|Oily contender: Kernel's Imperial Brown |
Stout steps up to the plate
Sometimes you've just got to dive right in and, today, I'm doing just that. This wasn't planned. It never is. Part of the appeal for me of this annual exercise (apart from the drinking beer bit) is the randomness. The mystery. The feeling that I never know what's coming next. But as well as keeping it interesting, that can catch you out every now and then and this certainly has.
And so it goes. Day one and I'm already facing a hulking great menhir of a beer from Bermondsey's finest, the Kernel. It's got the word 'imperial' in it, so already it conjures up, for me anyway, images of a whole battalion of stormtroopers marching inexorably towards me with a menacing regularity and steely sense of purpose bent on my annihilation.
The threat doesn't stop there either. This stuff is so dark brown it gives mahogany a good run for its money. And that's scary. Not because brown is particularly frightening per se, but in an age where pale ales and IPAs appear to be the preferred choice of beer drinkers, this represents the dark side. Malevolent. Unrefined. Base.
Finally, it's stout, a word if ever there was one apparently designed to be spat out brutally in a gruff Lancashire accent. I'm not entirely sure whether it's possible to say it any other way.
So there we have it - an unholy trinity of words like three unwise men tramping off in some futile search for fulfilment and meaning. A triumvirate of terror to greet the onset of my journey through the cold coming of December. Get past this and surely it can only be downhill from here on in. Can't it?
Beer: Kernel Imperial Brown Stout
Strength: An already intimidating 10%
Colour: Chesspiece black
Smell: Stale plum pudding and old dark chocolate
Tasting notes: Richer than Croesus and oilier than a seagull in a slick. What starts out as a deeply intense alcoholic cup of cold cocoa is sustained by sheer belligerence and force of will for several seconds before it finally relents, flopping over and backwards like a just-rescued insect from a glass of port. It's the kind of stout that laughs patronisingly at Guinness like it's a gauche American teenager in the 16th arondissement of Paris trying woefully to order a pineapple from a boulangerie. In fact it's hard to imagine they're the same species, such is this beer's superiority. And as the finish lingers, you're left with the feeling something with history has just graced your tongue and you're unlikely to taste its ilk again. Time for another swig.
Gut reaction: Despite a considerable lunch and several glasses of red wine, it's sitting as comfortably as a small child ready to hear its bedtime story.
Session factor: Not to do it down, but I wouldn't fancy troubling more than one or two for their time.
Arbitrary score: 1860