Tonight, I'm cracking some big beers from either side of the Peak District. Thornbridge and Buxton are two of the leading lights of the UK beer scene, both well established but ceaselessly innovative and consistently producing quality beer. My three selections tonight are bold, strong and new to me...
The first bottle to be popped is a recent Thornbridge release, Cocoa Wonderland. As you may have guessed, this is a Chocolate Porter. Normally I leave most Chocolate-focused beers on the shelf as I find them too cloying to be truly enjoyable, but despite the initial aroma Cocoa Wonderland has a bite to combat the rich, silky flavours. The rich mocha head is well retained and the light carbonation adds to a creamy mouthfeel that summons up thoughts of a chill, dusky evening in the Tyrol, accompanied by a cup of thick hoppy hot chocolate and an Oompah band. If, like me, you feel a bit old for Easter eggs but still fancy a sweet treat, pick up a few bottles for the long weekend.
Next up, Buxton's Dragon Tips. Billed as a Bacon and Maple Chipotle Stout, this is a collaboration with Arizona Wilderness Brewing, and is apparently brewed with *actual* Bacon. Even more so than Cocoa Wonderland, this beer invades the nostril from the moment the cap is removed. Maple is to the fore, both in the sweet yet smoky aroma and the long, sticky finish. Like Cocoa Wonderland, the sweetness is not overpowering, as there is a distinctly salty and savoury flavour. I would have liked slightly more Chipotle kick on the aftertaste, but what there is complements and builds, without being distracting. Dragon Tips is complex enough to give a different sensation with every sip, which is no less than I'd expect from Buxton.
Finally, I'm capping the evenings events with Thornbridge's Jaipur X. A behemoth at 10%, it's been alternately raved about and played down across the blogosphere. Pouring well, but with a rapidly dissipating head, the initial aroma is actually pretty unfavourable, it could be described as Dank, or harshly, wet dog bed. However, initial taste reveals boozy sherbet and pineapple with a sweet mandarin finish. It's almost hard to comprehend that Thornbridge have been producing beers of this quality for over 10 years. 'Craft' as we know it, didn't exist. I was happy drinking pints of serviceable, yet unexciting ale, and Keg was still a dirty word.