Discomfort Zone: Argy Bargy Black Barley Wine

Argy Bargy Black Barley Wine – bottle conditioned 10.4 ABV

Argy Bargy is the lovechild of three breweries but just because this love making involves a trio, does it make the sex any good or are there too many limbs, a lack of co-ordination and nobody’s sure who goes first? Arbor Ales got together with Steel City Brewing and Hopcraft for this fit of passion.

The liquid is impenetrable to the light – opaque, glossy, inky. The self-effacing milky oil of a head is a thin garnish. The more generous head in the photo was departing as I took it.

The aroma is of spirits, black chocolate and liquorice. There’s also neat alcohol lurking with menace and the abandon of subtlety. It verges on unscrewing a bottle of white spirits.

I taste it. It has a milky mouthfeel with a whisky edge and tingles on the roof of the mouth with a spoonful of dark freeze dried coffee. It’s hard to get past the aggression of the aroma – it blots everything else out impairing the sensory process. It leaves the mouth desiccated with a suggestion of nutmeg – something I usually find sickly. I often write about beers belying their strengths but this doesn’t. It’s as heavy as you’d fear it to be. The problem with the spiritous wall is that it blocks everything else. It is however, a new beer for me.

The beer this reminds me of most, bizarrely, lies at the other end of the scale. It’s also often black and I find usually without much depth – a mild. If you were to give a mild steroids and four hours to live, it might taste like this.

It’s hard to describe a beer that teases the place where the senses intersect so you can’t say that it smells or tastes like something in particular. This could be brought about by alcoholic vapours but I’ve had similar chimeric sensations with deep nitrogen injection into beer and with things like Goses. You resort to memories of sucking on rags, salting food, entering a cupboard where a fuse has blown or sensing a metal work shop. What is it? Petroleum? Heated lubricant? Burnt ozone?

Black IPAs aren’t loved by all but they are by me. Some people find the mix of flavour profiles too turgid, others of a sensitive semantic disposition just hate the oxymoronic title. Whether you love them or hate them, you get a balance of sorts – the hoarse scorched malt or coffee at one end, and the parry and cut of sharp hop notes at the other. A black barley wine on the other hand, is more like hitting a cloud bank.

Lasting impression: An echo like the sonorous clang from metal striking metal. Has this been conjured up by an unconscious linking of petroleum jelly?

I’ve looked at other reviews online and it seems mine holds more doubt and negativity which is why people should disagree with me.

The problem beers like this have on the drinker is that you become 90% sure that you don’t like it but it’s the agitated 10% that keeps pestering you to pucker your lips back around the glass. It’s beguiling. It’s always the beers I’m not sure I like or not that do this. I’m not sure whether I don’t like it or whether I’m unaccustomed to it. Any thoughts out there?

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