If you’ve ever trapped your finger in a car door. you’ll perhaps empathise with this tale of struggle and woe. It begins in East London, at Signature Brew’s new taproom, at the start of December. Was that a hint of Christmas in the air I detected? No. It was the smell of heat and spice emanating from the victims of HB&B’s latest round of Chilli Karaoke.
The premise of Chilli Karaoke is simple, yet effective. You choose a song, you sing the first few lines before being rudely interrupted by the host, at which point a Scotch Bonnet pepper is consumed and you try to finish your song. Meanwhile, your struggle provides quality entertainment for the gathered crowd. Having once taken part myself, I can honestly say this is the modern equivalent of the gladiators fighting in front of the baying masses at the Colosseum. Only with catchier tunes.
After another hilarious night, hosted by HB&B’s very own Lewis Blomfield (who, it also turns out, is a very good character comedian), our chariot (a Toyota Prius) winged us home from the Colosseum, my beers to review tucked safely under one arm.
This is where a good argument could be made for cans over bottles, as they tend not to shatter. As I turned to exit the car (parked on a slight incline), the door began to close – but I did not move the middle finger on my left hand before the door decided to shut itself. There was blood, there was profanity (told you it was just like Ancient Rome), but worse was that the shock of trapping my finger caused me to throw everything I was carrying in my other hand up in the air. I didn’t see the can and bottle hit the ground, but I sure heard them.
The shattering of glass against tarmac drowned out the dull thud of a can hitting the same surface. I watched as this precious imperial stout, which had spent months maturing in red wine and Cognac casks, trickled down my North London street, only to be washed away by the rain.
And that would’ve been the end of this review. But thankfully, like all good Christmas tales, this has a happy ending. The next morning, I went for a walk and passing a rival bottle shop, I stopped in to see if they had stock of the same beer. To my delight, they did. Popping the bottle safely into my pocket, I rushed it home, chilled it down for just under an hour, and then – very carefully – opened it.
And what did I find? Perhaps one of the most exquisite imperial stouts I’ve tried all year: Unctuous molasses and roasted barley flavours, interspersed with a tangy bouquet of juicy red wine and mouth puckering tannins. The merest hint of Cognac adding a little boozy flourish to the end of each sip. I’d say it’s so good that its fit for Caesar himself. And perfect for some extended Christmas Day drinking. Well, it is The Kernel.
Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for numerous publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis.