I have been meaning to get round to reviewing this for a long time. I heard, through the Book of Faces, that there were to be bottles of Pit Pony available and then waited with bated breath for them to be dropped. I've had this already, on draught, and thoroughly enjoyed it as it is a fine example of an oatmeal stout. You can find my thoughts about it by clicking these words. So it was, when it was in the local bottle shop, I rushed out with the exhortations of my long-suffering wife to get some in. I managed to bag two bottles, intending to share, as there was limited stock. Then life sort of intervened, I had intended to share it with a visitor but ended up trying something a little hoppier and murkier instead. Then I finally got round to having it and thus, tonight, can review the whole experience!
Look at it! The day had been windy and cool with occasional sunshine, we went out with some friends, but by the evening it was cooler and with rain threatening so there was no chance to have it out in the garden. Instead, I had it in the kitchen whilst cooking and then eating an omelette, because I know how much my eating habits feature. Would you like to join me on a journey through Urban Chicken Ale's Pit Pony oatmeal stout? You would? Wonderful!
The first thing to note is the rather nice bottle art, which is full of yellows and blacks and in a fashion that means you can't really go wrong, nice and urban feel to it - like the thrashing of mill machinery backed by the burning of mountains of coal hewn from deep within the bowels of the Derbyshire countryside. After chilling for long enough to bring it down to 8 degrees centigrade it opened without much fuss and immediately pumped out the deep calming chocolate that I like from my stouts. Smooth pour, deep and dark, like the descent on the cage down the shaft into the pitch black below lit only by helmet lamps and surrounded by men with callouses also hewn as if from rock. Velvet smooth on the nose, deep into the oatmeal and the almost porridge quality that brings but with an edge to it, promising more than mere comfortable depth and softness, something dangerous and pre-Industrial Revolution.
It was Willow that first tasted it, her eyes lighting up at the taste that was sufficiently different from what she expected that she gave it a thumb's up and promptly held on to it for a second and third sip. This, by the way, is unprecedented, and the first indication that there was something alluring and mischievous with the brew. Not so much head, but this was more down to my pour than the ale itself. On the tongue there's an element of that calming chocolate from the malt, soft and rounded on the mouthfeel and rolling neatly into the middle of the mouth. Here it metastasizes and lets out some sharp, thin, edges of liquorice like whirring blades to the sides of the mouth, maintaining that bulk of velvet black in the middle. No kick like a mule, more the sort of hard pull one would expect from a pony working deep underground and trained well. Hundredweights of coal are hauled through the middle, drying and full, revelling in the oatmeal and ending up like some blackened-face Morris dancer version of Horlick's that would send you to sleep but not the good kind - more the kind of arcane dance at the end of summer that would commit the greenery of harvest to the bed of mulch and decay in the winter that is necessary for the next year's rebirth.
That curiously dry quality is retained, like coal dust beneath the nails and the smearing of warpaint on the Saxon horde of old Ilkeston, in the back of the mouth, the oatmeal withdraws slowly, like a cultural shift in the aftermath of a Norman invasion. Towers are erected, turned to stone and marched along the high ground as the folc watch and remember, running down the cracks and the valleys into the bowels of the earth. Then it tips over the threshold and all is winded and broc in the aftertaste that reminds you of the original softness. As I said originally, this has a chocolate body and that is still discernible but it is not the soft sweetness of a dessert ale, more the bitter blackness of a dark chocolate at a higher cocoa content.
I said last time that this was not a stout to have with a meal, that it was best afterward, and I should like to rescind that. It works after a meal, certainly, but the thinning quality of being bottled - subtle but there - is easily enough to allow this to exist with food. I had mine with an omelette and vegetable cous cous (achingly middle-class, I know) and it fit very well indeed. Willow, who is no stout fan, was also highly appreciative of it and that is a mark of just how good this ale is. I mean, this has already grabbed me through being a locally-produced stout (and I do like my stouts) but the quality of this means that it is definitely something I would return to.
In comparison to the draught version there's more liquorice and edginess to this one, as though it is coated in blades to slowly cut through rock to the next rich seam of oatmeal in the following sip, and it is less heavy. It still has the 4.9% ABV and it still has the reassuring blackness in hue, it still has everything that makes a stout a stout. In short, I would buy this again and I will be a bit of an evangelist about it - one of the better stouts I've had. Is it better than the Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout from yesterday's review? Yes, yes it is. It is less tart than the Windrush (click here) too and nothing like the dessert qualities of Millionaire (click this) and Billionaire (click this now). It is in august company and the sort of dry and comforting depth of stout that I like. Not as industrial as Wrench (click here) nor as Dark Ages as Black Ram (click here) but a combination of the two, I feel.
And there you have it, an Industrial Revolution mining shaft of an ale with hints of Saxon warband lurking at the corners accompanied by arcane and pre-Christian ritual. Very much like Ilson itself, I feel.