Ireland · Northern Ireland

Tis the Season

Picture the scene. Evening time in your living room, curtains drawn, Christmas tree lights on and there’s a gorgeous log fire roaring away in front of you. All that’s needed now to complete that festive circle is a bangin’ imperial stout. The good news for you is that’s there are quite a few out there right now waiting for your purchase and here are just a few that I’ve had recently.

Beginning the cosy, fireside encounter is a 330ml can of a Hinch Distillery whiskey stout from Whitewater in Castlewellan. Don’t all good stories begin with a barrel aged stout? My best ones usually do. There doesn’t seem to be a name for it apart from simply Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout on the can. Simple is good. What isn’t simple is the content of the can.

The 9% ABV booziness builds like me trying to erect a pyramid of cards, ie, slowly, and all the while there’s a creamy, smooth stout that I’m guessing has been aged in an ex-bourbon cask. Liquid chocolate juicy raisins with a mere dash of spicy orange rind – in a glass. It’s great to see a brewery the size of Whitewater dabbling once again in smaller batch beer and venturing outside their usual sphere as they’ve done here. And at only £2.50 for a can of whiskey stout, let’s hope they experiment more.

The guys at Lacada brewery in Portrush are no strangers to experimentation and their latest offering is Jonesy’s Locker, a term sea-faring people refer to as the resting place for those who’ve met their doom in the abyss deep below. Heavy stuff.

What’s also heavy is this 13% ABV stout, aged for over a year in an Irish whiskey barrel. Before lips touch glass there’s a wee red wine aroma wafting around but on your first sip you get a thick and sticky stout. Sweet and sticky. A really enjoyable blueberry sweetness and prune stickiness. Lacada has never brewed a bad bangin’ stout in my opinion – Anarres and Elatha existed in previous years and with Jonesy’s Locker being the highest ABV beer the brewery has done to date, this deserves to be enjoyed slowly in front of that fire. Have you even lit the fire yet?

While you’re getting that fire sorted, I’ll tell you about a double digit stout from Dublin’s Whiplash. The Horror is labelled as a smoked imperial stout so they’d already got this fan of smoked stouts onside – let’s hope the dreaded VAR review doesn’t appear any time soon. The Horror used to be 9% ABV back in the grim Covid days of early 2021 but the gang has seen fit to now elevate it to 11%. Damned right I say.

There’s a whiff of smoke when it’s being poured and into the glass it’s dark and inviting. Dark chocolate is what I get first on tasting, and a second later that smoke tickles the back of your throat. Don’t forget the molasses, never forget the molasses! They’re present of course, helping to create a deliciously smooth imperial stout that’s unctious, smoky, deep and gone far too quickly.

Hopefully by this stage the fire’s lit and you’re in the mood for one of the three big stouts here. There are plenty more of this style available so go get ’em. Tis the season after all.

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