I’ve said it many times before, but it’s not like saying it again is going to cost me extra: the world, and particularly this part of it, needs more midstrength craft beer. So when I heard that Søren (him of the reliably-delightful 8 Wired beers) was making one, and was dropping the booze level even lower, I was intrigued.
George (him who bought the original Diary) and I wandered into Hashigo on our way to the wedding party for our friends Simon & Jessie. People were talking about it as a 2.2% version of the much-loved Hopwired (hence the awesomely punny name), but it was more reminiscent (to me) of the redderTall Poppy. I therefore felt I should try to come up with an equally-punny name, and gravitated towards “Short Poppy”, which seems to work. And it was pretty good; maybe one of those beers that I like more as an achievement than as a beer, but still a very worthy thing.
At 2.2%, you’ve gone past ‘midstrength’ and right down to officially ‘light’, so it’s no surprise that considerable fullness of body had to be sacrificed to get all the way there. Strangely, if anything, the weakest point of the drinking experience was the moment of actually sipping it, because of that thinness. Seconds after that’s over, and for a good few minutes from there, the hoppy flavours pleasantly amble around your skull and also manifest in some surprisingly nice burps. If you’re after a hop-focussed midstrength, I’d still suggest that Hallertau’s ‘Minimus’ takes the gong,1 but this is some seriously impressive brewing, all the same.
And then, when I got to the wedding party and went looking for a beer, I was faced with a fridge full of the usual supermarket-brand green bottles. But I was then told that Simon & Jessie had made a special trip to Regional and picked me up a flagon of the blessed Three Boys Golden. That struck me as a real sign that I was definitely becoming something of a Notorious Beer Nerd, and that I have some pretty neat friends — it was bloody lovely.
Verbatim: 8 Wired ‘Underwired’ Mini IPA 12/2/11 2.2% on tap @ HZ w/ George. More mid-strength! Although this is officially “light”, and if anywhere, that’s where the weaknesses come in; soda-water / disprin body. But what else could you have, way down there? Colour is very dark, as against expectation. Reddish hints. Hoppy flavour shines best in the aftertaste + the burps. It’s just a touch thin at the moment it’s sipped. So, Minimus still has it, but this is an impressive feat, and I love that there are more in the game, now. Still definitely beery, but less Hopwired to me than Tall Poppy — so… “Short Poppy”?
1: For a few Bonus Nerd Points, I’m having one right now, as I write this. Well, that, and because I like it — and simply because it’s there.
I am very fond of the Brewers’ Reserve series, and I am even more fond of golden ales, so when the former produces one of the latter… I have myself a little Beer Geek Moment.
We got two kegs of this at work, about a week apart. Uncharacteristically, when I first tried it, I was armed with neither camera nor Diary — so, you know, oh damn, you’ve twisted my arm, alright fine, damn you, I’ll have another. Marvellously, my second crack at it also coincided with the birthday of my dear friend Victoria. Not that she was around; she lives in Sydney. But I’ll take any excuse to raise a glass, and she provided two in being both officially-English (as is the style), and someone with whom I’ve had more than a few golden ales — she was there for that first Australia Day.
‘Tally Ho!’ was bloody marvellous, really. Quite a bit more full-throated and solid than something like the belovedThree Boys Golden, it made for a nice counterpoint and was still stupifyingly refreshing; just perfect after work on the humid nights we were having at the time. Really, the only thing wrong with it at all is its existence as a reminder that Emerson’s still haven’t put a golden ale back into proper permanent / semi-permanent / seasonal / at-least-predictable production. Sob, I say; genuine, heartfelt sob.
Verbatim: Emerson’s Brewers’ Reserve: Tally Ho! 10/2/11 on tap @ MH 4/9% I had one last week, too, but didn’t have Diary or camera; sheesh. So here we are again. Bigger & richer than your usual modern local golden ales. Very, very drinkable, but with a nice sort of solidity to it on the back end, too. Really makes you wonder why they don’t have one in the rotation.
Moderately ironic, granted, that the first post after the one trumpeting the new camera and beer-related photography in general has no photo at all, but let’s press on regardless.
Golden Bear (at the top of the bottom island) looks like a very visitable place — just to tie things to the previous post once more and to underscore my desire to make the trip, it has a slightly Creatures-esque vibe about it, what with the Big Shed and the bar-brewery flow going on — and their beers seem increasingly worthy; their ‘Bear Trappe’ was a real stand-out of last year, for me.
They evidently make a biggish pale ale called ‘Hop Toad’, and then bigged it up further (another percentage point) to turn it into ‘Fat Toad’. We blammed through a keg pretty quickly, which is usually a testament of Interestingness and Goodness. I tried it when it was first tapped, and it didn’t have a great smack of nose (as I said in the Diary, it was like someone beside you having a ‘Hopwired’), but the taste was lovely and the body was brilliantly smooth. Weirdly, the nose did improve later, so I’m not sure if some strange chemistry and physics was at play in the keg or the line, or if was just the occasional strange biology of my own nose and brain.
And it’s just occurred to me that this ‘Fat Toad’ and Matilda Bay’s ‘Fat Yak’ are only separated in the Diary by four beers. What a strange coincidence and nice reminder that beers to get themselves some weird names, sometimes.
Verbatim: Golden Bear ‘Fat Toad’ IPA 31/1/11 on tap @ MH 7% We didn’t manage to get the lovely Bear Trappe, but here’s a belated consolation, because it’s really rather good. An embiggened ‘Hop Toad’, it seems. Nice orangey gold with soft white bubbles, it doesn’t have a whole swag of nose — more like the guy beside you is having a Hopwired. But damn, the smoothness in the body is insane. Actually a bit reminiscent of Bear Trappe, so he’s got some clever trick. Flavour is nice, but not “huge”, though it does build nicely. Jim himself was here the other day, but I didn’t recognise him quickly enough to buy him a beer. Damn.
I love the idea of Variant Editions of beer. Though I only got to try the All Together Now culmination, I loved that Mikeller did ten single-hop pale ales in a run. And the Yeastie Boys themselves trod a similar path with their ‘Nerdherder’ and ‘Monster’ beers, both of which existed in two varyingly-hopped versions. It sounds like science,1 doesn’t it? Doesn’t it give you that extra geeky glow of enjoyment? Well, it does for me, at least.
The ‘Blondie’ golden ales see them in a similar mood, but this time with the differences between yeast varieties up for experimentation. A light, summery body of pale malt (with some wheat) is given a deft touch of local hops and then the ‘Europa’ variant has a German ale (kölsch?) yeast doing the fermentation, while ‘Rapture’ employs a Belgian abbey yeast. The latter will be on tap shortly at work, so should show up here in the not-too-distant. But here was ‘Europa’, on the handpull at the just-opened Hop Garden. Well, the not-really-opened Hop Garden, in fact; we were there on a bit of a sneak-preview “soft open”. I’ll do a proper entry on the bar itself soon, but suffice to say it was bloody lovely, looked absurdly promising — and has continued to be loveliness, and to build on that promisingness in my several visits, since.
I’m always a little freaked out by something this light on handpull, but that’s just me. Well, me, and probably also the fact that the smaller Wellington bars (the ones without the giant keg chillers in which to stack things, I mean) really should probably cool their handpulls down a few notches, especially for beers like these. But as much as I suspected I’d like the regular-tap version a bit better, this was pretty damn tasty and faultless and interesting. Which goes a hell of a long way. I did get to try the colder / bubblier version not too long after,2 and I was right to think I’d go for it more; the extra fruity snap made it just exactly what I was looking for.
Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘Europa’ 20/1/11 4.?% 380ml @ Hop Garden! Sneaky soft open night. Beer first. Is very promising. For the style, handpull is odd, but doubtless the Yeasties have tweaked it a bit away from style anyhow. It’s light + faultless + nicely flavoured. Caleb says they have it cold + bubbly @ Bar Ed! Will revisit this soon then. So: the bar. So neat. Great to have a Mt Vic local. Very, very promising here. Total work-in-progress vibe at the moment — but Hashigo had that on their sneak-peek night, too. I can see where they’re going, and it’s going to be awesome.
30/1/11 a second, cold & bubbly @ Bar Ed. How appropriate to ha[ve] the “other half” here. George is unenthused, expecting more oomph, which means I should’ve warned about style better. He thinks it’s a bit like a Disprin in Sunny D. And I can see where he’s coming from. But I like it. As I thought, I’m more fond of it like this, but it does bring out a real sneaky bitter tail a lot more. Definitely grew on me. Light, but snappy + fruity. Good for a lazy afternoon of talking beer. Which we’re doing.
1: And by “science”, I mean Science!, wherein you pronounce the italics and the capital ‘s’, and take the exclamation point as your cue to thrust your index finger into the air. Proper 1950s Doomsday-Machine-building, cackling-at-thunderstorms kinda stuff, you know? 2: Does this count as double-Science!, now? Does the fact I took notes help?
This must be the first bar-but-not-“beer-bar”-bar in the Diary for quite some time. Either I should get out more, or more places should stock more interesting beer. Or, you know, both.
I’d signed out of work early (ish, if I must relativise these things for you “normal” daytime people), and was trying my hardest to be the guy who drank the last of the wonderfully-odd Portamarillo. I nearly made it, honestly, but was convinced by my good friend Pieta that what I really needed was a night out and a bit of old-fashioned silliness. So Mighty Mighty beckoned, as it does.
People did look at me strangely when I set up to take this photo (the darkness necessitated my camera’s little tripod, which always increases the wtf-stares), but I’ve long since left behind the days when I’d feel weird about that. And the result was totally worth it, and not a bad effort after all that Portamarillo, if I do say so myself.
I’ve had ‘Brewski’ before, and I basically suspect it’s a “holiday beer” — something that people associate with enjoyable circumstances, which they then project into the thing itself. People do ask for it a lot, at work, and swear blind to its utter loveliness — but they do that about umpteen samey crisp little South East Asian lagers, and they do it for Fiji Bitter too, come to that. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; I’m a big advocate for keeping the ‘circumstantial’ side of beer enjoyment firmly in mind. I just think I’ll stick to having this stuff just when I’m actually in Wanaka. It was a bit too thin, and the one-note hop focus is oddly-chosen (they use Motueka hops alone in all of their three brews, apparently), so after finally Diarising this, I quickly switched to a Hop Rocker, to be honest.
That said, the brewery has reportedly been recently sold, so maybe we’ll see some more genuine interestingness and less mere-but-decent holidayishness soon.
Verbatim: Wanaka Beerworks ‘Brewski’ Pilsener 12/1/11 4.8% 330ml $8 @ Mighty Mighty. An early night, in which I attempted to personally kill the Portamarillo, lead here, at the literally-dragging by Pieta. She’s having a Castlepoint, I’m having this. And terrified the Indie kids by taking a photo. I had this way back in actual-Wanaka, so why not repeat & Diarise. Well, mostly because the band is painfully “ironic”. The beer is oddly-funked, and very pale. I suspect it’s a holiday beer, fondly remembered for circumstance.
Hearken to a saga of two beers. Two incarnations of one beer — a Draft and Final, or a Beta and a One Point Oh, perhaps — neither of which I particularly enjoyed, one of which I sufficiently non-enjoyed that it became my first Beer Diary beer in years to have its glass tipped out rather than emptied in the usual imbibey way.
Moa’s Pale Ale was a pretty highly-anticipated thing, and I was dead keen to try it. I have a strange relationship with the Moa beers, finding some of them unforgivably naff, which is tempered by some of them being wonderfully interesting — though I see all of them as nobbishly marketed and over-priced. Of this one, I’d heard good things, and so picked one up to enjoy on a sunny afternoon.
My first alarm bells rang at the… sludge layered on the bottom. Given the choice, I prefer my beers bottle-conditioned, ordinarily. But this was ridiculous1 — and was common among all the bottles at the store, and confirmed by the local rep. as nothing out of the ordinary, though he pretty-quickly assured me that they’d already seen it as a bad idea and planned to tone things down for the next batch.
After a difficult pour, the beer settled down enough to present itself with a lovely colour, which I took as a sign that things might be okay after all, but it wound up being the highest praise I could give, review-wise, to the people sitting with me. The nose was all but absent, which is a fairly unforgivable sin for what should be a gorgeously aromatic style — and the one over-riding detectable note was that weirdly-distinctive ‘Moa Funk’ which usually stops me enjoying their milder beers like the ‘Original’ and ‘Blanc’.
And after struggling past the marketing, the sludge, the pour, and the nose, I was ‘rewarded’ with a bog-standard pale ale, at best. Pale ales are the fashionable thing at the moment, so when you’re this late to the game, you had better bring something special, or at least something interesting. This is doubly-so when you’re from the same town, pitched at the same booze, and charging the same (for a smaller bottle) as 8 Wired’s absurdly-fantastic ‘Hopwired’ — nevermind the half-dozen other easily-named examples of the style which also blow this thing out of the water without charging you an arm or a leg, and without shrouding themselves in dickish brandwank. It was that sense of rip-off and disappointment that stuck with me most, through the glass — and it got enough that I just pushed the eject button and biffed the remainder off the side of the deck, unfinished.
I do know a lot of people who liked the beer, though, so I was hoping that my bottle was an errant failure — though its only distinctive feature was that centimeter of slurry, which was shared by all the others I’d seen, so I suspect I’m being oddly generous in that hope. I did resolve to try the promised reformulated version, though, and finally got a chance nearly two months later.
Calmed down a few percentage points in strength, and with the sediment in the bottled version toned down to typical / tolerable / non-insane levels, I was pleased to see that the lovely colour had been retained, and the ‘funk’ had vanished from aroma. Sadly, though, so had basically everything else; the beer had courageously leapt from being bad to being bland, which is a rather classic Frying Pan Versus Fire scenario. It seemed faultless, and was fairly tasty, but thereby also seemed completely pointless; merely an act of late-to-the-game Me Too Please. It was safe and cautious and inoffensive — and thereby tokened a sad return to form for the brewery, in my mind. After their brilliantly interesting and genuinely brave ‘Barrel Reserve’ series, this feels too much like a throwback to the days of their first three releases: I can just never shake the feeling that ‘Original’, ‘Blanc’ and ‘Noir’ were all designed to appeal (and to extract dollars from) people who want to buy themselves a bit of craft / boutique / obscure beer credibility, but who fundamentally don’t want to actually stray very far from their familiar green-bottle supermarket standbys. Unless you’re drawn to the brandwank like some sort of suit-wearing moth to their ‘super premium’ flame, you could get yourself any of a number of delicious pale ales at all levels of the flavour spectrum, and you’d keep a few extra dollars in your pocket — just as the same had always been true with their lager, wheat beer, and dark lager.
When the Moa beers are ‘on’, they are on. But when they’re naff, they are so tragically naff. And have the gall to levy you with a naffness premium while they’re at it.
Verbatim: Moa Pale Ale 8/1/11 @ Home $8ish? from Regional 7.2% 375ml. Chunkiest sediment ever. Bottle conditioning is one thing, shipping metric tonnes of sludge with your beer is another. I hope I got an errant bottle, because then it fountained, and I actually resorted to using a sieve. I do like the colour, but the aroma is barely anything other than that worrying Moa funk you get in the others. The flavour is okay, but merely okay. Nice pale ale, but you need more whizbang if you’re this late to the game, and implicitly trailing 8 Wired. It’s like almost all the hops went in way too early. Consensus is that it is simply fail. Good thing I carry that pen. We can see where they’re going, but they don’t make it. Unfinished.
Moa Pale Ale; Revised, Revisited 1/3/11 5.2% now, on tap @ MH. Halfway to their revised branding. I promised I’d retry this, so here I am, though they’ve modified it since batch #1, reducing strength, basically eliminating sludge. Weird that they’d change their mind so much so soon. I’m all for people copping to + correcting mistakes, but making one that huge is worrying in its own way. No nose, this time. Glad there’s no funk, but wish there was aroma. Very mild flavour, too. Makes me worry it’s a returned to First Three form; expensive, cleverly marketed and bland enough not to offend. Safe, cautious. There’s nothing wrong with it, at all, but the price would get you better beers at varying levels of punch. Pleasant peachy flavour arrives very late, with some bitterness.
1: In fact, it was enough to put me in mind of Orbitz, an ill-conceived soft-drink-with-globs-in from my high school days. A few of the people I was sitting with were young enough to have no idea what I was talking about; they were the lucky ones. And weirdly, a related series of posts and comics appeared on Penny Arcade around the same time. It seems that Pepsi have rediscovered the with-globs-in idea, which makes me shed a little tear for our lack of progress, as a civilisation.
And then, shortly after midnight and thereby officially into the New Year1 all previous concern about Plural Big Beers was out the window, caught by a snappy breeze, completely buggered the hell off and was gone — as you can see by this thing.2
Toby and I had been tempted to have one earlier in the day, but went for the Emerson’s ‘JP’ instead. So later, once my friends had made their way back to the pub, New Year’s well-wishes had been exchanged, and the ‘What next?’ question returned, there was only one real candidate.
‘Stuntman’ is the loopiest — so far — of Hallertau’s fleet of hoppy pale ales.3 The brewer himself described it as a “stupid beer for brave people”, which I always liked; my note for the Beer Menu at work warns that “hop levels border on insanity, and the high strength propels wave after wave of flavour directly into the brain”. Not to belabour the point, but this is a big beer. It’s so perilously near to being overblown and unfunny that you get the exhilaratingly uncomfortable thrill of standing way too close to a precipitous drop.
The colour is an appealing gold, with a slightly-murky cast that is probably inevitable given the massive pile of ingredients that’d be necessary for a brew of this bigness. The aromas are invitingly citrussy, fruity, floral and foresty — orchardy, in a word. The hoppy bitterness on the palate is significant, to say the least, but at this level of alcoholic strength you’ve got to have boatloads of malt in the mix, so there is a surprising amount of balance to be had here too.
Oh, and the label. That is the best damn beer label in the country, probably in the world. I’m open to being alerted to other worthy candidates, but this sets a high bar. I really must get the t-shirt; it turns out they have made some.
Verbatim: Hallertau ‘Stuntman’ IIPA 31/12/10 750ml ÷ 3 w/ Toby & Wendy. 9.5% We’ve been ey[e]ing this up all day. Best beer label in NZ; must emai[l] Steve & ask him to make tshirts. Amelia picks up the sweatiness from the JP, but in a very different way… Piney + citrussy, like some odd sort of a mixed orchard. But utterly awesome. So close to being overblown.
1: Being basically nocturnal, and having worked for evers in an industry where a ‘shift’ usually rolls past your mere midnight, I’m of the habit of continuing to use the date of the day I woke up, until I actually go to sleep. Some clever math is required when I’m awake past two whole consecutive midnights, but such occasions are rarer, these days. 2: And this wasn’t even the actually-next beer after the Rip Tide that it follows in the Diary; smack on midnight, I had myself an Epic / Thornbridge Stout. If memory serves. Which it may well not. (See? Take notes!) You can see from the scan that my handwriting certainly got rather wibbly, and a few ‘typos’ definitely crept in with letters going missing and such. 3: The hierarchy goes: ‘Minimus’ (sessionable at 3.8%), ‘Statesman’ (their every-day APA), ‘Maximus Humulus Lupulus’ (originally brewed for a mostly-friendly head-to-head against Epic’s ‘Armageddon’), and then this.
I’d managed to draw the early (3pm start) shift for New Year’s Eve, and the afternoon was nice and quiet for the most part, giving me time to whip around to the other side of the bar and join my friends for a beer. Toby and I couldn’t think of a better First Beer for the day than this, since it had the soon-to-be-dead year in its name, and him and I had shared an earlier vintage back in Melbourne.
The ‘JP’ beers are all different takes on a Belgian style of one sort of other, brewed in honour of J.P. Dufour, who apparently did much to introduce the joys of the beers from his homeland to the local brewing scene. 2010’s edition was a hoppy tripel or Beligianish IPA, depending on your point of view and usual preferences — and it does the hybrid thing very well, much like I remember Green Flash’s ‘Le Freak’ doing.
Wendy commented that it smelled “like a boy’s bedroom”, and I had to totally concede that point and quote her directly. The ‘funkiness’ you get from Belgian yeast was perhaps met by a certain ‘sweatiness’ that seemed to crop up in some of our hops this year. Which also leads to a nice reminder on the way you can describe a beer in very strange terms — and still like it a lot.
Verbatim: Emerson’s ‘JP’ 2010 31/12/10 and how apt to start the end of a year with a vintage-dated thing. 500ml ÷ 2 with Toby, who shouted. 8.6% Belgian IPA / hoppy tripel. I have to quote Wendy, who said it tastes like a boy’s bedroom. The mustiness is definitely [there], and there’s the heat from the booze. Does the hybrid thing very well. And there was that infamous ‘sweaty’ hop batch this year. Again, it’s odd how you can describe something so weirdly, and still like it very much. The JPs are always good, and interesting, which is half the battle. It’s still nice and civilised in here, but I’m sure that’ll change.
There some beers that you want to like, but you just can’t. Both of these were near-misses, for me, so I lessened their Diary-polluting effect by consolidating them into one entry.
Pinot and porter are usually a great match — Hallertau do a wonderfully-mad ‘Porter Noir’ with barrels home to the usually-wild Brett yeast, and the Dux de Lux did a very nice (more ‘normal’) take on the same a while back. I like Tuatara’s Porter, but maybe it wasn’t ‘heavy’ enough to survive its time in the barrels — it had thinned out a lot, to the point that I didn’t like it at all when we had it flat from the handpull. It was decent when we had it on the regular taps, the lower temperature and the bubbles helping to hold it together, maybe. But here, pouring through a hopinator full of cherries, there was just too much going on and the porter wasn’t big enough not to be overwhelmed. The three sets of flavour — porter, pinot, and cherry — were just all too mild. First thing in the morning, after stewing overnight, it was at its best — but it was just all cherry, then.
And then, after Croucher’s enjoyably-odd ‘October’ IPA, ‘Mrs. Claus’ was a real disappointment. They were going for a Christmassy spiced-up Scotch ale, and I do like my spicy beers and my Scotch ales — but something just went wrong here, for me. Maybe it was just too cinnamonny, or maybe it just wasn’t at all suited to the handpull we had it on — it is tasting better, now that we’ve gassed it up and cooled it down a bit. But I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that I already knew a lovely fruitcakey beer in Renaissance’s stupidly-lovely ‘Stonecutter’, and this just couldn’t compete.
(Weirdly, one of the guys from the Arrow Brewing Company was in the bar on the night I’m writing this up — 28 January 2011 — and so I was reminded that they made an out-and-out Christmas Cake beer too. They had it at Beervana 2010, and Halena and I loved it to bits — it being the only thing we could think to have to follow Dogfish Head’s surprisingly-awesome Punkin’ Ale. So yeah; the offerings from Renaissance and Arrow make ‘Mrs. Claus’ doubly redundant, sadly.)
Verbatim: Tuatara Porter (Barrel-aged and with cherries) & Croucher ‘Mrs. Claus’ 29/12/10 two near misses, on a very quiet day. George keeps harrassing me for ‘dislike’ entries, so here’s one. These are real let-downs. The porter was nice enough on the bubbly tap, un-cherried, but here’s just too much at once, for a beer that lost a lot of body in the barrel. That made it limp + horrid on handpull, and here it just makes it too weak to stand up to all this tart + sour fruit. ‘Mrs. Claus’ is a stab at a ‘Christmas Cake Ale’, and is a spcied 6% scotch ale. I like their beers, but this fails to follow Stonecutter’s goodness — cf Emerson’s Southern Clam & Three Boys Oyster — if you can’t stand up to something already existing, don’t bother. It’s very metallic, too — tastes like the handpull hasn’t been cleared, though it has. Unpleasant, like being stabbed with a cinnamon-edged rusty old knife.
Good old bloody-great-big Imperial Stout. Where would we be without you, then, huh? There are occasions where something as big and lovely and just-about-terrifying as this are just mandatory. Like here, catching up with a good friend and his family, in something of a now-weirdly-traditional Boxing Day Second Christmas.
And ‘Nokabollokov’ is just exactly what I want in one of these, too. It’s thick and gloopy, utterly dark, wonderfully flavourful — smoky, almost meaty in its bigness and richness — and kinda-vaguely-worryingly-easy to drink, given its strength. So it does pay to take it slow, or share — or both.
The scanner only slightly picked it up, but waving this thing around and pondering comparisons to such seemingly-bonkers referents as Oxo™ cubes lead to Diary II’s first spillstain. I thought that was pretty appropriate, for something this stainingly-dark and sneakishly-strong. I’ve been a lotfinnickier with Diary II, so far, but my usual obsessiveness was overwhelmed by the fair-enough-ness of the situation.
Verbatim: Twisted Hop ‘Nokabollokov’ Imperial Stout 26/10/10 @ the Lanes in Yorick Bay. 330ml 8.6% $9ish @ Regional. Toby poured it for me, and reported it being distinctly treacly, which is always a good sign. It’s utter blackness — together with the stark label, it’s stunning. The bubbles are almost scarily dark + crema-ish, but to start it’s worryingly easy to drink. The bitterness builds as it warms + you drink, though — but not to an unwelcome level. Smoked Oxo™ cube, maybe, with caramel, says Toby. Suitably, it’s my first Diary-spill, too.