Food & Drink

Craft Beer: It's Ard to tell the difference between light and dark

An 8.5 per cent whiskey barrel aged Citra IPA from Ards Brewing Company
An 8.5 per cent whiskey barrel aged Citra IPA from Ards Brewing Company An 8.5 per cent whiskey barrel aged Citra IPA from Ards Brewing Company

Remember magic eye puzzles? They were seemingly chaotic pictures which housed the outline of some coherent shape if you stared long enough at them.

I remember being quite good at them. I would remove my glasses so that everything was initially a blur and, as things came into focus, I could pick out the shape quite quickly.

Of course, there are a host of optical illusions which are designed to encourage our eyes to play tricks on us. It’s a good illustration of how much we assume about something simply by looking at it – there are enough books which have been damned by their covers to prove that.

This can also be the case with beer. Experience has taught us to look at light-coloured beers as light in taste and dark beers as heavy.

A couple of bottles from Ards Brewing Company later and I was convinced my eyes were pulling the wool over… well, my eyes.

First up was a pale ale in the 330ml bottle. Ah, this will slide down easily you might think.

Well no, but, to be fair it’s well signposted – an 8.5 per cent barrel-aged Citra pale.

To be more specific, the beer is aged for 12 months in Bushmills whiskey barrels. The warming caress of a wooden barrel is more likely to house a stout or porter for a long stay, so a barrel-aged pale ale is something that will raise an eyebrow or two.

In the glass, this pours a bright amber colour with a generous white head.

There are woody aromas, which you’d expect from the barrel-ageing, with a little bit of citrus poking through.

The aging succeeds in smoothing out what would otherwise be a bitter pale ale. That leads to an initially more malt-forward flavour before those citrus fruits begin to surface on the palate.

Moving over to the dark side, and Black Goose is a dark ale which clocks in at 3.8 per cent.

It pours an almost jet black colour with a light and thin tan head, suggesting we are in for a heavy stout.

However, this has quite a light mouthfeel too it. The darker ale flavours are there – a hint of chocolate, a bite of coffee and a little bit of vanilla with a subtle smokiness running through it all.

Heavy, though, it isn’t and it’s not often that a dark ale is more sessionable than a light-coloured one but then you shouldn’t believe everything you see.