It's all been a bit grim on the British beer front on this blog of late: crap from such luminaries as Sheps, I&G and some bunch in Yorkshire who don't understand lager. Perusing the shelves of the offy (yes, I'm back on that topic again), there's not much by way of exciting British beer. Nothing from Thornbridge, or Otley, or The Kernel. Not even anything interesting from the MolsonCoors family, and they're running an office over here. Cuh!
So I have to rely on my personal contacts and dig deep into the back of the stash. Hardknott Granite 2009, a gift from Dave ("brewer, doer, force majeure" for those who don't know him or his business cards), makes a big song and dance about how it should be aged. But sod that: I'm thirsty. Two seasons in my attic should be plenty.
The first thing that struck me about this 10.4% ABV barley wine is the colour. It's an opaque brown rather than the more normal dark ruby. The texture is heavy even by the viscous standards of the style and the air around it is quickly filled with heady vapours of burnt caramel studded with citric hops. On tasting, smoke rises to the front of the palate followed by toffee, oranges and wholemeal digestive biscuits, finishing a little bit metallic and leaving a kiss of treacle on the lips. A lot going on, but it's the big body rather than the myriad flavours that make this a beer to savour slowly. Dave's suggestion that it's one to go with strong cheeses is absolutely spot-on.
I'm in the unusual position of suggesting that maybe this would work better in smaller bottles. I don't think I've ever said that before. A nip of this would be lovely, and a stash full of nips even better. Or big sharey 75cls would be good too. But Hardknott is still a relatively new operation and it seems likely that this kind of add-on will have to wait (fledgling Irish breweries please take note: life doesn't end at 5% ABV). For now, however, I'm content with a half litre, though I'd be perfectly happy to share the next one. If I had a next one.
The sudden return to English beer in Irish offies is a harsh comedown.