Golden age for dark beer

THE regular reader of this column may have noticed that over the past 12 months or so Hugh The Neighbour and I have become increasingly fond of stout.

It could well be the case that Australia has always had a plethora of wonderful stouts and that we had just never got around to trying them.

Alternatively, it is possible that the craft brewing explosion has led to more brewers expanding their repertoires and the resulting dark beers have lifted in character and drinkability. Either way, this is a golden age for the dark beer lover.

Recently HTN and I had the good fortune to try a bottle of the granddaddy of them all - a special Dublin-brewed Guinness on limited release, brewed to celebrate St Patrick's Day and the construction of the Old Vat House in 1798. (It is not for me to comment on the fact that this is a 218th anniversary, which would seem to many to be a particularly Irish way of marking a milestone. However, I do have several Irish colleagues and frankly, it is not that surprising).

Both HTN and I have had the good fortune to sample Guinness in Dublin over the years, and, to be totally honest, whether it be on tap, in a bottle, or in the can with the fancy nitrogen widget, the locally manufactured stuff has never really lived up to expectations.

It is true the widget experience did offer the familiar Guinness ritual of pour, settle, top up, drink - but it always seemed a little bitter on the palate.

Which brings me back to the 1798 Double Extra Stout. The drink itself is a revelation.

A delightful creaminess and hoppiness combined with chocolate, vanilla and an almost woody undertone make this a very special drink indeed.

This may well be because there are oak chips from the original vat house used in its manufacture.

After we had savoured the contents of the champagne-style bottle, complete with wire cage, we then opened a 750ml bottle of Guinness to fully appreciate the difference. While saying that it is not exactly chalk and cheese, the superiority of the 1798 was unmistakable, although having the 1798 first did make the garden variety stuff taste better than I remembered.

There are only 2400 bottles available in Australia, exclusively through Dan Murphy's, and at $50 a bottle it is certainly a treat for a special day. Grab one if you can.

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