Back to Black

Antipodean Cork-based brewers, Eight Degrees, have been raising their (already pretty good) game recently. Their duo of IPAs, Cyclone and Hurricane, were met with intense delight by Irish beerheads upon their release at the end of the summer (they were both bloody good) and their core range remains solid.

This Christmas, Eight Degrees have shunned their usual spiced brew, A Winter’s Ale, and gone for something a bit more exciting. Three more somethings, in fact. What we’ve got now is a Winter Series of beers, called Back to Black, celebrating dark malts in three contrasting ways. There’s a Russian Imperial Stout of 9% ABV to be released in a week or so (yes, an RIS brewed in Ireland, not shitting you), but for the time being, we’ve got two impressive and pitch-black little numbers to keep us occupied…

Aztec Stout 

Aztec Stout

This 5.5% ABV stout has got plenty of gear added to it: Dark Chocolate? Check. Chipotle Chilis? Check. Vanilla? Check. Cocaine? Che- ah, just messing, lads.

It pours motor oil black, with zero head to speak of. Does actually look like motor oil. There’s a fairly muted aroma of dark chocolate and light vanilla whisping around: appealing, but reserved.

The taste is where it’s at though: it’s wonderfully deep and multilayered. There’s really beautiful creamy dark chocolate, almost-milky vanilla pod, lightly roasted coffee, fairly sweet coffee cake. And then the chilli comes in. Wow. Great little spicy zing to it, pretty smokey and a little herbal too. Gives such an excellent balance to the dark chocolate character. This chilli smokiness increases with each sip, lingering on the lips, tingling away. Spice, pepper, warming roasted malt and dark chocolate last for a fair while into the aftertaste. Man, this is really well put together. Great depth, well balanced, and not overly chilli-fied like these creations often can be. This particular bottle was a little flat, but let’s not split hairs: this is a lovely (and very Christmassy) bit of brewing.

Zeus Black IPA

Zeus Black IPA

Next up, we’ve got Ireland’s joint-first Black IPA (props to Blacks of Kinsale for theirs) at a very respectably beefy ABV: 7%. This little fella makes judicious use of one of the hops du jour: Australia’s Ella. And yes, you’re right, ‘hops du jour’ does sound really wankery when you read it back.

Zeus pours a pitch black colour with a big fluffy tan-brown head. The aroma gives plenty of sweet, dank papaya and tangerine, pine needles, grapefruit and a decent bit of peppery spice. There’s some burnt coffee hanging around too – like when you haven’t cleaned the espresso machine for a while. The taste is pretty hefty: lots of tropical fruit, burnt coffee, some tobacco, thick pine, big grapefruit, and thick roasted maltiness. It’s medium bodied with a good amount of carbonation lifting all that great hoppiness above the dark roasty malt stuff. There’s some really rough bitter fruits in the finish as well as some heavy smokey roasted malt bitterness. There’s a massive bite to it. Pretty uncompromising (it won’t suit those of you with a delicate palate), but it’s right up my street and very decent stuff.

Two more total successes from Mitchelstown’s finest. These guys are really reaching top gear at the moment, and it’s a pleasure to see. And even better to drink. These two brews are available in good offies for around the three quid mark for a 33cl bottle, and will be on tap (in very limited quantity) at the usual suspect good-beer bars around the country. Grab them while you can and get yourselves excited for the big-gun Imperial Stout to be unleashed very soon…


About beermack

Tech is the day job, but beer's the first love. Clean and hoppy wins the race. Great to have lived in Dublin through the Irish decent beer revolution, now back in the UK plying my trade in the Big Smoke.
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