Friday, 31 October 2014

West Indies Porter



I’ve been knocked back from writing this review a few times. Between flare-ups of my dust allergy, spilling a bunch of aftershave on myself and then feeling a bit gross post-flu jab my palate has been all to hell. Then I had a few technical hangups that I’ll go into later.

In hindsight I probably should have just said I hurt my hands cage fighting.

My head-holes all feel much better now and it’s time for the big one. Guinness West Indies Porter. The one I left ‘til last. A porter that comes in at 6%abv and promises a hoppy taste, brewed to a 200-plus year old recipe for an export-strength beer. The other week Guinness Dublin Porter put in a good performance. Now the Windies have the chance to dazzle.

Above the porterish notes of smoke and dark sweetness rides a hiss and crackle of grapefruit and lemon notes, before the bottle pours thick, dark and oily for a bubbly beige head and a rising aroma of chocolate smeared with fruit juice, jarring slightly but in an engaging way, not in a jumper-baked-into-a-cake way.

The first mouthful is sharp and dry, raw and ashen with the hops not showing themselves as strong as in the nose. On further slurps the brighter notes begin to chime out, complimenting the bitterness. The texture is a little thin, not feeling the beer’s greater-than-average alcohol content at all, and the carbonation is dialled high. There’s a feeling of Not Quite Right when one drinks a fizzy porter.

As the glass begins to empty the senses decide what to make of Guinness West Indies Porter, and it shows itself as a cheery-tasting porter, with puppyish exuberance that isn’t annoying but is a little insistent. The dirty caramel taste and the burn of the alcohol suit each other well and the fluid in the glass is, naturally, Guinness ultrablack all the way to the end, turning the glass into a selfie mirror whether you want it to or not and making it really irritating to photograph. Ahem.

Taking deep huffs from the glass before knocking back the last of the drink there’s a hint of apple core in the smoky musk that fills the space where beer used to be just a few minutes previously, and this beer appears to finally achieve acceptable porterish thickness with the last couple of mouthfuls, as if it saved the best for last, or held fire until it saw the whites of the drinker’s eyes.

The aftertaste is of warmth and dessication, a caramel coating around the mouth that demands to be washed away. The burn of the alcohol is satisfying and skull-warming, a promise of a solid winter beer, and the memory of the over-exuberant carbonation quickly fades like bubbles on a hardwood floor, at least until the second bottle is opened.

The question remains of whether or not these new Guinness flavours will withstand the tests of time and Guinness-fan one-track-mindery, whether they’ll seduce hardened devotees of a Pint of the Black Stuff to sample a different black thing, and whether they’ll bring in interest from other ends of the beer buying demographic. These are questions for smarter people than I, who have a better grip on the way markets work, and probably own lab coats.

This reporter likes the new Guinness beers, both as drinks and as evidence that even the biggest brewing monoliths can show a slightly more whimsical side.

And speaking of whimsy, this little guy kept the review on the starting blocks for a while as my special lady Emma worked on him. Meet Bucky the pugalope, my heavy-drinking thing-that-should-not-be mascot, a conflation of mine and Emma’s favourite animals into an adorable cryptid who is going to feature in my reviews from now on, just to add a bit extra colour and whimsy. I’m looking forward to seeing his dumb face reacting to beers, and working with my talented illustrator girlfriend on our first real joint Media Power Couple activity.

I hope you like him too.

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