Sunday, 26 March 2017


I have been warned about this by other beer drinkers and reviewers. Which was a shame as I was ageing it at first and looking forward to having it. Still, here we are at the end of a long winter in a new year that has delivered the promise (if that is the right word) of that which has preceded it. In short, I am in a mood to contemplate ale and disappointment. So, bring it on! It's time for another speciality Sunday and tonight I am reviewing the much-reviled Eldon from Thornbridge because I can and because I would like to.

The warnings are that this is saccharine sweet and a bit too fizzy, not befitting an Imperial Stout, but let's test that assumption. Would you like to be delving deeper?

Yes, I am pouring it in a jam jar. I'll explain in a moment. First of all, there's a bit of activity on opening the bottle and a fair amount of hiss, but no sign of a whisp of carbonation and no great waft of pungent aroma once opened. It pours quickly, glugging slightly, into the jam jar (my attempt at getting a glass that is more suited to the 330ml offerings that I appear to be having lately, I need to get a schooner) and has much in the way of soft drink fizz. Not much head, despite my best efforts, but what does form seems rather persistent. A good deep body is thus formed in terms of colour and the whole thing seems quite calm. There is a sweetness on the nose but I don't find that unusual and it puts me in mind of crumbled brandy snaps being used as a base for a cheesecake or somesuch - I recall having some recipe tell me or my mother to do that. Hard to say, anyway, not entirely unappetising but not making me want to bathe in it either.

Pours in with a definite sweetness overall too, this making me think of brandy snaps again, or perhaps one of those fudges that has alcohol in it. I get that in the opening, at 8% ABV one would hope so, and then it's thin afterward and oddly quick to move beyond the start of the taste. There's a definite impression of the fizz, like a peloton pack moving swiftly past the viewer stationary on the side of the mountain, and then it too is gone and lost. I get a licorice vibe from it, reminding me of chewing roots in the late summer and early autumn until they squished with my saliva as much as with the juices therein. It's a taste that puts me in mind of the penny sweets bought on the way back from Sunday School, chosen with some care but always with those black ones that had crumbly stuff in the middle and the comfits with the coloured sugar balls as a coating - they always did taste strong and, well, like licorice. Yes, that's the main impression I get from this, licorice.

Like the Happy Patrol dictator, always a bit of nightmare fuel, this hangs around then in the sides of the mouth. It's happy you are glad and you are glad that it is happy. It dries out toward the throat, leaving an impression of something heavier and more of a stout. This has the consistency of an IPA, the colour of a dark ale and the sensation of being taken out of the productive flow by smiling guards of some oppressive dictator determined to keep the populace happy at all times on pain of death. That is the kind of sweetness this exudes, the careful and calculating sweetness of a child who has learned that they can get away with cruelty so long as they smile in the right way or that uncanny valley smile of the child robot that isn't really a child. It's not a proper stout, though there is a slight hint of the malt I get now and again, a ghost of a thicker and more stout-like stout lurking behind the bourbon sweet and haunting the smiles around.

Pick your way carefully through the throng, wear that frozen rictus grin and endure the jokes that aren't funny. This is a stout in name and it's not a bad ale but it's not a stout in fact and I'm not sure it counts as an imperial. It would work well in the last days of the Roman Empire rather than in the insane cult of excess of the Russian Empire under Nicholas II. Not in the real history, but in the general and accepted imagination of the decadence of Rome spiralling as the barbarian hordes closed in so that it captures the moment when the great washed mass of drunk and barely clothed Romans met their conquerers in the popularly imagined hairy Goths covered in bear pelts and carrying blunt instruments both in wonder at the other and neither truly in their real moment in time. This ale captures that imagined feeling of hyper unreality.

It's not that I dislike it, I actually think it has a place, I just don't believe that it should have been sold as a stout. Maybe a thin porter or even a kind of dark IPA - though the hops aren't terribly noticeable either so maybe not. No, it's not a stout, but it will serve and it will pass the evening well with a strength that should allow me to get through the weekend. Yes, the short of it is that I like this. I don't know what box it would belong in but, stout or no, I like the licorice quality this exudes and look forward to trying it again. Recommended to try, but don't expect a stout or bourbon!

Enjoyed best in the ruins of an aqueduct in view of the Roman Wall at the English-Scottish border. Eschew a modern coat for a draped cloak garment atop a tunic pulled in at the waist with thick string and dyed roughly in vegetable dyes. On your feet ensure the leather sandals are firmly studded with iron studs and cushioned with linen inserts. A bronze torque maintains the scarf about your neck and your hair is carefully styled 'gainst the wind from the north. Stand, don't sit, and await the Mr Basset villain of the piece, ready to overthrow a government in an afternoon.

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