Dieu Du Ciel! Isseki Nicho

So hello and welcome to our new (hopefully) regular column, Beer:Geek. As the name suggests, this is all about beer, in particular what is commonly referred to as craft beer. First question then – what is craft beer? The problem is, no one has quite come up with a fully accepted definition; but in essence we are talking about microbreweries and small producers who produce authentic, interesting beers without any of the nastiness or cheating incited by the mass-producing lager louts of the industry.

Beer:Geek is in essence a log of the best beers that I come across upon my travels. As someone passionate and a little nerdy about my beer, I'm always on the look-out for something new, interesting, or brewed with chocolate. There will be a few locations and breweries that are likely to crop up fairly often (BrewDog, The Kernel and Magic Rock for instance rarely disappoint), but there is always something special about finding some hidden gem or new brewery that blows your socks off.

With that in mind, I set about trying to settle on my first beer for this column. With BrewDog's new BottleDog shop opening last week near King's Cross, plus the launch of both Hello My Name is Zé and Paradox Heaven Hill in their bars, I am not short of choices. I have plumped for a bottle of a great beer by probably the most fascinating brewery I have come across, one that I picked up in the aforementioned BottleDog on its opening night, a find that when first made a few months ago felt very special indeed.

Isseki Nicho is from the French-Canadian microbrewery Dieu Du Ciel! with a little help from Japan's Shiga Kougen, who provided the hops for this 9.5% imperial black saison. A cross between an imperial stout and a Belgian saison, with a malt bill typical of the former fermented with a saison yeast strain, as well as the addition of wheat. The beer is absolutely pitch black in colour, a very true black with virtually no hint of brown.

Moving onto the nose, there is a lot of fresh, damp grass and hay; it smells light and refreshing, which is typical of a good saison but is very confusing given the inky blackness in front of your eyes. Not quite sure which style it would take on most, I served the beer cold first, and slowly left it to warm up as I went. Initially it is very malty up front, developing to an unusual sweet and sour character as the caramel notes mixes with the hint of sourness courtesy of the yeast. There is a very pleasant smooth and long finish, with hints of spiced coffee coming through – yes that does sound a little bizarre, but it really works!

As the beer gets closer to room temperature, a subtle sourness comes to the fore, with a hint of bitter chocolate becoming the more dominant malt flavour. Isseki Nicho is remarkable in being able to combine two very different styles of beer and bring distinguishing features of both out in the finished brew. A unique, and more importantly, tasty beer from one of the finest breweries I have come across.

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