A Tale of Two BeersHere they are. Two imperial stouts, one from 2016 the other from 2017, and both rather different.
The Marble Portent of Usher is silent about almost everything. The bottle is entirely unadorned while the cardboard label just tells you it's 9% and the beer should be stored 'upright, cool but not chilled."
The barrel aged Night Drift from Brussels Beer Project has a fancy plastic label giving the impression the details have been printed onto the glass. It's a little more forthcoming, advising it's 9.9% and is a: "Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Imperial Stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels". Anyone playing Craft Beer Bingo would be well on the way to 'house' with that lot.
Additionally you are advised the beer: "Se bonifie avec l'age" which, I guess you don't really need telling, translates as "improves with age".
So, how do they compare? I'm not going to tell you anything about Marble Brewery in Manchester as I'm guessing many readers will be familiar with them. Suffice it to say they have a long-established reputation for making the highest quality beers across a whole range of styles. This beer was devised by former Head Brewer James Kemp (known to everyone as 'JK') who produced a series of potent beers, many of which were subsequently barrel-aged.
The brewery website tells you this:
Portent of Usher is brewed in celebration of Edgar Allen Poe by Marble Brewery, Manchester. Originally brewed in 2016 this beer has since been awarded a Gold Medal in the International Beer Challenge. This rich, opaque beer goes heavy on the bitter dark roast coffee and treacle notes whilst maintaining sweet blackcurrant and cola bottle subtleties.
And do you know? It still performs as good as ever. Over the years everything has perhaps blended a bit more to produce a rich, boozy and elegant beer. There's the roast, the coffee and, yes, just a hint of residual background sweetness to add some balance at the end. Glorious.
Moving on we come to Night Drift from Brussels Beer Project. I'm going to duck out from going on at length about BBP. They have been around since 2015 and most of their beer is commissioned from Brouwerij Anders (which is another Belgian contract brewing specialist). However, their own facility in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht is apparently in the pipeline. In the meantime they have a small kit at their taproom in central Brussels (188 Rue Antoine Dansaert). You can find out more on their lively website here.
Night Drift was brewed in collaboration with Basque brewers Laugar as a 'straightforward' Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Imperial Stout, and this is the subsequent barrel-aged version. It was bottled on 6 November 2017.To be honest, I approached this with reasonably high expectations but was ultimately disappointed. I'm not sure for how long it was supposed to improve with age but I think we've now passed the cut-off point. What I expected to be deep, rich and luxurious was in fact surprisingly light-bodied, slightly too heavily carbonated, and too heavy on the cola notes.
Conclusions? Marble's brilliantly crafted, straight down the line, no bells, no whistles classic still drinks superbly - and has a few more years to run, I think. On the other hand the numerous additions courtesy of BBP and Laugar seem to have fought to the death in the bottle and have simply exhausted themselves. Ultimately the message is, I think - 'keep it simple and you can't go wrong'.