Sunday 8 January 2012

Dark Days - A Stoutoff

Although the rise of craft beer has been predominantly focused on hyper-hopped brews (and rightly so, they are the best kind) other great styles are coming to the forefront of peoples attentions and now dark beers such as stout, porter and more recently, mild are rapidly gaining popularity.

This is no surprise as there are some fantastic dark beers available at the moment and in this, my first proper blog about beer I am going to talk about three of my absolute favourites. Now I’ve always considered myself a fan of stout even before I discovered the world of craft beer and I am of course referring to Guinness… Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with Guinness, it’s nice enough, not particularly interesting or exciting but it serves a purpose and is my ‘emergency’ beer if I ever find myself in a drinking establishment that doesn’t (gasp!) do ales. My major problem with Guinness is the marketing, its just crap which is all the more reason to go out there and try some of the amazing stouts that are available at the moment.

Many people consider stout be a pretty heavy going drink, the name itself suggests that stout should be robust and well, stout but I for one find dark beer incredibly quaffable and you shouldn’t let it’s dark appearance deceive you into thinking that this style of beer isn’t easy to drink.

Enough waffle, let me get into my first beer Marble Chocolate winner of the silver medal at this years Great British Beer Festival. Hailing from Marble Brewery in Manchester, Chocolate pours almost like a thick toffee syrup and settles with a lovely off white head. The aroma is fantastic with notes of toffee, caramel, licorice and funnily enough chocolate… maybe it’s the name giving me some sort of beer synesthesia but this beer is making me feel like Augustus Gloop at the banks of Willy Wonkas chocolate river. Upon tasting the beer is as thick and rich as the pour and aroma suggests and all the flavours you would expect from the smell are there but then the magic happens. All the roasted malt sweetness is perfectly balanced by wonderful hop bitterness which I was not expecting the first time I took a sip of this brilliant brew.

It’s worth noting here that I keep my beer in the fridge, I discovered craft beer when I visited the USA, this is how they drink it and I agree that this is how beer should be served but Chocolate definitely needs half an hour to stand and warm up slightly before drinking as the cold does mask some of the subtleties that this beer has to offer.
Some Marble Chocolate, yesterday
Moving swiftly on we’re going to hop (HAH!) to the other side of the pond so that I can unashamedly review my favourite brew of this style; Sierra Nevada Stout. This one can be drank straight from the chiller, it doesn’t have any subtleties it just has a supreme flavour wallop that takes you to stout heaven. It doesn’t pour as thick as the Marble, the head is still very pronounced but is slightly lighter and the beer is noticeably more carbonated... and hopped. The hops combine with the roasted malts to give you a wonderful mix of bitter and sweet aromas that beg you to take a sip. The beer is noticeably thinner in the mouth than the Chocolate but the extra carbonation helps the mixture of flavors zing around your tongue. Being American this beer is a little hoppier than the two British brews I’ve put it up against which to be honest probably has a lot to do with why it’s my favourite but it still has that wonderful malt backbone which makes stouts so great to drink.

Some of you might say why would you drink this beer straight from the fridge and that’s simply because I think it’s better that way. I find no benefit from letting a beer like this warm up, in fact I think that you would be going against the brewer if you did. If you rocked up to the Sierra Nevada tap room in California it would be served chilled and from a keg, just as the brewer intended. I am totally in love with the North American beer scene, not just the beer but the attitudes of the drinkers, how people go out of their way to drink local and the fact that you can rock up to pretty much any bar and they will have fantastic local microbrew on tap. The UK beer scene is slowly catching up but us Brits think differently to the Yanks and I think that they will remain one step ahead for a while.

I digress, this is another subject for another time so I’m going to move on to a brewer that is clued up about the beer scene and for me is injecting some much needed USA attitude into the UK. This brewer is of course Magic Rock and the beer is Dark Arts.

I’m off topic again, clearly I have a lot to write about in the future but lets get into Dark Arts. It pours thicker than the Sierra Nevada but is not quite a syrupy as the Chocolate, it does however have the most off white head of the three as well as the biggest bubbles. The darker head indicates what I expected, enough malt to capsize a battleship and the aroma is one of burnt chocolate, digestive biscuits and I’m definitely getting licorice (I’ll be honest writing about how a beer smells is new to me and feels weird, I just like drinking them but hey, maybe I’ll get used to it!) The taste is full, and rich with the roasted malts powering over your palette, this is definitely the ‘stoutiest’ of the three which I’m sure is why the hardcore stout drinkers rave about it on twitter so much. There are hops there which give the beer a wonderful finish but this beer is all about those roasted malts and as such pairs wonderfully with sweet foods (I once had it on cask with a sticky toffee pudding, those were good times).

Again I’ve tried this beer at several temperatures and enjoyed it the most straight from the fridge and if this makes me some pitchfork wielding beer heathen then so be it but at least I’m happy. 

So there we have it, one genre but three very different beers which I highly recommend you all try unless of course you don’t like beer but then, why would you be even reading this blog?

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