When it comes to beer I’ll admit I’m a bit of a tart...or, at least, that’s how like my brews. While thumbing the drinks menu in a tap room, you’ll find me malingering around the sour lambics and krieks...and, completely swinging the other way, over in the dark side. The porters, the stouts, the heavy, calorific, rib-sticking pints.
I have a particular obsession with Lindemans Pecheresse beer. At 2.5% ABV, my hubby likes to convince me it’s little more than a grown-up alcopop. But it really is the perfect summer drink – especially if you’ve been trusted with the tongs at the barbecue and need to be on your game, not wasted, singing karaoke songs.
This week’s shout out is for a collab chocolate caramel stout. I have a cross to bear when it comes to this particular kind of tipple. Because as soon as I see a can of this stuff, I’m there. You don’t need to sell it to me. You can keep your fancy highfalutin logo and ad campaign. Stout – yes please. Chocolate – absolutely. Hook, line and sinker.
Thing is, this type of stout is, I find, almost notoriously disappointing. Either lacking in body, or bland and flat, without any hint of that chocolatey promise. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three big brands that don’t deliver. Sure, they’ve got fancy cans but...come on guys, it’s what’s inside that counts.
If you’re going to make a chocolate stout, you’ve got to ramp up the lactose and oats. Maybe supercharge the temperature of the mash. Getting it right is definitely an art. And I think the Vocation X Brew York Sweet Temptation Chocolate Caramel Stout has hit the nail on the head. It’s bang-on.
First, a bit about the breweries – both based in glorious Yorkshire.
Vocation’s headquarters at Hebden Bridge (there are bars here, in Leeds and Manchester), have a serene hilly outlook, and the business is the second time around the block for head honcho John. As with many beers on the craft scene, the story of his products begins in a home kitchen. Every single brewer I’ve interviewed in the past has begun their journey in a domestic setting. One even told me he exploded a dark beer all over a white kitchen – his other half wasn’t happy!
John sold everything to put 100% into his new career and it became such a success he sold up, moving onto other projects. But that beer bug had truly bitten, because he missed the world of malt and hops so much he started all over again in what was now a vocation (hence the name). That was back in 2015, and today the site churns out some crackers, from crisp pale ale Pride & Joy (5.3%) to the tongue-tingling rainbow sherbet Gweilo sour (4.5%) brewed with fresh raspberry puree and lemon sorbet.
Vocation has mixed it up with Brew York – a brewery tap and beer hall in the heart of the historic city (with offshoots in Pocklington and Leeds). This is another passion project, selling its casks, cans and kegs (and some pretty cool merch to boot) across the UK and beyond. Stock weaves from a classy 3.7% pale ale Calmer Chameleon (driven by tropical fruit-forward hops such as Mosaic) through to the joyous Rhubarbra Streisand – a 5.5% milkshake IPA shimmied up with rhubarb, vanilla and ginger.
With the sheen of a 70% chocolate bar, the can of the brewing duo’s stout screams buy me, pour me, lay on the sofa with a slice of cake, chuck on a movie and devour me.
At 6.6% it’s a sipper. You want to take it slow with this one – if only to absorb and enjoy the complexity and layering of the flavours.
On opening there is a surprisingly strong whoosh of caramel straight away. I remember my eyes lighting up as I poured. “Ooh this is going to be good!”
The pour is viscous and effervescent. It certainly looks like a beer of substance. Another sniff gives over more of that caramel, heading into sticky toffee pudding territory.
And the first sip is pure luxury. That silky, rich, mouth-filling texture, like cool molten chocolate, is there. It has all the characteristics of a first-rate oatmeal brew.
Lactose in the mix brings in that sweet, lactic, milky caramel flavour initially. And this mellows into back notes of chocolate, and a lingering, aromatic touch of coffee.
This is a good drop. In fact, it’s too good to share.
You can find it in supermarkets if you’re lucky (I think they’ve run out of stock directly at the brewery). But for a similar vibe from each business you could go direct and buy Vocation’s Naughty & Nice Chocolate Stout (5.9%) or Brew York’s Tonkoko (4.3%), which they bill as ‘Bounty in a glass’, loaded with coconut, tonka beans, cacao and vanilla.