Rugby season has started again. Exciting! That means that it’s time for me to have childish temper tantrums, swear at the TV and weep in submission as my beloved Sharks conspire yet again to concede 20 handling errors every match away from King’s Park.
Our opening two matches of the season provided losses against the Bulls and Stormers so utterly pathetic that I spent the rest of those evenings muttering expletives under my breath about Anton Bresler and his magnificently dodgy mullet. In the build-up to last Saturday’s game against the Lions, however, I wondered if there might be a beer suitable to quenching the unavoidable dispair of watching Dale Chadwick go off of his feet at the ruck three times in ten minutes. The fact that I might also be able to recommend an alternative to Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day made this challenge even sweeter.
So, during my visit to CQ Tops last Friday night, I picked up a couple beers with suitably Natalian/Guinness-esque colour palettes, as well as a quart of Castle Milk Stout, in order to test their soothing potentials.
First up was a beer I’d never tried before: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Apart from a tantalizing name, the joyous purple and gold of its label possesses an allure as yet unattained by many South African beers.
The Young’s label is part of Wells and Young’s Brewing Company, a wonderfully intricate independent brewery from Bedfordshire in England. The result of a number of mergers, buy-outs and other wranglings, Wells and Young’s is the UK’s largest independent brewery. It matches modern brewing efficiency with traditionalist excellence, brewing dependable, high-quality beers that are sold widely.
Although the Bombardier and McEwan’s brands (bought from Heineken last year) are perhaps the company’s most widely-known beers, its large portfolio of cask ales is the subject of most beer drinkers’ plaudits. The Double Chocolate Stout is one of Wells and Young’s most celebrated beers, being rated in the 98th percentile of all beers on Ratebeer.com. This sort of reputation is probably why it has been imported into South Africa in the first place, but although Ratebeer is an excellent barometer of beer quality, some bottled beers don’t make the trip down from the UK very well.
Happily, this bottle of Double Chocolate Stout was virginal in its freshness. Milk chocolatey on the nose, it follows with burnt roast, burnt coffee and cacao on the palate. It feels luxurious on the mouth, and gives one a remarkable feeling of satisfaction. Deep and rich, but not overcomplicated.
It looks a treat too, pouring inky black with a tan lingerie-like lacing: a brilliant beer, but perhaps too sexy for rugby. By far the best of all the Young’s beers I’ve tried to date, I yearn to have this on tap.
Following the Double Chocolate Stout would be an unenviable task for any beer, but Darling’s Black Mist stood up to it very well, mostly likely due to a rare ability to deliver richness and bite while retaining lightness on mouth and gut.
I’ve repeated sung Black Mist’s praises before. Pouring a dark ruby-brown, it’s hoppy, bittersweet and lightly unctuous with light notes of aniseed, caramel and roast. The only ale out of the trio, it’s more conducive to daytime drinking due to its soft carbonation, lighter mouthfeel and its slightly lower alcoholic content at 5% a.b.v. (It’s also lighter than one of my favourite sunny day drinks, the Darling Bone Crusher.) It’s not a particularly complicated beer – following Darling’s tendency to create above-average beers that can still appeal to the conservative drinker – but that increases its value as a steady-sipping beer for sports.
As the game reached its latter stages, my housemates and I broke out the quarts of Castle Milk Stout, an inexpensive staple for most South African beer lovers. At 6% a.b.v., it’s the strongest beer of the trio, as well as the beer with the heaviest roast backbone. It’s definitely a beer suited for later in the evening: full on the mouth with silky carbonation, it noticeably sits on the stomach. Its profile of heavy-roasted malt, coffee and lactose-y milk chocolate can round off a sweet victory, or take the edges off another defeat.
Happily, on this occasion, the stout made a decent victory more sweet. All three black beers bring something different to the table: Black Mist, quirky and easy-drinking; Double Chocolate Stout, sweet and indulgent; Milk Stout, dependable and satisfying. Depending on the time of the game and your budget, choose accordingly.
This evening the Sharks take on Queensland in Durban. It also being St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve now got twice as many reasons to stock up again – win or lose.