The 4 Pines Black Box of Dark Ales was released in late April 2016. As with all Keller Door beers, it’s a limited release so you’ll need to get it quick.
A lovely concept following on from last year’s story of pale ale, this is a selection of four dark beers, perfectly timed as the weather in Sydney starts to cool.
The Black Box from 4 Pines features a German-style schwarzbier, a London-inspired coffee porter, a modern black IPA drawing from one of the world’s craft beer capitals in Portland, Oregon, and lastly, from England via Russia, a Russian imperial stout.
4 Pines Schwarzbier is a dark German lager. It pours virtually black with, if you hold it up to the light, just the tiniest tint of a Coca-Cola colour. On top, there’s a light milk-coffee coloured head.
The head is pretty active and it rockets up the glass quickly so be careful if you’re pouring from the bottle. It looks beautiful, with lots of very small, loosely packed bubbles that fizzle and pop as the head slowly starts to fade away.
On the nose, there’s a little bit of sulphur and a touch of burnt caramel. It’s definitely an enticing combination.
As with dunkels, schwarzbiers are criminally uncommon these days. They’re delicious and complex beers that pack in flavour and refreshment. Schwarzbier is also a wonderfully historic style, particularly in terms of dark beers, hence its inclusion in the 4 Pines Black Box.
As you’d hope from a schwarzbier, this shows a perfect combination of malt and hops, with the malt coming through slightly more prominently . There’s a little bit of sweetness from the malt with lots of toasty flavours and the lightest touch of coffee. Then there’s a delicate bitterness as the hops show themselves briefly.
Salted pretzels are a perfect grazing snack to accompany this type of beer. They go very well with the crisp finish and moderate dryness.
At 4.3%, it’s pretty sessionable. If you could find it on tap, it would be great to sit on a few glasses of these through an afternoon and evening.
Pair with: Salted pretzels
Now this is a dark beer! It pours the deepest, darkest brown, teetering on the precipice of blackness. It froths up excitedly to create a mountainous head which bubbles and pops, leaving thick, sudsy lacing around the glass.
Immediately that distinctive coffee aroma hits you but it’s not dark espresso roast beans but something fresher and greener. There’s something a little bit fruity to the coffee. With a deep breath in through your nose, you’ll pick up an underlying sweet caramel smell too.
This 4 Pines Coffee Porter was produced in collaboration with Single Origin Roasters. If you’re as geeky about your coffee as you are with your beer, you’ll already know these guys. If not, check them out. They’re roasting some of the best specialty coffee in Sydney.
It almost tastes like a sweet stout such is the initial bite. The coffee component of the beer is like a nice long black with a teaspoon of sugar added.
Flavours of under-extracted, fruity coffee cut out abruptly before they can evolve into the rich, toasty porter you expect.
This is a coffee porter with a light touch. There is very little “beery” bitterness, and the coffee is very subtle in the mid-palate and leaves very little after-taste. It’s all in the initial punch of aroma and flavour.
Pair with: Caramel chocolate tart
This black IPA (or Cascadian dark ale) is probably the lightest of the four beers. It’s a cola brown.
The aroma is deliciously balanced between toasty malt and green, piney hops. Neither aspect of this beer is over the top or in your face.
For an IPA, it’s surprisingly sweet on the initial taste and while the aftertaste does round out to a bolder level of bitterness, the hops seem to be showcased mostly in the flavour and aroma. It’s hiding the 77 IBUs very well under the rich, toasted malt backbone.
With tropical punch over some more subtle stone fruit, the flavours are delicious. There’s a residual stickiness to the hop character, in that it’s not quite resinous but you know there’s a fair dose of hops in there.
There’s a delicate toasted sweet-bread flavour at the base of the beer but most of the tingling on the tastebuds comes from the hops. The mouthfeel is smooth, coating the palate in a satisfying way before finishing fairly dry.
It’s an easy drinking black IPA, with an ABV of 6.3% probably about right for this style of beer. Any higher and the booze could just add a complicated additional element which could unsettle the tricky act of balancing the hops and malt in this beer.
This would be great in a dingy bar with an oozing four cheese pizza. The bready malt will pair with the base, while the biting hops will cut through the cheese.
Pair with: Quattro formaggi pizza
Russian Imperial Stout
This Russian Imperial Stout is the daddy of the 4 Pines Black Box beers.
The deeply black liquid pours with ominous weight and viscosity. Eventually the butterscotch head is reduced to a few bubbles but initially it holds surprisingly well for a beer with this much alcohol.
In the aroma there’s vanilla and some dark fruits. The fruity smell is surprisingly fresh and I wonder if the bottle was left for a few months whether this would evolve into dried figs and prunes. For now, it has the enticing whiff of juicy, plump plums.
The flavours are aggressively roasty before rounding out with a degree of smokiness which lingers around the sinuses on taking a few sips. For a malt-driven beer, there’s a fair whack of bitterness. Although the malt does come back into the picture to deliver a bitter-sweet finish.
As this Russian imperial stout warms, some of the fruitiness comes through with the flavour of chewy figs.
The mouthfeel is lighter than the heavy liquid suggests but it’s definitely still a full-bodied beer and even the smallest sip is satisfying. Despite the bite of roasted grain it finishes very smoothly.
This is the kind of beer which is extremely rewarding to sip and savour. Sit on it for a while. If you were to pair it with food, chocolate would be a good way to go. Ideally over multiple courses of a dessert degustation. Otherwise, a chocolate and hazelnut tart would be a delicious pairing.
Pair with: Chocolate dessert degustation
The Lowdown: 4 Pines Black Box of Dark Ales
The 4 Pines Black Box of Dark Ales, like other Keller Door releases, has generated some excitement among beer enthusiasts. But it’s also a brilliant way of introducing people to new styles.
People who are making their first steps into craft beer could do a lot worse than having their first experience of a schwarzbier or a black IPA come from this Black Box.
And 4 Pines deserve additional kudos for their excellent artwork on these bottles. It’s sensational.
What did you think of the 4 Pines Black Box of Dark Ales? Leave a comment and let me know what your favourite from the set was?