Autumn. Season of clichés and mellow fruitfulness. We’ve got a handsome cherry tree outside our house, which at this time of year sneezes about a ton of leaves into the front yard every couple of days. On saturday, sweeping that lot up put me in the mood for a dark beer, and it doesn’t get much darker than Harveys Imperial Extra Stout. It’s the Aleister Crowley of ales.
Why is it so hard to find a shop with a good selection of interesting beers in London? I can only think of two specialists now that the Beer Shop in Shoreditch has turned up its toes. Utobeer at Borough Market is a five-minute Boriscycle from my desk, though the fact that they hardly ever put a price label on their bottles puts me off. Well, that and their prices. Did I really see them selling Duvel at four quid a go? The other place is Nelson wines, way down yonder in South Wimbledon, a place that claims to be in zone three but feels like you’ve gone far enough to drop off the edge of the south coast. Nelson’s is much cheaper than Utobeer and arguably has a bigger selection – there are bottles from floor to almost the ceiling, and stuck in every nook and corner. It’s well worth the trip, even if the shop itself looks like it sells dirty magazines rather than dusty bottles.
Nelson’s is where I picked up this Imperial Extra. It comes in a nice cork-stopped bottle and pours a viscous and total black, like the sump oil of a 1985 Lada Niva. Very thin espresso-coloured head and very little carbonation. Get your nose in the glass and there’s spice, almost curry, coming up. First swig is a big treacly mouthful. It tastes a lot like what we in Yorkshire call ‘Spanish’ and everyone else calls liquorice, with distinct hints of port, and that 9% certainly makes its presence felt pretty quickly. All this ends with a bittersweet, tickly finish that goes on and on and on. I’ve never drunk anything quite like it – in fact, to me it had more in common with a digestive liqueur like Unicum than beer. That or something dug up on Time Team. Can’t imagine having this more than once or twice a year – but it’d do very nicely for hallowe’en. Cackle.