Welp, winter is well and truly upon us, which means single digit degrees, layers upon layers of clothing, and saying goodbye to the sun in the early afternoon. Can be a bit drab, no? If there’s any redeeming quality about this time of year, it’s that it is STOUT SEASON! Wrap your hands around a dark and punchy sipper and let it warm you from within. I’ve had three magnificently indulgent brews in the past week that perfectly suit the winter weather we’re experiencing, leading to an all Imperial, all dark beer Raycommendation special. Happy stout season to all, ring it in with this trifecta of boozy belters!
One of my standout beer experiences from 2023, was an Easter weekend solo pilgrimage to Manchester, my first visit there since getting into craft beer. I collected recommendations from friends and coworkers, and ended up with nearly 15 pubs, taprooms, and bottleshops to tick off in the 30-odd hours I was there. Many to choose from, but the highlight of the trip were the couple beers I enjoyed at Track’s incredible taproom, which I’ve gone on to mention as the finest taproom in the country (that I’ve been to, of course, but it is a seriously special setup). A barrel-aged coconut Imperial Stout called ‘Language Barrier’ blew my mind on the day, easily my beer of the weekend, and one of my stouts of the year, so I was buzzing to see the pre-barrel, normal version arrive at Ghost Whale last week.
A friend of mine came in for a mini session earlier this week, and after two or three “Ah, I really should go, but let’s do one more”’s, he asked that we end on something grand. I hadn’t realised prior that ‘Language Barrier’ is a collaboration with New Jersey-based brewery Magnify, who specialise in decadent sours and stouts, and whose influence is clear here. Coconut flakes, vanilla, coffee, cacao nibs, and lactose were added at various points of the brewing process, resulting in a rich, sweet, and thick final product. Coconut dominates the palate, alongside smooth milk chocolate and vanilla sweetness, that is dessert-like but not unbalanced. Truly delicious.
SIREN x J WAKEFIELD – DARK & PERILOUS NIGHTS
I’ve discussed in previous editions of Raycommendations that I am an unabashed Arsenal fan, and getting tickets to see them play live for the first time in over a year called for marking the occasion with some mighty pre-match brews. Seeing this beauty, which only released a day prior, pouring on draft a stone’s throw away from the stadium, made it a must. Did I plan on having a 12+%er before the game? Nope. But I wasn’t going to leave without sampling this wicked collaboration.
I couldn’t agree more with someone on UnTappd, who mentioned that they aren’t convinced that the Bourbon barrels this was aged in weren’t completely emptied before the ageing process began, as bourbon flavour is present in abundance, adding an oak-y, warming character. The malt profile that follows is fantastically complex, with notes of chocolate, caramelised brown sugar, and dried fruit harmonising exquisitely. Standing in the cold for two hours during the match left me craving more of this, but thankfully it’s in the 👻🐳 fridges right? This, paired with a 2-1 Arsenal win, made for a glorious Saturday afternoon.
WHITE DOG – ILLUSION OF SAFETY
Growing up in Los Angeles, many birthdays, graduations, and other monumental experiences were celebrated at our local Cheesecake Factory, a chain restaurant with a menu as long as a novel, the best pre-meal bread in existence, and, of course, cracking cheesecake. My preference always lied with Oreo cheesecake after dinner, something I still find myself craving from time to time. Low and behold, Holland’s White Dog Brewery has satisfied my long standing love for a good slice of cheesecake, in Imperial Stout form.
‘Illusion of Safety’ uses real American creamcheese, chocolate, vanilla, and lactose, to perfectly emulate my childhood celebration dessert of choice. Chocolate and vanilla are there in overwhelming, copious amounts, over a mouth coating, full body. Best served with a fork and knife? Potentially. Heavy? Yes. But so luscious, so indulgent, and so well done.