Confession: even though I really like Tuesdays, for some reason it’s a miserable effort to get to Ale Stars. By the time I arrive, fake smile firmly plastered on for the benefit of acquaintances, I’m stressed, tired and on occasion actually pretty depressed. Maybe it’s the mad dash to get to the Local Taphouse during peak hour traffic?
In any case, it’s not so bad, once you find yourself at the familiarly lit board with the ever-changing beer list. The contemplation begins: which should I start with? Which ones do I need to avoid because they’re part of the night’s tasting? Which ones have I never ever tried before?
Genuinely friendly faces at the bar, pleasantries are exchanged. The day’s disappointment and stresses are gradually erased. I know Shandy feels like people come for the ‘rock stars’ of the craft beer scene, that being when brewers come to visit, but I love the smaller sessions too – more intimate, less rowdy (perhaps…) and easier to chat to other members.
It is possible too that there were those who were scared into attending because this session was devoted to stouts, apparently ‘dark and mysterious’ ones at that. Indeed, some Shandy had no notes for and so the moniker is somewhat appropriate, like the first beer, the Indian Ocean Brewing Company’s vanilla milk stout. It was beautiful – smooth, slightly sweet due to the lactose but still subtle. Doesn’t have the pronounced roasty characteristics some stouts are known for. I may have maligned this as a ‘girlie’ stout but it isn’t really. It’s just gentle is all.
Second beer on the list – HaandBryggeriet’s Dark Force, an imperial wheat stout. Wheat stout, you say? Yep, I don’t believe it myself. It was bready but smelt of dark chocolate, roasted malt and a hint of whisky, the latter being due to being in whisky-soaked barrels. I’m confused however – my notes say it was bottle conditioned? A very alcoholic drop.
We jump back to Australia to a stout du jour and one previously imbibed at the Local Taphouse – Murray’s Heart of Darkness, a Russian imperial stout. Mistah Kurtz, he dead! Holy cow – what a changed beast this is – it’s much sweeter and smoother than it was but a month ago. I think I preferred its first incarnation which was much more aggressive. It seems a little more bitter too. If I had to personify this beer, I’d say it’s King Kong after attending finishing school (I’ve been watching Little Dorrit of late and thinking of how no amount of tutelage could…’refine’ Fanny Dorrit, the sister of the main female protagonist). It was good to get confirmation from fellow beer nerds about HoD’s change too, so as to confirm it wasn’t just my dodgy palate.
The last one in the lineup was one I’d had the pleasure of imbibing a while back and was made available for the SpecTAPular – Dieu du Ciel’s! Péché Mortel. Cor blimey. Heaviest mouthfeel of any of the stouts in this session, with hardly any carbonation and the infusion of coffee. Dark as sin.
A couple of pointers on stouts: you have to let them warm up so that their flavours become more evident. Don’t drink them cold! Also, as our dear Ale Czar instructed us, don’t be afraid to ‘arouse’ the beer – swirl it around in your glass like the beer-tasting wankster you are. Arousing the beer may lead to arousal of tastebuds which could then lead to…you get the picture.
Very, very briefly, I also got to try some wheat beers just before Ale Stars started. My dear fellow Ale Star Mel got a tankard of the Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. HOLY FUCK. You know that Plato theory about forms (that which I shall attempt to appropriate and bastardise in 3…2…1…)? How we have in our heads an idea of what a chair is? Well, now when I think ‘wheat beer’, I shall forever have Weihenstephaner’s one in my head. So freaking awesome.
In the meantime, I had to nurse my Bilboquet l’Archange (a hefeweizen) because I’d not tried any of the brewery’s beer at the SpecTAPular. It was quite a sweet example of a wheat beer. Needless to say, after drinking the One (Wheat Beer) to Rule Them All, drinking this was like being given Cadbury chocolate straight after the 85% cocoa content stuff.
The nibblies were as usual at an excellent standard, and Tristan (Ale Star member #50!) and I shared a bowl of mussels from the bar menu. It pains me to say that they were pretty disappointing. The bread was delicious, but the mussels did not smell nor taste fresh. Alas, no amount of tomato and chilli can mask that (though they did try…). I really should make the effort to get to the Local Taphouse early and just dine upstairs where the food is much, much nicer.