As it’s the middle of winter, I’ve decided to witter on a bit about winter beers.
I’m a teeny bit biased on this subject as I love porters, stouts and dark beers myself. I’ll happily drink these beers year round, even in the ‘heat’ of our Scottish summer. For the uninitiated, the Scottish version of summer is roughly three days in the middle of July when the temperature creeps up from the usual minus 3 degrees to a balmy 10 degrees and us Scots throw off the thirteen layers of clothing we wear to reveal that our usually pale blue hued skin tone has taken on a sun-kissed Kleenex tissue white shade. One has to be careful though – over exposure to heat and sunshine, like say, 15 minutes or more can result in the skin tone turning from white to a lovely shade of magenta and the well-known Scottish exclamation ringing out through the glens of “DON’T FECKING TOUCH ME!!” We don’t deal well with sunburn.
Most folks though, I imagine, would prefer their winter beers drunk in the appropriate season.
There is nothing better on a cold winter’s night, when the wind and sleet are hammering at the windows, than to draw the curtains closed, sit in front of an open fire and sip at a comforting, warm, malty dark beer. The notes of spices and dark fruits associated with these beers impart a reassuring, warming smugness. I’m also a whisky fan so if there is also that warming fuzzy alcohol sensation that a good single malt brings in there too, so much the better.
Not all winter beers have to be dark in colour though. Williams Alba and perhaps even more so, their Nollaig are perfect winter beers in my opinion. Burnished gold in colour but with that spiciness and the hints of spruce and pine, they are both capable of bringing about that warming smugness too. Nollaig in particular is basically bottled Christmas. We’re not going to bother with a tree, decorations or Turkey next year, we’re just going to gather round a bottle of Nollaig, sing carols in its honour and then drink it. Job done and no washing up to do – result!
One beer I have had a problem warming to though, is Nogne Ø Holy Smoke. This is a Rauch beer, a smoked dark lager. Having tried several of Nogne Ø’s other beers I have no doubt that Holy Smoke is a near perfect example of its type but I am having trouble getting to like this type in general. This beer makes you work hard at enjoying it – it demands your full attention. Definitely a sipping beer it makes you sit up and take notice. To me it tastes of the smell of a recently doused camp fire. Having said that I fully intend keep trying this beer until I can figure it out. It seems to throw down a challenge to you. “You don’t like me do you? But why don’t you like me? You don’t know do you….you think you might like me if you could just pin point exactly what’s happening to your taste buds when you drink me……go on….have another go….you know you want to!”
Then there’s Orkney Dark Island Reserve. Based on their Dark Island and matured in whisky casks, this is a beautiful beer, smooth yet spicy, alcoholic black velvet. A dangerously easy drinking beer it comes in at 10% ABV yet tastes about 6% – if that. Dark Island Reserve doesn’t make you sit up and take notice. It lulls you into a false sense of security. Open up a bottle on Christmas eve, sip at it slowly and marvel at it’s smoothness. It seems harmless and welcoming; it draws you in a bit like hypothermia and then BAM! Before you know it you wake up on the living room floor with the cat eating your face rather than face starvation, there’s three empty bottles of Dark Island Reserve on the floor beside you and it’s the 4th of January. Not that I speak from experience you understand. Just imagining what could happen in extreme circumstances. Okay fine! – it was two bottles and I woke up on the 2nd of January. Poetic license and all that good stuff.
I couldn’t have a good old witter about dark beers without mentioning my favourite. Alright, obviously I could but I’m not going to. Tempest Red Eye Mocha Porter. To say I love this beer would be an understatement akin to saying David Cameron is bit Tory or that the pope is a wee bit catholic. A fantastically smooth mellow beer, black treacle in colour though if you hold it up to the light you can see little flashes of deep red at certain angles. Tastes of bitter but rounded chocolate, vanilla and malt. The coffee taste isn’t predominant but a deep background taste that is beautifully balanced with the other flavours. If I didn’t have to drive every day I would drink this beer instead of coffee in the mornings. And at lunchtime. And probably at night too. I have cried bitter tears of regret and jealousy every time I’ve packed one of these up to send to a customer. In fact I may have to get Reggie to pack the few remaining bottles because I’m sure that some of our more sensitive customers will be able to feel the waves of barely concealed loathing emanating from the box as they open it. I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to share but being brutally honest, I don’t want to! I have squirreled one away for ageing. It is surrounded by several Indiana Jones type booby traps so that no one else can steal it. Who am I kidding? - It’s surrounded by booby traps so that I can’t get at it until next year. Anyone who makes it to the cupboard in the back bedroom in the east wing of Alesela Towers is in for a nasty surprise. And a trip to A&E I suspect.
We’ve been lulled by higher than normal temperatures this winter and none of that annoying white stuff that we had tonnes of last year. But there’s plenty more winter left to go round. If I were you I’d get a few winter beers in just in case there’s a relapse. Then you can sit inside, sipping your warming winter beer and keek out of the curtains to watch your neighbour shovelling three feet of “partly cloudy” off his driveway.