A pint of the black stuff used to mean just one drink to me, “Guinness”, but as I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve seriously fell out of love with the stuff, and have actively been trying as many stouts and porters as I can over the past couple of months. I’m only a couple of bottles short of trying every non commercial stout in a local supermarket, and can recommend Meantime London Stout, Glencoe Wild Oat Stout, William Bros March of the Penguins and Hook Norton Double Stout. Brewdog Alice Porter is also a very good example with their trademark hoppy elements well featured while balanced well with the other ingredients.
However it is St Peters Cream Stout which gets the award for best bottled stout or porter so far, a lovely rich taste, but not heavy, gives a beer you could drink all night. At this point I should also recommend St Peters Red Ruby Ale and Organic Ale, both excellent bottles, while not of the genre being discussed, are well worth consideration.
Draft wise, I’ve mentioned both Dark Star Espresso and Summer Wine Barista Espresso in the past and wouldn’t hesitate to repeat this again. Black Rat from Rat Brewery (an Ossett Brewery Microbrewer) is nice porter with plenty going on. I’ve also recommended Nick Hambletons Nightmare Extra Porter Stout in the past, and the delicious hoppy but malty beer currently stands as my best draft porter or stout.
I have to admit, I’ve been converted to the black stuff over the past few months after years of avoidance, which has been my loss, and I always make the effort now to put one bottle at least in my beer basket. I was aware of being rather one dimensioned in my beer tastes and giving in to the hophead in my all the time, but I am now really enjoying the more rounded, earthy taste that a good stout or porter gives you. If you’ve been burnt by the Irish mainstream brands, then its time to give the small producers a try.
It is good to be talking about and recommending beers after what seems an eternity of politicing, I’m leaving the binge drinking / reduced strength beer debate well alone for now as if I wanted to talk about muppets, you’d get a review of the new movie instead, as I think Bert and Ernie have a more thought out and sensible plan to tackle the small minority of problem drinkers in society than the current government.
The beers I mention here and in this column generally are those which have stood out from the crowd, but we mustn’t forget those brewers who produce good solid beers across the range without jumping out at you, the day to day pints which are staple beers for the majority of drinkers who haven’t got an unhealthy interest in the detail and politics of everything behind that pint of ale like myself.
Examples of such brewers include Fullers (except their Bengal Lancer which stands high above their other products), the Wells and Youngs ranges from the brewer of the same name most famous for their Bombardier ale, as well as Everards from my home town, who all produce beers that get that fine balance just right between appealing to the mass market while having sufficient complexity to appeal to more demanding palettes on occasion. The likes of Black Sheep and their ilk with products such as Black Sheep Bitter also fill this gap very well. These beers are the ones which are the gateway to more complicated and focused beers later on in many peoples drinking “careers”.
It must be remembered that all these breweries once were the size of the craft brewers such as Hardknott, Summer Wine and Thornbridge, but have grown over decades or centuries to fill the demand for their products. Such “craft acorns” need to be looked after and supported so they can have the chance, if they desire, to develop into the oaks that are the breweries that provide the bulk of the ale market consumes. You may get the occasional diseased dutch elm like Greene King, but you don’t have to take a branch from every tree you come across.