With two of the most important recent sporting contests happening late last night, the question was how best to spend the time before they both kicked off. The obvious answer in our house was to add a third contest by performing a dark beer taste test in front of a classic film noir -- a fine pastime on a winter's evening.
Set before my favourite taste tester -- me -- were a champion line up derived from the local Glengarry's, most of which were included in the recent Consumer magazine taste test: Monteith's Black, Speight's Dark, Guinness (from the can), Moa Noir, Speight's Porter, Emerson's Organic Oatmeal Stout, Mac's Black, Cooper's Best Extra Stout, and of course a pen and a piece of notepaper for writing about them all that you could now wring out and use to sedate a small animal.
I won't keep you in suspense for too long: from last to first, the list above reflects the order in which our expert ranked them.
Monteith's Black beer poured a good crisp brown in the glass with a very neat head, and a lightish nose - maybe too light for a dark beer. It's taste is pleasant but overly fizzed, and overall it just lacks gumption in the glass.
I've found the Dark a good session beer on many an occasion, but compared to the others it looked like 'pop' in the glass, with a head that quickly disappeared and a nose that was barely a nose at all. Its fairly full and faintly biscuity flavour leaves a slightly clinical aftertaste, and a slight odour of cleaning products (it has the effect as if a table has just been wiped down after a hefty session.)
Drinking Guinness in New Zealand labours under the problem that Guinness tastes best from the tap, and that the Guinness brewed under license in New Zealand for pouring out of those taps isn't a patch on the British or Irish-brewed drop. The problem is said to be that New Zealand's water is too clean, or at least too lime-free, making the local liquid bitterer than its more favourable forbear, and giving it for some reason just a hint of a metallic taste. The second problem is that the liquid in Irish-brewed cans just doesn't travel well. It looks good in the glass (though without that classic 'Jerry Collins' look), has a great nose, but compared to the top-ranking drops in this test (and to rosy memories of drops consumed long ago and far away) it just seems a little thin and disappointing. Kilkenny or Murphy's are really the two to drink locally for your Celtic cred.
The Moa was a disappointment. Great packaging and a high price, but while pleasant the beer inside the package just doesn't merit the expense. Presents well, good nose, good taste, smooth velvety finish, but while everything's "good" with the Moa it's just not "great." "Could do better" is what I've got written on my beer-stained bit of paper among many other things which are now illegible.
So that leaves the Porter, Emerson's Oatmeal, the Black Mac, and the Coopers Best Extra Stout. The latter two were head and shoulders above all the others and were difficult to separate -- indeed the separation was only possible after extensive sampling, a job for which your indefatigable taste tester was prepared to sacrifice himself -- whereas the Porter and the Emerson's were clearly better than all others but these two.
The Porter is like the Moa in that it has everything it needs to have, but just not in the same quantities or in quite the same degree of delight that both the Black Mac and the Coopers have. The Emerson's is a superb winter beer with a clean finish and definite hint of good morning porridge; a few points were lost for a head that looked good but didn't last, and a flavour that wasn't full enough to stand up to the other combinations. (I suspect that the subtleties of both the Moa and the Emerson's Oatmeal would be better enjoyed on their own, without the stronger flavours of competitors to overpower them).
So to our two close finishers. Both Macs and Coopers look superb in the glass: big head, beautiful deep mahogany colours, huge malty nose (with a slight hint of molasses in the Coopers); it took much serious tasting to establish the winner, and (let's be serious about this) the tasting was all pleasure. Rich, full, smoky tastes, and in both cases an aftertaste that said things like "pick me" and "open another" and "who cares how many metres ahead that dumb Swiss boat is" -- these subliminal messages in fact became more pronounced as evening became morning and as our yacht began looking like it was going backwards.
In the end it was the Coopers Best Extra Stout by a nose from the Mac's. Everything about the Australian was just a shade better than the local boy. The price ratio is a fair measure of the superiority: $16.20 for a six-pack of the Coopers as against $13 for the Mac.
(And I have to report too that very late in the evening a bottle of Founders Long Black was also put to the test, but beyond something on my beerstained bit of paper saying something like "f97&wq#@rhqvc" and the distinct memory of it rating somewhere in the night's top five, I can I'm afraid report no more.)
A decent taste test then, leaving our expert ideally focussed to enjoy the two sporting spectacles on which so much was riding. Sport, dark beer, Rodney So'oialo and Glengarry's bank manager were definitely the winners on the night.
Oh, and what of the film noir I hear you ask? I'm happy to report that it too was a winner: a classic French heist movie, Rififi, from which Quentin Tarantino stole much to make Reservoir Dogs. Don't let that association put you off: Rififi was as artful and crisp as Dogs wasn't. A superbly dark accompaniment to an evening of dark beer and all black sport.