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Classic Beer of the Month May 2013: O'Hanlon's Original Port Stout

O'Hanlon's Original Port Stout, 4.8%

A few decades ago, I was student in Reading. That was where I began to learn what beer was all about.

O'Hanlon's Port StoutFrom my previous experience of visiting pubs at home in South Wales, I thought the only beers you could get were weak, fizzy and produced by big national names. In Reading, I learned that things were different.

Okay, the national names were still dominant – Courage in particular – but now I discovered cask beer and embarked on a journey that, after more than 30 years, has led to me sitting here typing this on a Monday morning.

But, as well as pints of Courage Best and Directors – augmented by the odd glass of Wadworth 6X, Fuller's London Pride or Wethereds Bitter – that revealed to me the pleasures of real ale, I discovered another beer drinking tradition during my university days.

Reading has long been home to a strong Irish community. London Irish even play their rugby matches there these days.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Irish influences pervaded numerous pubs and from one I learned of the strange but rather enjoyable tradition of adding a shot of port to a pint of Guinness.

For me, it added another dimension to that somewhat over-rated keg stout experience, a little kick and a splash of winey fruit to sweeten the bitterness of the roasted barley flavours.

I don't remember anyone actually calling this mixed drink a 'corpse reviver' but that, apparently, is how it is known across the Irish Sea.

Quite a few brewers now produce their 'pre-blended' take on the concept but, as its name suggests, what seems to be the first is O'Hanlon's Original Port Stout.

London Irish

John O'Hanlon used to run an Irish pub in London – not one of those off-the-peg, fake Oirish bars but a genuine local where the customers were rather more discerning. That was in the mid 1990s.

To supply the pub, John opened a brewery and, among his offerings, were two stouts. The first was a straightforward example of the style, served in keg format as a rival to the big Irish names. The second was a cask-conditioned stout which John differentiated from the keg beer by adding a generous helping of port to the cask.

The success of the brewery eventually led to the sale of the pub in 2000 and the relocation of production to a farm in Devon. It wasn't long before Original Port Stout, in bottle-conditioned form, began winning awards, culminating in being judged CAMRA's Champion Bottled Beer on two occasions, in 2003 and 2007.

O'Hanlon's has been through some difficult times in recent years – some revealed to the world in a TV documentary – but John and his wife, Liz, keep on brewing fine beers and still produce their most successful creation.

Port Stout is made from pale and crystal malts, caramalt and both roasted and flaked barley. The hops are Pilot and Bobek, although it is grain that dominates in this beer, which, after fermentation, runs out at 4.6% ABV. Then the key ingredient is introduced and does its work.

Ferreira port is added at the ratio of two bottles per brewer's barrel (36 gallons) and this not only raises the strength to 4.8% but also contributes subtly to the flavour.

A dark ruby colour in the glass, the beer offers an aroma of biscuity dark grain and a pinch of liquorice with a little winey fruit from the port.

Tart, bitter roasted grains, in the classic dry Irish stout style, lead in the taste but with sweet, winey fruit providing a delicate but pleasant contrast. Smoky, tart roasted grains linger on in the dry, bitter finish.

The corpse reviver was designed, I understand from the name, as a radical hangover cure. I can't vouch for its efficacy on that front, but I can say the O'Hanlon's interpretation is always a very enjoyable drink.

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