Sunday, 21 August 2016

Beer Review: Proper Black

I was graced with another gift recently, from a family member whose help and gracious gifts of time have already made our family life much easier. So I'd been saving it until the right occasion and, having come back from a day out that was a bit cooler than expected and resulted in a long charge of the car from home for a change when the rain hit, it seemed like the time had come for a dark ale. Perhaps I should have had stout, but I'm saving that for a later point. For the time being I am content to let the Proper Black loose from those lovely people down at St. Austell Brewery. And I am very glad that I decided to do that.

On the plus side, the rain does mean that I shan't have to water the garden this evening, which was looking like a distinctly likely proposition after the long dry day, but on the negative side it does mean that I can't get out to mow the lawn with the lawn-mower (I'm allowed to be impressed with it for a while yet I think) in the morning. Anyway, it's ale and I'm happy to be able to enjoy it. Would you like to know more?

It poured well from the bottle, being bottle conditioned, and didn't make much of a lasted head even though I tried to make that exact thing occur. I don't know if this is necessarily a good or a bad thing but there was a pretty lively biscuit coloured head for a short while so I shall call a victory and leave it at that. Apart from that there was much in the way of fragrance, comforting and, if it were possible for smells to be assigned colours, this one was a dark smell that was entirely inkeeping with the hue and cry of this rather peaty number on the pour. Dark and brooding was my assessment and not without merit but the nose, oh the nose, plenty of deep fruit and dark hops. This is one that I actually kept sniffing because it smelled so nice. If they ever find a way of making this a fragrance one can have with a candle I shall be buying it and lighting it for summer evenings. Now that we have rain and dark and a modicum of cold there is no better time for this.

Taste had to come, of course, and I was not disappointed. Willow was late to the party on this occasion and told me that she probably couldn't drink much of it because it was thick and interesting, which is certainly one way of putting it. Reassuring weight on the tongue followed by a heavy hit of hops and malt that arrive all at once, as if in alliance. I imagine the kind of thing that happens when you get two reiving families fighting on the same side who don't like each other very much but have nothing pressing to feud about and so rub along. There's the hops that are big and weighty and fruity and wish to dominate in a big IPA way and you have the sensible heavy of the malt ready to wade in and tell everyone to calm down a bit like some velvet blanket thrown over a brawl. These two contradictory flavours remain very much in the ascendancy and without ever compromising, which is no mean feat and actually very welcome. Into this comes the 6% ABV which is rather heavy for the ales that I have been having of late and does rather knock one about a bit. Indeed, you may well be able to see the influence in my writing.

Slipping back like a treacle mixture, another phrase I've borrowed from Willow's assessment of the brew, it reaches a moist and messy aftertaste. Messy in a good way, the kind of messy that invokes feelings of craft and playing around with glue and stuff, this is a good messy. There's the depth of the bog in this one too, like a soil that has been well mixed with rainwater so that it oozes pleasantly through the gaps between your toes this ale slips down the gullet with some warming quality and a heady mix of alcohol and hops. Not quite the madness of Wild Raven (here) but nor the bland but pleasant sort of stylings of the lesser IPAs. In fact, I kept forgetting that this was an IPA as it behaved more like a light stout or a heavy porter. I like both of these very much, so do not see this as a criticism. In summary, this is very much welcome and exactly the sort of ale that the weather and the day called for - and I am glad that I held back from having it whilst out on holiday.

Enjoy this best on an evening when the rain is teeming down and the temperature, while not low, has taken a tumble. Avoid on hot and dry days or when the sun is streaming through the windows at 9pm, these are days for something light and airy, but this ale is heavy and primeval so that you know all about it and it lurks like history does in the side streets of St Petersburg in the depths of winter. Not quite a winter ale but nothing like a summer thirst quencher either, this is an ale that is at home in the autumn or the cold parts of spring as much as it sits in the stormy wetness of summer showers. Pour with abandon, drink with confidence and ensure that there is company to remind you when to stop pouring the bottle and rein in those sessioning horses.


  1. I remember a few years ago when black IPAs were finding their way into every brewer's portfolio, Roger Protz ranted about the oxymoron in the title of this beer and felt that St Austell should've known better as a traditional brewer. He doesn't rant about it anymore. Personally I like the eccentricity it - it is after all about the mingling of styles' tastes. What do you think? I get a sense you're a teacher.

    1. I hadn't noticed the oxymoron! But, yes, I have always liked dark ales and a dark IPA is made better by the hoppiness. I think I actually prefer them to normal IPAs. Mind you, I am technically a very uncultured palate!

      You sense correctly, by the way, I teach. Not sure what that does to my beer drinking, apart from provide ample excuses to have a pint of an evening...