As I turn the dark bottle of the Isle of Wight-based Garlic Farm's Garlic Beer over in my hands, reading the label's promises of complexity and artisanal brewing, the invocation of the word "craft[ing]", the fact it lists the hops used (Goldings and First Gold, nerds) and the instruction for beer lovers to "rejoice" I really don't want to blast this beer. It looks like a product made with care by people who believed in it, not something barfed out by a careless beer-o-mat in The Land That Flavour Forgot.
Then again, garlic beer sounds like something a lifelong non-drinker would pitch in a panic when asked by a brewer to suggest a creative direction.
Take it like it's medicine, O'Toole.
The bottle cracks open, and this reporter's expectation of being violently floored by a shotgun blast of garlic oil stench is dashed. At first there is no smell of garlic at all, just muted hops. Vague flowers and a little woodsy earth. A five minute rest in a green but mundane valley, as opposed to a berserking rage through a moon-forest filled with exploding citrus lizards.
A smoky scent appears above and through the genteel hops. Is this the black garlic with which the beer is made? Further sniffs and snorts suggest that yes, it is, and so the first contact with this beer's garlic aspect is a bit of a drawn out anticlimax.
The pour is pale amber, fizzier than expected, and the glass fills out and darkens to a pleasingly dirty caramel shade, with a disconcerting lack of a head.
Again the garlic scent is present, a little stronger this time, but with the hops freed from the constraints of the bottle the floral end of the flavour has also toughened up and the garlic, which I thought would be powerfully easy to pick out, is still elusive.
The first taste is a bayonet-charge of carbonation, a linebreaking assault that slaps the tongue and tastes exactly of fizz and liquid. The second and third are no different. Garlic is absent.
A fourth mouthful brings the flavour of an uncomplicated 4.1% abv amber ale, as the fizz recedes. It also brings the strange feeling of an alien coating forming on the inside of the mouth, the roof, walls and floor feeling oily as the garlic finally reveals itself as an aftertaste, a lingering greasy black ghost that haunts the tissues of the mouth. In terms of intensity it's nowhere near the madness of a pissed-at-midnight-cheesy-chips-and-garlic-sauce binge. It's present and correct, and it builds as time passes between mouthfuls.
So it continues until the beer is gone, the inside of the mouth tasting more garlicky than the liquid in the glass. An aftertaste lingers of greasy, smoky garlic, not even powerful enough (this reporter imagines) to make the breath smell any more of garlic than it does of beer.
Then, as the mouth begins to dry out, the taste intensifies. The garlic ghost returns for one last scare, finally showing its full form, its true nature. The beer tastes of garlic, but only after all the beer is gone.
It's not a bad beer. Yates' Brewery (the Isle of Wight one as opposed to the identically-named Cumbrian operation) hasn't made an abomination. It's headless and thin but other than that pretty much workmanlike. It's an odd and ill-aimed beer but it's not an insult to the tastebuds, not a joke or a spit at the face of the buyer.
Over a session the taste might build, and if anyone was to come back at me with the claim that slamming five or six bottles of this makes everything go clove to the max then I'd take that very much into consideration. At the very least the Garlic Farm have proven that you can make beer with garlic in it that isn't deplorable, thereby adding another entry to the book of things that can go into a beer without irrevocably ruining it.