Friday, 11 February 2011

Day 66, Beer 66 - Otley's "Darko"

Today's Beer

Name – Darko

Brewer – Otley

Classification – There's no way I'm just going to write 'Stout' without urging you to read on...

Strength – 4.1% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – One of the many enigmatic features of this remarkable beer. It looks 'unique'. Let's just leave it at that for now.

On the nose – Intensely sharp treacle, liquorice, with a screeching high note of sweetness.

On the tongue – Again, a short summary is simply not going to happen with this brew. Read on...

On the subject – Over in Wales, Otley are on a mission. Quite where they are heading, they are happy to keep us guessing, and a level of mystique certainly adds to their appeal. The beers they make are every bit as striking as their branding. This being the perfect example.

On the market – 'Mystique' and 'rarity' fit nicely together. That's unfortunate for most beer lovers nationwide who are forced to go online or to go 'specialist' to find Otley brews. There's no better specialists than the brewery's own online shop.

On the whole8/10

Full Review

Okay, so, this one is way off the grid.

From the moment the pour first begins, the beer announces itself as 'something completely different'. Not in the Monty Python sense of the phrase - but quite wonderfully near to the Salvador Dali sense.

In fact, I really like the idea of this being officially classified as a 'surrealist ale.'

The liquid is like no other. It's consistency, viscosity, it's oxygenation and the intensity and the radiancy of it's colouring - none of these individual elements display any of the usual characteristics or behaviours found in most other beers in existence...whether they be stouts, milds, dark ales or even traditional bocks for that matter. This brew is obeying none of the rules of classification.

Otley clearly have developed a healthy disregard for conformity or conventionality. It's almost as though they sat down, chose a beer style, and then proceeded to do only what they darn well pleased, focussing only on the quality of the end product and tossing aside preconceived notions of what they 'should' be trying to achieve.

I kind of like that spirit.

But do I like this drink?

Well, this is one of those beers that really makes you ask yourself that very question. It's a question which most drinks provide an answer to long before you find yourself needing to formally pose it, but there's just too much to bedazzle and mystify you in this particular bottle. Although, having said that, the state of pleasant bewilderment in which this ale eventually leaves you is almost reason enough to enthusiastically endorse it, regardless of all the unanswered questions that it leaves you with.

Questions like - 'doesn't this need just a little more gas?' and 'is this really meant to be so delicately bodied?' - soon enter your head, but that's before they begin fading into the background whilst you increasingly relax and start to really savour this experience which, little-by-little, begins to comprehensively enthral and delight you.

I think this beer is actually intrinsically rebellious, and I was quickly charmed by it's nonchalant determination to go it's own way, do it's own thing, and be it's own beer.

In essence, this is naked ale. Avant-garde, no-nonsense, authentic, ultra-traditional, retro, post-modern - all of these phrases and none of them sum up what's going on here. But at the core of it all is a sense that the brew is exactly as nature intended beer to be, and it feels under no pressure to bow to the contemporary operating model. Instead, it delivers itself in a manner which evokes the feel of the smokiest of Victorian ale houses, it's unembellished freshness resonates with the sense of having just been gravity-poured by the cheerful but feisty landlady via an oak cask laid atop the overly varnished, ash-smeared bar.

It's a history lesson and a revolution all in one. It has an extremely distinguished flavour - freshly picked cocoa beans and natural liquorice with a Ruby Port sweetness in the finish - characteristics you might well expect from a good stout. But, somehow, at the same time it also feels like an entirely new ale variety, with a humble and unfussy charm which both startles and delights.

One way or another, this beer demands your attention. From the off - it proceeds to challenge and to pretty much redefine the nature, scope and boundaries of modern beer production.

You think you know what beer is, and then a drink like this turns up.

If only for educational purposes, you need to find a bottle of this - and drink it.

I sense that this is a very important ale.


arn said...

Great write up, really good explanation of otley ales .
I do see otley beers around my way being sort of local to them, always exciting to see them, you dont know what its going to be.
Personally i wasn't sold on dark-o the first time, i'm willing to give it another go after reading this, but then am i thinking to much about it when i drink it, perhaps i tried to pigeon hole it last time and thats why i wasn't convinced?
Their O-ho-ho was the last one i had of theirs, brilliant beer, hope you've got one waiting in the wings to try.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Arn - I nearly always find myself applauding whenever a brewery goes and does it's own thing with a confident swagger and a twinkle in it's eye.

These guys are innovative, skilful, and prepared to take risks. It's no coincidence that increasing numbers of people are beginning to applaud them, too.

Sadly, I missed out on that seasonal Otley brew, but I am quietly working on incorporating real jars of ale into the final moments of the show - I'll keep you posted...

Anonymous said...

In contrast I thought this was one of the poorest ales I've ever had. Absolutely no body, the head dissolved after the first sip and the aromas were really not very nice.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Anonymous - As the review says, this is certainly no conventional bottled beer, but having waited for my shock levels to subside, I tried to work out what they might actually be trying to say. Viewed that way, this is actually quite a unique beer rather than merely just a poor one. I'd agree with 'quirky' but not 'poor'.