Beer meets the devil

BEER MEETS THE DEVIL

Adrian Tierney-Jones travels to the dark side to taste the demon brews

The Devil has the best tunes, but does he also have the best beers? With Duvel (devil in Flemish), he certainly has one of the most exceptional Belgium beers to keep him company as he puts another hapless soul in the toaster. On the other hand you could argue that he is promiscuous in his drinking habits: if you go to Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig, you’ll see a dummy Dr Faustus sitting on a massive wine barrel. Whatever the truth, here are three beers with a sympathetic shine for the Devil (we’re only joking, he said, as he spotted a cloven hoof beneath the pub table).

/ Duvel Barrel-aged 2017 (Bourbon), 11.5%

Legends attach themselves to Belgian beer like barnacles to a sea-battered galleon and Duvel is no exception, apparently getting its name when a brewer exclaimed that it was the beer of the Devil on first tasting it. With this barrel-aged expression, firm and eloquent, the gates of Hell are well and truly opened (in the nicest possible way).

/ Unibroue Maudite, 8%

This potent Abbey-style beer with its panoply of spices, alcohol warmth and bittersweetness on both nose and palate is named after a Quebecois legend in which a bunch of lumberjacks, in their eagerness to get home in time for Christmas, made a deal with Lucifer, who then arranged for them to fly home in their canoes. Wonder what happened after Christmas?

/ Thornbridge Lukas, 4.2%

Lukas sounds like the sort of spooky name given to a small boy who is really the Devil in disguise, isn’t it? No? Ok, how about a gulp of this finely made Helles from Derbyshire instead — it’s as blonde as a sunlit smile, light and sparkling on the palate and an elegant and uplifting contrast to all this talk about supping with the Devil.


THE 6 PACK: Imperial Stouts

THE 6 PACK:
Imperial stouts

It’s the time of year for the imperial stout. Adrian Tierney-Jones charts the remarkable history of this beer and picks out six of the best

 

Ladies and gentlemen, please stand, an imperial stout has just walked into the room, a beer of gravitas and history and heritage, a muscular beer with a heft and weight that would bode well if it ever wanted to work as a circus strongman or woman. This is a beer that is ideal for contemplation, a brewing deal struck with the devil perhaps, a beer that, like IPA, was thought to be buried in the archives of history 30 years ago, and again like IPA it has sprung back to life, with the vivacity of a desert flower after the rains.

In the 19th century, it was oh so different, imperial stouts (perhaps masquerading under the name of Double or Extra Stout) were a common part of many a brewery’s portfolio, strong and expansive sipping beers. Then after World War I had decimated the British brewing industry in more ways than one, they declined and by the 1980s Courage Russian Imperial Stout was near enough all on its lonesome. In 1998, five years after it was last brewed, the then owners of the brand, Scottish & Newcastle, announced the end of the beer – in 2011, the beer was brewed by Charles Wells of Bedford, and there have been several vintages brewed since, though at the time of writing the beer seems to have vanished off the radar. Mind you, elsewhere the imperial stout is a healthy monster, a bold statement by many a brewery, large and small, throughout the world, in North and South America, in Europe, and of course in its British homeland, a demonstration that they’re not afraid of alcohol and heady dark malts. Though sometimes if you want an imperial stout you might find yourself flummoxed as I was during a recent trip to a Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen. I wanted was an imperial stout, but instead I was offered one fermented with Sahti yeast and another one that had cake mix and biscotti. I didn’t know whether to cry or raise a glass to such questionable ingenuity. The imperial stout has come a long way since its gaslit origins and I suspect it will keep on travelling.

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/ Harvey’s Brewery, Imperial Extra Double Stout, 9%

Brutal in its darkness, coffee, chocolate, dark fruit, figs and Demerara sugar, alongside an appetising roastiness and subtle hint of Brett.

/ Dark Star, Imperial Stout, 10.5%

A boozy stew of dark plum and currant on the nose, alongside espresso and almond liqueur; coffee, chocolate, more dark fruit, a cosy creaminess and a slight hop bitterness round things off.

/ Saltaire Brewery, XS Imperial Stout, 8.9%

Intense roastiness on the nose alongside a softer zephyr of chocolate, mocha and dark fruit; rich and roasty on the palate with a dry finish.

/ Brooklyn Brewery, Black Chocolate Stout, 10%

If you want an alternative to Sambuca then this is it; it is spirituous, rich and mocha-like in a glass, Herculean in its reach on the palate, a destroyer of worlds and perfect for ageing.

/ Troubadour, Imperial Stout, 9%

Roast barley reaches out from the glass, alongside an arch of mocha, chocolate and toffee; the same characters tread the boards of the palate, while the finish is bracingly bitter.

/ Wiper and True, Hard Shake, 10%

Hard Shake is the ‘imperial’ version of Wiper and True’s superb Milk Shake milk stout and is loaded with chocolate malts, vanilla and the addition of cacao nibs. It’s sweetly smooth and willingly warming for winter nights. 


The fall and rise of porter

The amazing fall and rise of porter

Adrian Tierney-Jones contemplates the history of London’s beer.

Ilustration by Elliot Kruszynski for Original Gravity (elliotkruszynski.co.uk)

Porter is the beer that returned from the dead. It is the beer that rose from the grave in which it had long laid dormant, an unknown grave, as lost as the tomb of Alexander, all that was left was rumour and conjecture. Was it the drink of the men who moved London’s goods in Georgian times and gave the beer its name? Did Mr Pickwick enjoy the odd noggin? And was a dinner party really held within a wooden vat at one of the monstrous London breweries that made their name and fortune with porter?

Yet porter was real enough to me late last winter as I sat in the cool, shaded confines of the Royal Oak, a Victorian-style corner pub that is a few minutes stroll from Borough Market. The Oak is the London flagship of Sussex brewery Harvey’s and a place where its complex Porter can be studied at length, especially welcome on a cold, crisp and introspective winter’s day such as this. 

The beer was sleek and sensuous in the glass, a confection of treacle toffee, chocolate, vinous fruit, saddle leather, tobacco box and even hints of dandelion and burdock.

It was a beer to be studied and appreciated at length, a beer that beguiled. Over several glasses a series of lines from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding swirled to mind: ‘for history is a pattern/ Of timeless moments./ So, while the light fails/ On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel/ History is now and England.’

Ok I wasn’t in a chapel but the light was failing on a winter’s afternoon; I was in England and there was something devotional in the way in which I regarded the beer in front of me. That’s the problem with porter — it is inspirational, but it can also become an obsession as well. 

If IPA (or more frequently a mash-up of IPA) is one of the first beers that a new craft brewer thinks about making when they go pro, you could bet your very last hop sack of Citra that the next beer style/variation/thingy they chance their arm at will be a porter (though some ambitious souls have been known to zoom straight into saison). The beer has an aura about it, a gravitas in the glass, a sheen of heritage and the theme tune of history that makes it so endlessly fascinating. It is seen as the first world beer, the beer of the industrial revolution; it’s London’s beer gift to the world (Burton and London share IPA but porter belongs to the capital). It’s porter. 

However, it’s easy to sit back in an imaginary armchair and pontificate about porter as it was, but what about now? In modern terms porter is Janus-faced as brewers look backwards and forwards as they make it: categories include Imperial porter, Export India porter, London porter, Dublin porter, Baltic porter, table porter, coffee porter, pastry porter (WTF?) and of course just plain porter (which takes us neatly back to London). That’s the exciting thing about what craft brewers (for want of a better word) are doing with beer — they are taking venerable styles and bringing them back to the future. 

American craft brewers first resurrected the beer, adding lots of hops but still maintaining the creamy, soothing centre that in my mind differentiates modern porter from modern stout (though some argue that they are the same beer, the world’s not going to come to an end). I have always enjoyed the lush, smoky, bitter, mocha-like temperament of Anchor’s Porter, perhaps one of the first returnees to the porter fold in 1972; I believe it is one of the best examples of the American style. Then there is Alaskan Smoked Porter, with its rich malt character, peppery hop, stewed fruits and bonfire night smokiness (Stone’s Smoked Porter is an equally smoky ravishment). 

Everyone’s got a porter in the US: some have more hops in them than is decent; others are aged in all manner of barrels, while Ohio brewery Willoughby produce a peanut butter cup coffee porter, which is not just pushing the envelope but setting up the Pony Express and the Post Office all at once. This might not taste like a porter from the early 19th century but who cares?

Sometimes a beer style should be seen as a blank music manuscript with the notes and the order in which they are placed still to be decided.

In the UK, porter was slower to return: the late 1970s saw porters released by both Timothy Taylor and Penrhos Brewery, the latter famously supported by Monty Python’s Terry Jones. Sadly, Penrhos didn’t last too long, while Taylor’s Porter is rarely brewed these days, but this was the first inclination that a venerable beer style was being resurrected. Now the world of British porter is choc-a-bloc with variations on a theme from the likes of Meantime, Kernel, Fuller’s, BrewDog, Elland, Salopian and Burton Bridge, whose Porter has been brewed since the early 1980s (they also produce one with damson juice in it)

History? For a long time it was thought that landlords in the early 18th century mixed up three different kinds of beer in their cellar — the famous three threads — and that a London brewer replicated this in his brewery and hey presto porter was born. Nice story, but it didn’t happen that way — porter somehow emerged, brewers didn’t keep records, there was no Twitter and to be honest the story of beer styles emerging into the world rarely approaches an eureka moment. There are no records of Ralph Harwood (for centuries thought to be the creator of porter), running into the street, Archimedes-style, telling all and sundry what he had just discovered. As for porter’s heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries I haven’t got a clue what old time porter tasted like though the tradition of aging, or staleing, blending and the use of brown malt might suggest an exceptionally characterful beer; perhaps the lion of acridity lying down with the lamb of acidity. 

For the moment though I’m happy to lie down with another glass of Harvey’s Porter and watch the light of the day fade and marvel at the power of porter, the beer that came back from the dead. 


Porter timeline

Early 18th century London brewers start producing the beer that would be known as porter, though it was also called entire — according to Martyn Cornell in Amber, Gold & Black the name porter isn’t used much by London brewers until the 1760s. 

 1760 Whitbread opens its vast porter tun room, which replaces four private houses and whose unsupported roof span is exceeded in size only by that of Westminster Hall’s.

c1780s Guinness starts brewing porter.

1814 A porter vat at Meux’s brewery off Tottenham Court Road bursts and eight people are killed. 

1817 Daniel Wheeler’s method of roasting malt, which would give porter its distinct darkish hue, is patented. 

1890 Pardubický Porter is brewed for the first time, in the style of the dark beers of the Baltic; it is still made today and one of the few of its kind made in the Czech Republic.  

1920 While working out what beers to send for sampling at the Brewers’ Exhibition Watneys decides not to brew any porter for the event — porter is in its death throes. 

1941 Whitbread stops brewing porter.

1972 After the success of Anchor Steam in 1971, brewery owner Fritz Maytag is emboldened to start brewing Porter. 

1973 Guinness stops brewing porter

1978 Penrhos and Timothy Taylor both produce porters

2009 Evin O’Riordian founds Kernel and one of his key beers is Export India Porter.

2013 Elland’s 1872 Porter wins Champion Beer of Britain

2014 Guinness releases Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter.


Brooklyn Cloaking Device

BROOKLYN CLOAKING DEVICE

Brooklyn Brewery’s remarkable new beer is a 100% Brett fermented porter.

Original Gravity

Porter, London’s own drink, used to be stored in wooden barrels and it would have been exposed to whatever bugs were clinging onto the wood. The beer would have tasted, well we don’t know what it would have tasted like, but I’d imagine a fair few would have been a bit sour, a bit, well, earthy. Brooklyn Brewery, under the eye of the immensely talented Garrett Oliver, has produced a porter, aged in oak barrels that once hosted red wine and fermented with Brett, the yummy yeast strain that adds a umami-like, tomato savouriness to beer. It’s then fermented again in a champagne bottle, with champagne yeast. Alongside the Brett notes, this 10.5% imperial porter has coffee-berry fruitiness, and slice of pineapple.

DN / brooklynbrewery.com