Aargh, terminology. One of the downsides of reading Martyn’s blog is that you lose any confidence in your ability to say what beer terminology means, let alone what it’s meant in the past; it was when I saw a reference to “mild bitter ale” that I mentally threw in the towel. (Mild ale was so called to distinguish it from old ale – and bitter ale was a different drink entirely from bitter beer. There, all clear now.) If I had to swear on a copy of Amber, Gold and Black I think I’d say that what we now call stout is historically an offshoot of porter, which is or was a beer rather than an ale. So what I drank last night was actually a very good beer, not a good ale at all.
But what a beer it was. I’ve had some excellent strong stouts in my time – I’ve still got fond memories of the original Marble Decadence – but Fuller’s Past Masters Double Stout eclipses the lot of them. I don’t generally write tasting notes – particularly not when I’m having a quiet drink at home – but last night I found myself compelled to make at least a mental note of what was going on. It went something like this:
Damson stout! Coffee porter! Quadruple old ale! All at once!
There was dark chocolate in there somewhere, too. And tobacco – I swear there was a tobacco aftertaste.
The previous Past Masters beer, XX Strong Ale, should have been made for me; two of my great beer epiphanies involved Buckley’s bitter (which was dark and big on malt) and Chimay Red. I’m quite partial to Fuller’s 1845, too, and XX can be seen as its big brother (or distant great-uncle). But for whatever reason XX and I didn’t really hit it off, so I was chary of paying the high-ish price for the Double Stout.
I’m glad I did, though. As those tasting notes suggest, it does something similar to what a really good dubbel or old ale does, in the sense of offering flavours that have an immediate richness but then continue to develop. What it also does is to play very effectively in the hop flavour register, bringing out bitter notes that shade those rich old ale flavours in some fascinating ways. It really is like drinking a damson stout and a coffee porter, but both at once and without the benefit of additives.
This is one mighty beer. (It’s also rather strong – 7.5% – and personally I’d have preferred a 330 ml bottle to the standard 500 ml size. At least it wasn’t 750.) Anyone with any interest in historical beers will have bought one already; now it’s time for the rest of us. Anyone who likes darker beers – anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Guinness Foreign, a Chimay Blue or a Young’s Winter Warmer – buy this beer at the first opportunity. You really won’t regret it.
PS This is an unsolicited testimonial; I paid for the beer with my own money and everything. I’m open to offers of free beer and will review it, but cannot promise that the resulting review will be anything like as positive as the above. In fact, I can more or less promise that it won’t be – beers like this one don’t come along very often. But if you want to ply me with booze in the hope of turning my head, I won’t stop you.
PPS The implicit invitation in the last sentence applies to brewers only.