It's funny how sometimes you can make an assumption about something, only to find out that you're completely off the mark. The old adage "Never judge a book by its cover", despite being a cliche of the highest order, pretty much rings true every time.
So it was perhaps wrong of me to think that West Indies Porter by that little known craft brewery from Ireland, Guinness (did I forget to put the sarcasm tags around that last statement?) was just a by-the-numbers, mass-produced, run-of-the-mill, slightly different version of their all-conquering Irish stout, packaged ever-so-slightly differently, to appeal to craft wankers, like me. It's funny how you can be so wrong about something, sometimes. So very wrong. Also, that was about four cliches in a row there. If cliches were Streetfighter moves, that would be a couple of hadoukens, followed by a tatsumaki senpukyaku, into a shoryuken. By Ken, obviously. Ryu is a pussy.
"Perhaps it was wrong of me to think that this was just a by-the-numbers, mass-produced, run-of-the-mill, slightly different version of the all-conquering Irish stout, packaged to appeal to craft wankers like me."
But to pull the conversation tangent back from the brink here, lest it fall over the edge, beyond the "Here be monsters" sign - West Indies Porter isn't just 'vanilla' Guinness, rebadged and rebranded. Well, actually it is 'vanilla', in the sense that it tastes of vanilla. And chocolate. And coffee. And gosh-darned it, all manner of other goodness. It's just... It's...
It's like this. Imagine you bought a scratchcard. And you rub all the silvery stuff off - you know, the stuff that gets into everything - and you spot three matching numbers. And you get all giddy, as you've won a tenner. So you go to the shop to claim your money, thinking that you'll treat yourself to something nice - maybe a branded version of toilet paper, instead of that tracing-paper, six-rolls-for-50p stuff you normally buy. But when you hand the card over, instead of handing you a slightly crinkled ten quid note, the shopkeeper tells you you've actually won ten grand. I mean ten grands. That's a lot of quilted goodness for your little bum-bum. Imagine how good that would feel.
Well, imagine that scenario, except for beer. And instead of a ten quid win on the lottery, you've actually picked up a fairly non-descript looking bottle, expecting some stouty goodness, only to find that it's actually a bottle of pure ambrosia masquerading as Guinness. So actually, it's nothing like that last paragraph at all!
(You'll have to bear with me a bit here. I've drank a lot of coffee today, combined with a lack of sleep due to the BST changes (damn you non-existent summer time), so I'm a bit all over the place today. Let's pull harder (fnarr) at the tangent and see if we can't get it back on track.)
West Indies Porter is a marvel. As I've vaguely hinted at above, it isn't much to look at it. It shares the same bottle and label design as a few others in the Guinness range - it's a slightly chubby, dumpy 500ml bottle. It has the same non-descript shield-shaped label on the front - with some writing that looks a little old-timey. In short, it sort of looks like an old fashioned design, that's been brought into the modern world. It's fine. It does the job. But what it does best, what it's really good at, is understating the contents inside the bottle. If you were to judge it on that and that alone, then it gets top marks.
"It's in a slightly chubby, dumpy bottle that does a good job of understating the contents inside."
It's strange for both myself and Scott to gush (figuratively... fnarr?) over two beers in the space of a week. Hell, it's strange for us both to gush over two beers at any time, him especially. I mean, I've had my moments - being a fully paid up member of both the AND Union fanclub and the Pistonhead one (with my Sharp's one in progress) - I'm more prone to these overzealous outbursts than my tattooed friend. But generally, it's getting harder to find a beer that actually excites me these days, especially a supermarket bought one (Morrison's, if you're asking). Sure, there is no end to the number of good beers out there, but unless you're willing to remortgage your house to buy them, or join one of the myriad of beer clubs available online, you're basically stuck with whatever selection you can find locally. I'm probably getting a little jaded as well. So with that in mind, when I say that this porter is good, I really mean it.
The strange thing is, I've had it before - and even gave it a great score on Untappd - but for some reason, I had no recollection of it. I guess I must've had a few other sherbets that same evening and the booze-fairy took all my memories of it away, the bitch. Which is why I'm writing this down, Memento or Planescape:Torment-style (though not on my skin, unfortunately), so that if my memory should go in future, I will have this written record to look back on to remind me of all the good beers I can discover again. That thought actually makes long-term memory loss seems like a great thing...
At this point, it might actually be a good idea to talk about the beer, right? That's a whole lotta bullshit you've had to wade through to get to this point. Apologies for that, I get carried away sometimes. So the beer - it's so unlike 'normal' Guinness, so if you're expecting something like that, go and drink 'normal' Guinness. This is vanilla sweet, with a bit of a chocolate milkshake/ice cream-vibe - creamy and luscious. It's malty too, with a hint of coffee and hop bitterness, so it doesn't become to cloying and sickening. It reminds me of another Irish classic - Bailey's liqueur. It's a similar flavour (and even its creamy texture), but less so - if that makes sense? It's clearly still an ale - the malt flavour is there, the tartness of the hops too. It's just sort of the dessert wine of the ale world - a dessert ale? Does such a thing exist? (Quick Google search... no, it's doesn't appear that it does) So yeah, a dessert ale - a term I have just coined. Go me.
I guess it might not be the type of beer you could drink a lot of - it would probably be a little too sickening after a while. But one or two in a session would make a really pleasant change to the usual IPA, pale ale shenanigans. And maybe this is why I like West Indies Porter so much; because it's a break from what has become the norm now. Despite me quoting cliches above, this isn't a cliche - if anything, it's the anti-cliche. It's the antithesis of the IPA revolution that's going on just now; it's just sitting there, not drawing any attention to itself, existing inconspicuously and insignificantly among a droning mob. Except, it isn't insignificant at all and the only reason it's inconspicuous, is because it doesn't have to shout and holler for attention.
So yeah. This is a pretty good beer. It might come from a behemoth, but that doesn't mean that Guinness have scrimped on quality here in the name of mass production - quite the opposite in fact. This is top shelf, top quality stuff - go and buy it, yeah? And no more cliches.