Although the August bank holiday is still to come, there are already signs that Autumn is on its way. The sun no longer wakes me up at 5am and there are few birds singing when the alarm goes off; trees are starting to shed a few leaves, Rowan berries are ripening and the sloes are getting heavy; the wind off the sea has felt decidedly chilly on a few days this week.
At such times, I tend to think of brewing stout.
But not just any stout – Foreign Extra Stout. I’m afraid to say the omnipresent ‘standard’ Guinness is not what it used to be – made bland to avoid offending anyone and then made icy cold to hide its lack of bite. No – what I crave is the complex, dark depths of a 7.5% Foreign Extra Stout.
For those of you not familiar with this style of beer, Foreign Extra Stouts were brewed for export. Made with extra hops and more alcohol to preserve the beer during shipping, they have massive complexity with the malts dominant but still with a good hit of bittering hops and, in some of the versions, a refreshing sour twang. The Guinness version of Foreign Extra Stout is said to be a blend of fresh stout blended with an aged stout brewed in one of two wooden fermenting vessels that, after decades of use, harbour a wild yeast strain that sours the beer and gives it a ‘horse-blanket’ aroma. I suspect that the wooden vessels were condemned by the food hygiene people many years ago and Guinness will get the same effect by using acidulated malt or pitching a wild yeast strain into a stainless steel fermenter but the sourness remains and adds to the wonderful experience.
My own experience of Foreign Extra Stout came about in the Falkland Islands – 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic. In a previous life, I ran the Falkland Islands Development Corporation – a government body tasked with improving the economy of the remote islands. Many of the fishing companies down there used to run shops as well – they were already importing food and drink to provision the fishing boats so it made sense to fill the containers and sell to the locals and the military personnel as well.
Usually, the fishing companies would buy stuff that was going cheap because, if there is only one type of biscuit on the shelf, that’s what you will buy! For some reason, one of the companies had been offered a load of cans of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout that must have been destined for Africa (I’ve never ever seen it in cans since) and so, having usually restricted myself to one or two bottles as a treat at Christmas time, I was able to spend the last few months of my contract enjoying this great beer at a knock-down price whenever I wanted it.
So now, with Autumn fast approaching, I have decided to make my own Dancing Cows Foreign Extra Stout – as soon as it’s ready, I will let you know…maybe