A trip down south meant a visit to Hog's Back Brewery again and a reminder that I still had some of their ales I picked up in Summer to drink. Why is that? Well, I specifically sought out a brace of ales that would better suit winter for the drinking in winter. Unseasonably warm days and little in the way of frost meant that I did not partake of them, after all, what's the point in winter ale if it is not winter outside? Okay, no, bad example, I'd drink them anyway, but now we have actual frost and ice of a morning it seems like the right time to be having them.
And tonight's offering is the much anticipated (by me at least) Snout: Dark Winter Stout from that brewery. It was what prompted me to actually have a shelf in the pantry (we have a pantry) for occasional ales that were somewhat special. I have a second bottle of 2013 vintage Imperial Russian Stout (link) up there too, but this and the the other ales I gained over summer for special occasions are also stored there.
It is dark, time to sample the delights of a winter stout! Would you like to know more?
It has been a very cold day here and my own reluctance to use the heating means that the bottle has been well chilled. So much so, in fact, that there was little carbonation on opening and little ceremony from the whisp of the action. Pouring revealed a well-behaved dark, almost purple, brew that fell into the glass carefully and briefly provided a biscuit-coloured head in-keeping with the overall stout posturing that was going on. A good, dry, earthy sort of aroma was the reward for leaning in and giving it a right old sniff - mainly because I am full of cold and such a deep inhalation was required to really do it justice. With one thing and another I was tenative about reviewing this now, I want to give it the full due that I can.
There was an edge of chocolate to it, but slight and distant, and mostly it was dry and reminiscent of peat fires that have burned out and consist mainly of warm embers, rather than glowing hot ones, the kind that scouts wake to see in the morning when they get embroiled in discussions within the tent on camp rather than on making sure the camp fire doesn't go out. The colour goes a similar tinge to peat bogs, too, and then is just dark and deep and old world - the kind of thing that comes to my mind when discussing Saxons or the Green Man.
At 3.8% ABV this is nicely weighted too - not so strong as to cloud my mind and make me heavy with cold and ready for bed but no so light as to be trifled with. It hovers at the right sort of level for me, right now, and with the knowledge that I shall be marking in the morning (ugh) and at pace too. For that, it is very different from other stouts of a similar ilk, that seem much more heavily weighted and thus in need of an evening that does not herald work in the morning.
First taste is dry, and nicely so, with an initial warmth to it provided by the hint of hops cresting a malty wave. The malt is thick and deep, like I like it, and reminds me a little of my own efforts in this regard, which is either an insult to the brewery or a compliment to my own brew, I shall let the reader decide which it is. Nevertheless, there's something on that initial touch of the ale, the head having calmed to a skein not out of place on something in a cauldron late in the evening making broth or somesuch. Certainly it fills the mouth, it is thick without being cloying and thin enough to swirl a bit, the fizz does the job of cutting through the assembled flavours to deliver both the chocolate of the malt and the hint of hops in the background. Overall, though, this is smooth and dry like a rolling hillside, the sort that you play the wide-game on, and reminds me faintly of a cold dark night on the fells near the Lake District in those dog days as summer turns to winter rather than the end of winter rising to spring. This is no bad thing and I prefer that time of year.
Now, in the depths of a proper winter as it develops, this feels very much at home and comfortable. I may be brown-nosing but I have to say I am impressed. This has certainly paid off my waiting to have it and has made me wish I had bought in more when I recently visited (not that I'm complaining, three new ales plus a crate of the Chocolate Lager [link] aren't exactly a bad haul!).
Enjoy this best when the weather is cold, the mornings covered in hard frost and the wind strong enough to make your nose weep with moisture. Gather yourselves in a room lit by candles, a roaring log fire if you can but a small gas one of not, and cover with blankets. Huddle, talk little but profoundly as the flames flicker and dance. Nod slowly, think carefully, speak less and then take a swig of this. Quaff, perhaps, I would suggest an earthenware vessel. And have a second and third to hand because this conversation will take all night with the right company.