Origin: London SE1, England
Beers from the Kernel, surely London’s second world class brewery, loomed large in my drinking in 2011. I admit I was a bit late in catching up on them – my first encounter was in January when I visited the brewery as research for my London beer guide, by which time the online beer enthusiast community had been buzzing about them for months.
I could easily have picked three or four Kernel beers as Top Tastings – including the 1890 Export Stout that my fellow judges and myself named top beer at the International Beer Challenge last summer. Several of British Guild of Beer Writers Brewer of the Year Evin O’Riordan’s other beers are reviewed elsewhere, but I’ve limited myself to one choice per brewery for the Top Tastings. The Export Stout seemed a shoe-in until a few weeks ago, when I happened on this Imperial Brown Stout, another historic recipe, on sale in the bottle – bottle conditioned as always – at the Pigs Ear Beer Festival.
The beer pours a very dark brown, with a thick orange-brown head leaving copious amounts of lace. There’s a very smooth and tempting aroma dominated by chocolate, with hints of plummy fruit and cream. Chocolate and stewed prunes are evident in a rich palate with a wonderful garnish of fruity hops dancing over thick caramel and liquorice malt, with tingling alcohol, spices and dark treacle sweetness.
The finish is lingering, elegant and complex, first coating the mouth with a sticky slick of cakey malt, with chocolate, coffee and mint flavours and a long developing but contained charred roast note complementing the sting of alcohol. A very big flavoured and challenging beer, but with much to enjoy.