It seemed timely that as I was about to open a bottle of Hardknott Ӕther Blӕc I was reading a post by Dave about the labeling of the newly branded beer and how the best before date is an ‘irrelevant and contradictory semantic’ for beers like this, which are perfect candidates for cellaring.
My bottle, number 68 out of 456, had the old label on, a rather less dramatic design compared to the new one, which I think looks great. The beer is a stout aged in 30 year Caol Ila whisky casks, 8% ABV, according to the new label (the old says 6.7% - to dispel the rumours of grogging, Dave wrote this post). In the glass it has a fantastic chocolate aroma with waves of sweetly phenolic oak and Islay beneath, subtle but still self-imposing, the kind of intriguing deftness which makes you stick your nose so far into the glass to smell it that it comes out with beer on the end. I jabbed a still-swirling glass under Lauren’s nose (as I always do) and she got it too: “Smoke, like that BrewDog one.” The beer is silky smooth, chocolatey and roasty before the barrel creeps in, delicate but still unmissable, adding a perfect depth without tasting like a pint of stout with a shot of whisky crudely added. In some barrel-aged beers the barrel bit of it is just overpowering but not here, and instead it adds so much to the overall enjoyment. Phenolic but not TCP; a dry, almost-savoury quality which I love in beers like this; hints of berry sweetness to tease the playful wisps of smoke; a bitterness which develops throughout, spiking the end with something new; every mouthful enjoyable and interesting.
I didn’t know what to expect from this beer but I was hugely impressed. Pete Brown tweeted that it’s ‘either beginner’s luck, or one of the best wood-aged beers yet.’ Whichever it is, I want some more bottles, and maybe that way I can put the semantics of ‘best before’ and ‘best after’ to the test.