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An Evening in the Shade of the Red Willow

I don’t often spend Saturday nights in but I am determined to save money presently. However the only way I could stop myself leaving the house was to give myself a treat to look forward to and a local shop provided that when they randomly started stocking a host of Red Willow Brewery beers. I’ve had a few of their beers on cask, especially a few Faithless’, and have enjoyed them so I treated myself to a variety and hoped for an enjoyable evening.

                I started with Directionless – a 4.2% “Pale Ale” (One of around four I believe they do.) “A curious beast” so says the bottle, and my first impressions certainly agree. It has more bubbles than fresh champagne at first and each one clings to the side of the glass. It’s also almost odourless. There’s a hint of mango, perhaps, but past that it just smells of, well, beer. And not a flavourful beer at that.             This only serves to make the taste a surprise and that is a good thing. This beer is fresh. Fresh and crisp. The citrus flavour in the hops is perfectly balanced with a bitter afterthought. There is nothing over-powering here. There is nothing in your face about it. Throughout the warmer months I would love for this to be a mainstay in my local. I could drink this from dawn til dusk and never tire of it. A terrifically drinkable ale.

                A beer that certainly isn’t odourless is the Heartless Chocolate Stout. The scent is pure coffee, like taking the lid off your coffee bean jar in the morning. It’s also dark. Impenetrably dark. This isn’t a stout that flashes ruby when the light catches it. This is as black as the strongest of black coffees.

                Earlier in the evening for dinner I made an affogato with 85% dark chocolate and, of course, fresh coffee. This was entirely coincidental, but this beer is that affogato in a glass. For those of you unfamiliar with the Italian dessert, the four main ingredients of an affogato are vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate, biscuits and coffee, and they are the four flavours I’m getting from this drink. Again, everything’s balanced. It’s tasty and not overwhelming. It’s a great reminder in these days of strong Imperial Stouts that you can still make Stouts of this quality that are under 5%.

In a completely different direction I then had the double IPA Ageless. From the moment I flick the lid off one thing is apparent - this beer smells like grapefruits. There's no getting away from it. It hits you like you’ve carved through the fresh fruit itself. It's also lively. The picture shows a beer that was poured with care and left for a few minutes before being snapped. That's a monstruous bit of foam, one I couldn’t resist dunking my finger into and licking the cream. Bang! Hops. Golden hops. I want this beer to settle quicker than it is. I NEED to drink this beer. It's worth the wait. This beer is goodIt’s as mega-hopped as we’ve expected from Double IPA’s recently but this is up there with the best. In fact, when I say it's up with the best, I'm struggling to think of better. Coronado’s Idiot IPA or Dogfish Head’s 90 minutes are probably my favourites… but this might be on par. Let me tell you now, Ageless is a great hop bomb experience. Go and find it and drink it. Now.

Saving my favourite until last, I finished with Smokeless. In case you didn’t know (and you probably didn't) I'm a big smoked beer fan. Schlenkerla Rauchbier would be among my favourite three beers of all time. But I'm always happy to see smoked beers around which is why I saved Smokeless until the end.

                Smokeless pours black with a slight head and certainly looks like a Rauchbier when in the glass. It also has that Rauchbier scent. Smoked porter's often have a sickly, vinegary smell to them that it's hard to get over. This is why the Germans have always done smoked beer better than the English. But that discerning scent is not prevalent here.            Red Willow have not let me down all evening, but I had my reservations about Smokeless due to my high expectations. But I'm not disappointed tonight. It's smoky, but not in a way that is unapproachable to non-fans of this type. The end is quite sweet and malty. It retains its porter identity, rather than being masked by the chipotle taste. I've heard people who are not fans of smoked beers say that drinking them is like licking the charcoal remains of a barbeque. If that is their opinion then this is like licking the sticky barbeque sauce off tender spare ribs. It is close-your-eyes-and-savour-it tastiness.

                If all Saturday nights in could be this enjoyable I might have more. I was honestly so impressed I may be quickly finding a new favourite brewery. The only disappointment was that, as a collector of beer labels, I didn’t have a hope of prising any of these beautiful stickers away from their glass bottles. Oh well – guess I’ll have to buy the beers again and try once more…


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