A shame this wasn't out during Hallowe'en as it would have been perfect for the battle royale that I cooked up then (here) but, alas, twas not to be. Would you like to know more?
I was instantly aware of the nose on this one from the opening. A deep, biscuit-like malt that had a pleasant spicy feel like a sort of blackberry cassis on a bed of breadcrumbs, the sort one would associate with tart cheesecake at the end of a Christmas meal (oh dear, less than a sentence in and my credentials as working class are being shown). There was a decent head on pouring, despite my usual efforts to avoid, but it died down pretty quickly. That fresh scent pervaded the whole experience and the fizz was definite but not too much, no little sprinkles of moisture on leaning in close to take a deep whiff and so I think that this is a good thing. Certainly an improvement on my last visitation with a stout-like porter (link) and, at 5% ABV, a good deal stronger too.
It opens with a decent amount of fizz and carbonation, there's that malt and biscuit to begin with, and then passes through a softer, almost melancholic, phase of sweet base from a cake before you get the blackberry hops making an appearance toward the middle of the whole experience. In the meantime, your mouth is filled and the feel is a good one. Not so much smooth as it is all-encompassing and there's a note of epic here. I am put in mind of some of the more mainstream efforts by Marilyn Mansun, maybe his version of Personal Jesus, in terms of how this seems to go. After the fruit we're back to malt but it has begun to turn into something else. Gone is the soft constancy and you welcome the change into something more bitter and testing.
From there it's a short ride to the back of the throat, the whole brew becoming decidedly more autumnal and 'end of season'. There's a tang that is not altogether welcome nor particularly nice that comes to poke around after the hit of alcohol at the back of the throat. It's not so much bitter as it is sour, the sort of artificial and manufactured sour of sweets that use a bit too much sugar and not enough actual flavouring. These were those that were eaten by classmates at school determined to prove how much 'harder' they were than people like myself who ate lemons raw and really kind of liked them (and still does when given the chance). So there's a bit too much artifice in this one.
That's not to say that this is a complete loss, there's still that lovely biscuit-malt aroma and there's still a very clever hit of fruity hops at the opening that does enough to make you decide to carry on with the drinking. The bottle does warn you that there's a caramel sweetness that lurks behind a bitterness that "creeps in". I wouldn't say it creeps so much as stands vaguely to one side and tries to cosh you with a large blunt object but that caramel is definitely in amongst the riot of sensation on the tongue and, as much as I'm not really a fan, that's no bad thing. I think it gets better as you go through, the aftertaste has less of a chance to dominate after a few sips and, instead, the front of the tongue and the sides of the mouth are left with a faint buzz from the first cascade instead.
In all, this is a serviceable porter and not a bad brew. I think it is much better than the Guinness Dublin Porter but not as full and flavoursome as the West Indies Porter (here) and so this has its place as something to accompany a meal. I'd suggest some filled pasta with arrabiata sauce - use something with spinach and ricotta - with some ciabatta on the side, lightly toasted, and a small bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. It's the sort of ale that works well with strong and Mediterranean flavours, maybe have something with basil in it or eat near a basil plant, and would likely do well in the warm rather than the slight edge of cold that I am drinking it in.