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Beer reviews: Stouting up one's winter

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Philip White raids the winter stout bench at his local brewery and discovers what might be the best example of the style in Australia.

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Before the winter becomes less of a thing and we’re all back slurping frosty lagers take the time to visit Jeff and Mary Goodieson and their boys just out of the McLaren Vale village on Sand Road. They’ve spent a decade building their dream business there since Jeff left his former life brewing for Lion Nathan.

Jeff’s expertise has always been stout, so it was a delight to call by recently and pick up a mix of his current darker winter releases. They’ll do you a mixed slab of 24 x 330ml stubbies for $95, although smaller purchases are welcome.

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Coffee Stout (7.5% alcohol)

It’s a big risk, shuffling about the kitchen to make coffee first thing in the morning and you find this in the fridge. Sure beats grinding it and all. Very easy to surrender instead to this sweet deliciousness.

Jeff uses a powerfully aromatic but gently cold brewed coffee with dark malted barley. Which is a very secure marriage from the start. All melded and frothy like coffee crema, it has a surly glower of drying counterpoint tannin in its dark bits, just to add to the grown-up feeling, then that fades in a slippery dangerous way so that’s the first course of breakfast done… One is tempted to drop a scoop of champagne sorbet in it for a dessert spider and then it’ll be lunch time.

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Chocolate Stout (7.6% alcohol)

Much quieter than the coffee, the cocoa here is purely the result of finely selected barley, malted and brewed in a chocolate direction. It takes me to the Valrhona chocolate factory in the south of France, where I would buy their stunning bitter cooking chocolate by the giant tile-sized brick wrapped in heavy brown paper and tied with hempen twine… But this is beer: it’s all the best schwarzbrot and blackbreads rising through the whiff of ripening grainfields after a quick sunshower, followed then by a lithe and snakey line of flavours and textures that are quite vinous, almost like a lightly fortified barrel-aged muscadelle. This will be my preferred aperitif beer through the winter, methinks.

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Imperial Stout (9.4% alcohol)

Here’s malt for you: full-bore deep Christmas fruitcake full of rinds and currants and dark spices; as healthy and rich as Saunders Malt Extract which we had off a spoon as kids which sure led me to beer quicker than Jesus did. It has a perfect balance, teasing that dainty step back and forth between piquant cheek and deep buttery/suet/caul fat/stewing vegetal comfort like the marsh where Pan plays John Barleycorn Must Die and there on the gingham picnic cloth there’s Bull Creek garlic, cheddar, blistering chillies, an Andy Clappis baguette and Kangaroo Island olive oil… thanks! Raw on the trencher: fingers’ll do; some pickled hard-boiled quail or bantam eggs would set it up trimmingly too. Half past one and I’m gonna go snooze. Is this the best stout in Australia?

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Barrel-aged Stout 2018 (7.9% alcohol)

Nah this is the best. It’s even more autumnal in its genteel decay… it seems to come from a bit further down the swamp. It’s been in an old Shiraz barrel. So it’s a gentler, aged, refined stout. But while that’s the comforting side, it’s sort of threatening in its faux placitude, and a bit late you notice the hound sitting at the bottom of the gastronomic marsh like a lignifying limpet mine. It has little tiny eyes like the worst bull terrier but there’s still that calming mood and demeanour of a grandfather in a favourite cardigan, snoozing by the fire.

It’s gentle, avuncular, elegant; supreme in its confidence and knowledge… never abusing its quiet slumbering power. It’s more of a twilight wine beautifully made from grain. And then it abuses that quiet slumbering after all, and the dog has a bit of a taste of you and you’re a goner… this is a dramatic beer. Never thought I’d say anything like that about a beer. Glorious!

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