For sweet dark beers, Belgium is king. The rich velvety gingerbread of Achel Brune Extra, the deep porty notes of an aged Chimay, the bubbly berries of Rochefort... They all have a special place in our hearts. But for the bitter darks -- with the exception of the apparently one-off Black in Japan or the sadly hard-to-find Scheldebrouwerij Oesterstout -- we usually need to look further afield.
Britain is a good place to start, and over the past few months, we’ve been able to sample five super stouts and black IPAs from the UK, all very much worth trying if you can get your hands on them.
The first is Durham Temptation Russian Stout. Chocolate notes come to the fore with this beer. Dark chocolate block. And its pairing opportunities with dark chocolate would seem infinite. And yet a floral hop keeps it sharp and alive, cutting through the richness.
Box Steam Brewery’s Funnel Blower is another chocolatey stout, but here the chocolate note is more cocoa powder then dark chocolate bar. Quite distinctive.
The Wiltshire brewery also makes Box Steam Dark & Handsome. Dark and tarry would be a better description, as this one has wonderful notes of pitch.
Harviestoun Old Engine Oil from Scotland is another fantastic brew, though this porter is perhaps not quite as thick as the name implies.
Finally, my favourite of the five: Scanner Darkly Black IPA. This beer, a collaboration of two great London breweries -- Brodie's and Kernel -- is a truly exceptional drink. No beer from either of these two producers has ever disappointed me: just recalling Brodies Dalston Black IPA or Kernel IPA Citra makes my mouth water.
Working together, these two producers have made something astounding. I don’t know if Scanner Darkly is a one-off or not, but let's hope they're making more.