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Back in the black
GAVIN AITCHISON reports on a spooky pub crawl through York.
THE clocks have gone back, bonfire night beckons and winter is looming large. It’s time to get out of the house, into a warm pub and to settle down with something dark and rich.
Perhaps it’s my northern blood; perhaps my contrary nature. Maybe I’m just odd. But either way, I’ve long preferred winter to summer. As everyone else begins huddling up and lamenting the cold, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief.
No more sweltering at my desk all day long; no more insufferably stuffy evenings. And, what’s more, a perfect excuse to while away an evening with a hearty, heavy beer.
Stouts and porters, fabulous though they are, often seem incongruous in the height of summer. When the sun’s beating down, it’s the light, refreshing pale ales that tempt you seductively to the bar. Now though, with autumn giving way to winter, it’s time to let the darkness shine.
That’s what I did this week, when I fought my way through the Hallowe’en hordes in town in search of some black magic, but of an enjoyable nature.
I began at the Waggon and Horses in Lawrence Street, which had two opening options. Burnout is the collaboration between the University of York Real Ale Society and Brass Castle Brewery, a fantastic smoked porter that’s ideal for this time of year.
Batemans Dark Mild was a gentler choice, similarly dark but far less assertive, an excellent example of its type. Having tried the Burnout already, I opted for the Batemans then wandered on in search of more.
Next up was The Last Drop Inn, the York Brewery pub in King’s Square, boasting a selection of the hosts’ own beers as well as a few others.
The award-winning Centurion’s Ghost, on the end of the bar, is as fine a local dark beer as you will find, a delicious rich, malty, bitter pint. Friends still mock me for saying two years ago that it reminded me of rain-soaked bonfires but I stand by that! Freedom Brewery’s Dark Lager is an enjoyable alternative for anyone after something a little more refreshing at the Last Drop.
From there, I wandered down to Market Street and the Hansom Cab, a pub I’ve not visited for some time. I’d expected the regular choice of Sam Smith’s beers but was intrigued by the bottles of Organic Chocolate Stout, a fairly new Sam’s product that’s well worth seeking out if you like sweet stouts.
The aroma is amazing, like a pot of melting chocolate. Even while pouring it out, the smell of chocolate was potent and un-missable. It wasn’t quite as strong in taste as in smell but it was a fantastic drink nonetheless.
Those less keen on sweet beers may be unconvinced but if, like me, you enjoy trying something a bit different, then give this a go. It’s very dark, very rich and very moreish indeed.
I rounded off my week’s wanderings in the Guy Fawkes, a pub that’s hard to justify overlooking this weekend of all weekends.
On an unusually bare bar, the Dark Force Treason by Great Heck stood out a mile. This chewy, rich, dry stout is a 5.4 per cent ABV heavyweight that demands to be tried – it’s as hard-hitting as the name suggests and a great beer to turn to over the long, cold, dark and tremendously-enjoyable winter.