Eight Degrees did good work with their Back to Black series last winter, and this year they have done something similar; a trio of strong beers just in time for Christmas, under the moniker of A Very Imperial Winter.
The first of the three I had was the Belgian Dubbel. As far as I can remember, this is the first time the Mitchelstown outfit has made a fist of one of the classic Belgian styles that are so well suited to this time of year. It pours a clear, dark red with a cream head, and was described to me at least a couple of times as Christmas pudding in a glass. This isn't immediately apparent to the nose however; it gives plenty of yeasty, fruity stuff you'd expect from the style, with a good dollop of red and green apple syrup, raisins, cherries and, rather conspicuously, soft over-ripe banana and clove. There are flashes of Chimay, but no more than that. The taste is almost exactly as the above, although it is dominated by sweet, estery banana and clove elements that remove it too far from the warming dark Belgian sphere and too close to the lighter Belgian and Bavarian Venn diagram of flavours. Still, it remains enjoyable most of the way down, before the tangy sweetness becomes a bit more work than a warming, smooth Dubbel should be.
I got a better response from the Double Irish, presumably the Full Irish but doubled up, which is fine by me. The aroma is juicy, bold and sharply bitter, belying some aggressive hopping. Lots of grapefruit and orange marmalade make up the guts of it, with darker mandarin and tangerine stuff hiding in the folds of the sweet fruit, along with mango, a hint of pine and just a smidgen of Starbursts. The citrus fruit explosion keeps exploding on the palate, and it is bitter. Again it's all orange and mandarin, with more oily pithy skins suggesting orange essential oil, along with grapefruit and all the other usual suspects delivered with aplomb. Like the Full Irish upon which it's based, the malt backing is recessive, though at this ABV there are some guest appearances from caramel and toffee roundness, but nothing to seriously upset the hopheads.
Finally we have a Russian Imperial Stout, a style they brewed convincingly enough last year as part of the aforementioned Back to Black series. This one makes all the right impressions from the off; it is ridiculously good looking with a pitch black body and a dark and dense brown head. As we know, however, there is more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking, and this beer evokes that with its deep chocolate,chewy toffee, brown sugar, and a tickle of fresh ground coffee beans; all warm, subtle, complexity. There’s not a touch of the 9% alcohol either here or on the palate, where it’s rich and chocolatey again, with more caramel and brown sugar than you can shake a stick at, as well as a touch of raisiny goodness at the finish.
Like last year’s version, it isn’t the boldest or brashest of imperial stouts you’ll have, but it’s certainly a satisfying winter warmer.
Three well worth trying this Christmas, with at least one big winner.