While Durham Brewery isn’t a religious outfit like Europe’s great monastic brewing concerns the pious influence of the Land of the Prince Bishops has clearly fallen upon their branding. This makes it all the more apt that of late the brewery has shown a dark side, rolling out new takes on its Temptation Russian Stout called Hellfire and Diabolus, clanking off a dark Satanic bottling plant with labels bearing heavy Gothic lettering and illustrations worthy of a Mephedrone nightmare because, in the words of a great philosopher:
“Without Evil there could be no Good, so it must be Good to be Evil sometimes”
- Satan, "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" (1999)
Diabolus is Temptation, soured and corrupted with Gueuze yeast, and the label promises brutality, depredation and unholy brigandage wrought on the senses.
On opening the svelte 330ml bottle (Temptation is still bottled in a party-friendly/party-wrecking [delete as appropriate] 500ml) there is chocolate on the nose, like its unsullied counterpart, but there’s an overbearing smell of decay, of sourness, of dank and mossy rooms lain undisturbed for decades. The temptation to greedily inhale like Steve Martin’s debased dentist in Little Shop of Horrors is unstoppable and, hand clamped firmly between bottle neck and nose, your correspondent lost all his composure. There are hints of nuts, almonds and even peanut butter in there along with the rich odour of gorgeous decay.
Diabolus glugs out slowly into the glass a black mirror, topped with a half centimetre of foam just a few shades off-white. At this point the rotting fruit sourness rises from the slowly dying tiny bubbles of the beer’s surface and bursts against the drinker’s face, a twisting and mutating dankness with a cidery edge to it from the Gueuze yeast.
At first drink the puckering bitterness yanks the roof of the mouth into a sugar-bombed helix, and there it remains for the rest of the bottle’s life. Black and green grapes, sick and swollen, pop like engorged leeches on the tastebuds. The sourness of a Belgian lambic beer meets the meatiness of a rich stout. Trapping a mouthful for interrogation sees the two blend into rich, sour flesh from a thousand-legged animal only farmed in the underworld. The 10% abv heat fills the skull quickly.
As the mouthfuls pile on top of each other the sourness rises to such a level that it feels to this reporter like his face is fighting itself, and after a while the chocolate, the nuts, the hint of coffee (most of Temptation’s coffee notes have been obliterated in the souring process) all step in line between the tase of wonderful, sour, sweet rotting green. A vineyard and orangery gone to decay as its owner stepped through a portal to Hell and embraced damnation with a bottle of finest red in one hand and a sacrificial bunch of blood oranges in the other.
Sour fruit beyond decay batters the senses as the Sour Imp struggles against its damnation to the pits of Stomach Hell, and in the last couple of mouthfuls the Lambic taste from the Gueuze yeast that possessed this all-too-willing host comes to the fore, with a Sherry-like smack followed by dryness and crisp, pin-sharp sourness that fights against its oral exorcism with bed-levitating intensity.
And then, peace. Damien Karras has flown from the window to the unyielding pavement. Cotton Marcus has lost his agnosticism and met his end. John Constantine has done whatever he does at the end of his particular movie, and the glass is empty.
The Sour Imp has done its work and slinks back into the shadows. According to ancient texts (the Durham Brewery website, checked today) this beer is no longer available as they are waiting for a new batch to age. However, I bought this one a few weeks ago from Copper’s Eight til Eight in Gosforth (who don’t pay me or give me free stuff to mention their name so simmer down there, Witchfinder General) and the staff there told me this was a batch that had aged for a couple of years (Durham Brewery have since clarified to me that this was indeed a bottle from the first batch of Diabolus, brewed in December 2012). While currently unavailable from the brewery anyone wishing to tackle this Imp would be well advised to contact their local bottle shops, or wait until around April of this year, when the brewery have told me the next batch, aging since 2014, will hopefully be unleashed on the public.
The power of Christ compels you.