This has been a long wait. I got it in from a local supermarket because they happened to have some in some time before Christmas, possibly even last November, and then I have hoarded it in my pantry (I have a pantry) because I was looking for the right occasion to drink it. I'll happily admit that part of the reason for the long wait was the strength, 7.2% ABV, and the memory of having it on a night out in Leeds. I wanted this bottle of Libertine Black Ale to be savoured and enjoyed.
Alas, finding no such occasion that didn't involve other people (and not sharing an ale with company could well be considered quite rude) I was forced to just throw caution to the wind and to actually drink the dang thing. Which I have now done and so can share the result with you! Aren't you glad?
You are? Oh, lovely, well, thank you! Would you like to know more?
I missed sniffing this when it first came out of the bottle and the photo does little justice to how it looked in the comparative darkness of the kitchen. However, there was a definite hint of liquorice that I remembered from when I had this back in Leeds that time. This was a punt that had me salivating as I had enjoyed this not being bottled. Very much a dark ale that I enjoyed. There were massive hops on this one, full of fruit and citrus, that I shall confess to not remembering from my last experience however and the backing of biscuit malt, whilst welcome, was also something I had apparently forgotten. It also didn't seem nearly the same beast, despite weighing in at 7.2% ABV, and seemed almost light in comparison to the legend I had build around it in my head. It was also much more carbonated on the pour, with a bigger head and thus a little more activity generally. This did not hang about for very long.
On tasting all of this came to pass as you'd expect. Massive bitter fruit hops powered their way forward, almost propelled by that liquorice, and all carried through to the back of the mouth with a light biscuit base. I do like the base, the buttery biscuit base (ahem) but this wasn't that base. This was just enough to deliver the payload and then fly away at considerably higher than 10,000ft. In short, this was lively, thick and dark tasting. I wish I had a better description than 'dark tasting' but I don't and that is very much what it is. Willow was not a fan, she thought it too thick and a bit too syrupy.
Certainly this is more bitter than anything by Innis & Gunn but, then, that's not a terrible surprise. The bottle makes claims about the taste being caramel and blackcurrant and I can see a little of where they're coming from. There's an element of hard caramel here, like a Mars bar that's been sat in the fridge for too long, and the fruit is that kind of bitter concoction that you may get from slightly fermented blackcurrants but, being a fan of these, it lacked the tartness that I associate with them and had a bit too much floral headiness for me to really appreciate the idea that the two may be related. That said, I got more of that end than I got of lemon or lime so maybe there's something to it.
I want to say how much I enjoyed it and it is an antidote to some of the sweeter ales that I have had of late but I just can't bring myself to go that extra mile. In the end, I suspect I would have been better leaving this in the dim mists of my mind as being something that I found mind-blowing and leaving the bottle alone. Still one of the better ales I have had but not the world-beater that I was willing it to be.
Enjoy this best from the tap, in a schooner, and chilled with good company in the slightly dark environment of a post-industrial city pub. This ought to have a soundtrack provided by loud chat rather than by a musical accompaniment. Then, having had this, move onto something lighter, a decent pale or golden ale perchance, and aim for a meal. A starter to a good evening but not sessionable in this reviewer's opinion.