I'm slightly ashamed to realise that the last time I was in Münster's Yorkshire-themed bar, The James, was last February! This week, as my wife and son were away, I took the opportunity to get out into the city to see what new beers Axel had gotten in, if any. Walking in, I was greeted with the gentle hum of chat, and the place was fairly full. Whatever he's doing in there, he's doing it right. And the selection? Last time it was Theakstons, Black Sheep and a few others. This has been exteded with a few from Fuller's, including ESB on tap, and bottled beers from Orkney, Marston's as well as some of the usual suspects from Greene King.
Sat at the bar, I was enjoying the clear love the owner took in selling ales, and describing them to potential customers. A pair of 20-something men sat close to me and were given tasters of ESB, Abbot Ale and something else before they split a bottle of Strong Suffolk between them. The same guys were chuckling to themselves as they watched me take a photo of a bottle, sniff the beer and start writing, until I told them to F-off. Well, I actually said that yes, I was a geek, and they seemed curious, asking me if I rated beers (which I do not, I think) and chatted a bit before wandering off.
Anyway, on walking in and taking my seat, a blackboard above me said Fuller's London Porter, so I had one. I've had this before, and really enjoyed it then, and really enjoyed it this time too; rich, chocolatey, roasty and almost chewy. It was then I noticed another blackboard listing four beers from the Orkney Brewery. I think I've only had the Skullsplitter (rushed at the end of a festival), so the dormant ticker in me was happy to have a couple of new beers to try.
I went for the Orkney Dragonhead first, against the recommendations of Axel I might add, just because his recommendation of Dark Island was a little higher on the alcohol scale than this 4% stout, and I wanted to raise the bar (after a 5.4% London Porter there was clearly no logic to this). Rich and dark looking, with dark berry aromas, a roasty character and a hint of a seaside saltiness. The flavour is not as powerful as the aroma suggests. It has this slight iodine thing going on under a chicory-like roastiness. There are slight vegetal undertones to it, and I thought it felt a bit thin. The finish delivers a touch of piney bitterness, a nice roasted character and more of that seaweedy/salty/seaside thing. It's an interesting combination of flavours, but overall I felt it didn't hang to well together and was a tad disappointed.
Moving on to the Orkney Dark Island, somehow looking even darker and more inviting than the Dragonhead, with a lovely roasty aroma, loaded with berries and chocloate. The flavour gives an initial fruity burst, but it feels thin, and dissipates into a soap-like residue. Again, a slight vegetal backdrop that didn't sit right with me. Above this there is slight figs, dark fruit, but the lack of body makes for a swift finish, so the flavours, nice as they are, feel fleeting. Taking a good deep draught yields a slightly artificial fruit juice quality. A slightly greater disappointment than the Dragonhead.
I should say that while drinking these I had broadcast on Twitter that i was a bit disappointed, and responses indicated surprise. Perhaps these are really meant for cask, but I can only describe what I taste. I will, however, try them again, perhaps before having a London Porter!
Last beer before stepping outside to the bus was an Atlas Three Sisters. Oh yeah! A deep chestnut brown, this gives off strong fruity and malty aromas and delivers on first sip. Light caramel wrapped in a strawberry-like fruitiness followed up by a floral bitterness. There's hints of orange peel in there, and perhaps a suggestion of pineapple cubes. It finishes dry with light toasty/roasty undertones, but with a sweet coating on the lips. I was sorry I had to rush it a bit. Very nice.
While trying to figure out exactly what "that seaside smell" actually is - always thought it was ozone or iodine-y seaweed - it seems that it is actually dimethyl sulphide, or DMS, the very stuff produced during the boil that brewers don't really want in their beer. It creates vegetal flavours, like brussel sprouts. I'm now wondering if this seaside and vegetal flavour I was getting in the Orkney beers were actually two sides of the same coin.