in Atherton, about ten miles WNW of Manchester. Not a huge place, but just about right. There are actually two halls, side by side. The large hall houses the lager and foreign beers bar, a real ale bar and the food, whilst the small hall has a second real ale bar and the cider bar. This year there were 85 real ales, 12 ciders, 5 perries, 19 foreign draught beers, 12 bottled beers and 10 bottled fruit beers. Full list here. Plenty for every taste.

Over the past few years, we have found that the most popular beer on our bar is Van Diest Früli, a strawberry flavoured lager. It is in huge demand and we get through many barrels in the three days. Personally, I find it thick and cloyingly sweet, and a little piece of my heart dies every time somebody asks for it, turning their backs on the fantastic porters, stouts, goldens, pales and bitters behind them. Hey ho, each to his or her own.

Each session has entertainment. Now I have to ‘fess up right away that I’m not a great fan of live music at beer festivals. I’ll go into this in more detail on another occasion, but basically, the problem is decibels. There are just too many of them. It all makes for quite an exhausting three days, but it’s fabulous fun, and as I’ve noted before about beer festivals in general, it is all very good-natured. We have bouncers on the door, but there is no trouble.

The fast, furious, noisy sessions when the doors are open are one thing, but then there are the quiet moments. As a confirmed ticker, I spend an hour or so before the doors open on the Saturday evening just walking slowly on my own along the two real ale bars, pouring myself a taster of each beer that I’ve never had before. This year I got 27 new ticks.

So to my favourite new beers from the festival. This year, four beers stood out for me. In alphabetical order, they were:

Dancing Duck Dark Drake, a 4.5% stout from Derby. Very smooth and creamy, sweet and treacly with highlights of chocolate, liquorice and toffee.

Geeves Smokey Joe,  5.0% stout from Barnsley. It certainly lives up to its name, smoke is the predominant flavour – dark and malty with a pleasing dryish finish.

Phoenix Porter, 5.0% porter from Heywood near Manchester. Very smooth with obvious notes of coffee and treacle and a hint of chocolate. Sweet but with an interesting undertaste of bitter hops.

Redwillow Heartless, a 4.9% chocolate stout from Macclesfield. Here’s Redwillow again. Previously mentioned in these blogs, they’ve come up with another winner. This beer is rich and malty with treacle and chocolate flavours with a slight underlying hint of smokiness. Beautiful.

It seems that as soon as its started, its finished. Time to hang up my beer festival socks until the next time. Can’t wait.

www.bentnbongs.com

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 3 February, 2012 in Beer Festivals, Cask Ale

 

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