Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, has always had a special place in my heart. It’s only half an hour from where I grew up and their flagship Black Sheep Ale is always solid enough on cask – many happy afternoons have been spent in the North East knocking back a few pints of it with family or friends.
So, in a tasting session last night someone pulled out a whopper. Black Sheep’s new fancy-pants 75cl swing-topped (nicely boxed) bottle of Progress – a 10% ABV strong ale celebrating 20 years of Black Sheep’s brewing. It’s single-hopped using the English ‘Progress’ variant (clever, eh?) and has recently found its way onto the shelves of a few Irish offies.
Progress pours a hazy, murky, deep gold colour with not much head at all – looks pretty thick and oily. The aroma is, well, interesting. Marzipan and booze are right in your face – loads and loads of marzipan – like a glassfull of a really weird cake. Between wafts of sickly marzipan there’s also some slightly more attractive apricot, tangerine and orange blossom stuff going on…but to be fair, that only makes it sweeter. The taste gives (yes, you guessed it) more bloody marzipan. It’s so cloying and sweet. Sugary tangerines and apricots come in to the equation, as does a bit of slightly-earthy spiciness. Again, a shedload of rough booze is apparent. You can really tell this is 10% ABV. Lingering orange and the M-word in the aftertaste. The tasting group remarked that this reminded them of one of those shots of local liqueur you get given as a freebie after a meal in slightly ropey Mediterranean restaurants. Take from that what you will.
So, Progress has taught me that I categorically hate marzipan. It has also taught me that paying upwards of twenty quid for bottled marzipan juice does not represent good value. No matter how fancy the box is.
P.S. Dear Reader, if you love marzipan more than anything in the world, I insist you go and buy as many of these as you can carry. You’ll have a field day.