Russian Winter Itchen Valley (500ml bottle, 5.3% ABV)
‘Malt is the soul of beer,’ said someone who had probably had a little too much before putting pen to paper. But it’s true that malt is critical in the brewing process. Without malt there are is no complex soup of sugars, and without sugar there is nothing for yeast to convert to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
While a golden beer typically uses just pale malt, some others are considerably more complicated. Itchen Valley’s Russian Winter uses no less than six, including the famous English Maris Otter, crystal malt (which has been caramelised for sweetness and texture), chocolate malt, oats and unmalted roast barley. It’s like all the breakfast cereals rolled into one. As the name suggests, this is one of their seasonal ales, so if you want to try it, don’t wait ‘til summer!
In the glass it’s an inky black, with a tan-coloured head that subsides to a lacy foam. The aroma is of coffee and a hint of liquorice, and the taste delivers on this promise, with the addition of some dark berry character. Hops are muted – just enough to tame the sweetness from the unconverted sugars in the malt – and the mouthfeel is as thick and smooth as you’d expect from this winter warmer style of beer. The finish is bitter, but less from the hops than from all those roasted dark grains.
This is a beer designed for the coldest depths of winter, which, at the time of writing, we haven’t really experienced in the South of England. Still, why let that stop you? Good health, comrade!
Written by Richard Salsbury