Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you my favourite beer to be released in 2015. It’s dark, solid, and a bit intimidating to look at – and that’s before you’ve even poured it into a glass. It’s a beer not to be messed with, but with soft edges that may surprise you. May I present to you Hardtail Henry, a bearded biker of a beer from Upper Hutt’s brewing bogans, Panhead Custom Ales.
Lie with the devil long enough and his stench rubs off on you. To those who met him Henry carried not just the smell, but the ear and aspect of sin itself. But this was a deception, collateral damage from a communion with dark forces he’d spent his life opposing. All he knew was the dread and the road, that coiling snake whose end is marked only by the final reckoning. Look into the depths of this oaked stout and you can sense the darkness in his soul.
This rich, woody and strong (8% abv) stout is part of Panhead’s “Canhead” range – a range of four beers presented in 500ml cans, each can sporting the unique tale and striking face of a particular character. The cans stand out from the crowd, with Wellington tattoo artist Simon Morse’s excellent black-and-white artwork catching the eye amongst the rainbow of colours more usually seen on the shelves of a good beer fridge.
The other petrolheaded personalities in the Canhead range include Hermann Holeshott (a German hopfenwiesse), Johnny Octane (a red IPA), and a very floral and fragrant rosehip and hibiscus saison by the name of Lola Deville. But it’s the grizzled, bearded Henry Hardtail can that contains the beer that has most impressed me amongst all the fine new ales I’ve tried so far this year.
The aroma of this oak-barrel aged stout is woody and sweet, with hints of coffee and chocolate floating around the edges. In the mouth it’s superbly soft and creamy. Comforting, like a warm blanket, and warming as the strong alcohol makes its way down your throat.
The chocolate and coffee richness comes through even stronger as the black beer sits in your mouth, then as you swallow a delicious soft lemony goodness emerges, speaking of a very clever use of hops to balance the sweetness of the malt.
The woodiness lingers too, the oak tangy and, perhaps, adding a slight tinge of green wood smoke. Then, as the beer warms, it just gets even better. Vanilla emerges, as does a rich toasty goodness, the oak and the alcohol melding perfectly together to create a solid, black richness.
There’s nothing wrong going on here – the hops lend a zing to the upfront aroma and a gentle tingle to the aftertaste, but unlike some other black ales there’s nothing burnt or bitter lurking unpleasantly. Hardtail Henry balances perfectly, easing around any corner it faces, presenting a gorgeously smooth ride from the moment you open the can until the last drop is swallowed.
This might possibly be my favourite stout of all the stouts and porters I’ve drunk. Maybe even my favourite beer, full stop.
I sincerely hope you get to try it, if you haven’t already. Henry may be grizzled and intimidating to look at, but you’ll want to cuddle up with him on these long cold winter nights.