Sunday, 4 December 2016

Spill the Beans

This is the fourth from that rather nice stable of Great British Brewing Co that serves as an imprint of Aldi with many different brewers contributing, like Hog's Back Brewery last time. Tonight's is actually from Brains which is probably less fitting for the end of November and more the sort of thing that is associated with Hallowe'en, if you see what I mean. A zombie brew, surely? Ahem, sorry, I'll stop trying so hard with my puns. As a porter and thus a dark ale I thought it fitting to the darker nights, shorter days and harder work. I'd have preferred a stout but I am rather clinging to my meagre supply of them - the trouble with having lots of nice and special stouts is that once you've drunk them they tend to be, well, drunk. I shall save them a little longer yet.

All of which serves as a pre-amble for tonight's Advent review of Spill the Beans, a coffee porter, that I am rather looking forward to. I had it back at the beginning of October and promptly went back to get more in because it was so nice. Would you like to know more?

So, spoiler alert, this is an ale that I have already enjoyed and therefore I go into this knowing that I like it a lot and searching to explain why. As one would expect from the name there's a coffee aroma to this, but not the harsh roast that billows from the sort of coffee shop that roasts their own coffee, rather the less than real sweetness that comes from places like Starbuck's in the high street who do, probably, roast their own but do things to it. There's a vanilla edge to this one, almost toffee, and the bottle does claim to have caramel overtones. Yes, this is the sweetness that prevents it being a deep and bitter coffee smell. I, for one, appreciate this change to the coffee dominance as I am not that great a coffee fan in the first place. That said, I'm not usually a fan of caramel either. Together they work well for me. It pours with a bit of fizz and a swift but thick head, it parts down the centre and retreats to the edges, where it holds ready like a guardian at the portal to a deep tomb.

Good solid chocolate brown aspect, with a hint of being translucent in the small amount of light in the living room. Step through those doors, heavy and wooden like the Georgian coffee shops one can still find in the northern reaches of England, and enter the darkened room beyond. Here the aroma of coffee hangs over the tables, lurks in the dark corners and creeps up the sleeves of your coat to mingle with the scarf around your neck and hide beneath your warm hat. Gloves are taken off, a finger at a time, all the while leaning forward and further in to the den that lies beyond. It pulls you in as it hits the tongue, soft and gentle like a woollen cloak, rippling in the breeze and making that 'wompf' noise as it falls about you, some bubbles and then, wham, you're in the embrace and closing your eyes.

Heavy, like the night, and black like the heart of the ones that trade the coffee at an international level, filling the mouth despite such a small amount crossing the tongue. So little is required to pay the ferryman to take you out across that darkened river to the land beyond, where the aftertaste lives. Whispers in your ear, but the words too quick and quiet to discern, and brushes of liquid velvet on the sides of the mouth. Always that pungent coffee, tempered by the caramel and the burnt elements of the porter style, as they cascade down the mill race into the wheelpit of your throat. There you feel the engine fire up from the turning of the wheel, the giant furnace in your stomach allowing flames to reach and crackle as it goes down, warming your very innards and making you shed the coat and scarf with which you entered. You take a metaphorical seat and relax, less metaphorically, as the treacle-like substance fades from the centre toward that ever beckoning aftertaste.

Once there it is dry and arid, but with a burnt and satisfying quality, like the sort of feeling one gets from a decent caramel centred chocolate from the variety pack passed around at family gatherings around this time of year. Not cloying, but there is a viscous quality to it. Then there is sweetness on the lips, a memory of the coffee in the mouth, and a feeling that something good has happened. And, at 4.4% ABV, it's not going to knock your block off. Easily the sort of ale that stands a second go and easily one to enjoy of an evening when there is important stuff on the following day. Once finished, you stand once more, bid a fond farewell to the shopkeep with the knowing smile, and amble back through the doors whence you came, pulling on your hat and bending against the cold wind moaning down the street beneath the leaden sky, brighter for your pause.

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