Beer, I would suggest, is the most seasonable of alcoholic drinks. Oh sure, your clueless middle classes might go for Pimms in the summer or port at Christmas, but no other type of drink quite has the variety of style and flavour as beer. And in the winter months, my tastes turn, even more than usual, to the darker side – stouts, porters and other black ales and craft beers are the order of the day. Sometimes, these come in the form of festive ales, complete with a punning name (though curiously, the two I’ve tried this year were suspiciously brown and bland) that are available at the local pub. More interesting are the limited edition seasonal beers, and Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout is a fine example. Brewed once a year, in the winter, this bottle comes from the 12-13 batch. By all accounts, this keeps well, so it might be worth picking up a few bottles of the new batch and cellaring them for a while – if you can resist the urge to drink them, that is.
Clocking in at a mighty 10%, this is the sort of beer that the numpties at Alcohol Concern get into a panic about and want to see banned from the shops. A single bottle already puts you over your recommended daily alcohol units (but if that worries you, don’t forget that those figures are entirely made up and have no medical bearing). But this is hardly a beer that you will be necking randomly from the bottle – the price alone (at least in the UK) should be enough to stop that, but even if it didn’t, the full, rich flavour will slow your down. This is a drink to savour, brewed in the Russian Imperial manner.
It pours like a thick, oily fluid, giving a short-lived head (it’s a stout, so that’s not an issue) and sits in your glass looking suitably decadent (it’s black as night, even when held up to the light) and giving off a mild chocolatey aroma that even my decayed nostrils can detect. It also smells strong, and on the first sip, it’s this strength that is most immediately apparent. This is a million miles away from your bland lager, but also far removed from your average ale, and has a thick, earthy, malty taste that is more coffee than chocolate but certainly has a sweetness that lingers in the mouth once the beer has passed through. You can also taste the strength, but as with a number of high strength beers, this perversely makes it more drinkable – it might shock the life out of lager lovers with its intense flavours and obvious potency, but it also manages to conceal its strength more than some high percentage stouts I’ve had before (the unnamed one I tried a couple of weeks back, for instance, that at 8% was something of a challenge due to the extreme booziness of the taste). The result is a strong beer that is immensely drinkable.
This is, ultimately, a sipping beer that you’ll find yourself sipping with increasing frequency. I’m already wishing I had a few more bottles of this lying around to impress chums with – or, for that matter, to enjoy myself. I haven’t always seen what the fuss about Brooklyn Brewery has been about – though admittedly, my experience of their brews has been ridiculously limited, something I intend to rectify – but this is a first-class Imperial Stout, one of the finest I’ve tasted. I’d recommend snapping up a stock of this winter’s batch while you can.
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