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I've built up something of a backlog of Wicklow Wolf beers over the last few months. That's partly down to the sort of beers they've been producing, going in for strong and dark in a big way. I love it, but finding an occasion to make time for that kind of thing is tricky. I got round to them eventually, however, and here's what I found.

A tiddler starts us off, namely Apex Nobó, yet another variation on their Apex oatmeal stout. This one has added cocoa and coconut and is the lightest of today's set at 5.5% ABV. Not that it looks weak: it pours densely and is topped by a head the colour of milky coffee. The coconut is apparent in the aroma where it sits next to the promise of a green vegetal hop bitterness. It seems this will be a beer of contrasts. Coconut dominates the flavour too, arriving in at the very front and spreading oleaginously across the palate from there. The stout character suffers under its ministrations. Yes it has the oatmeal creamy texture, but there's no roast, and I didn't get much chocolate either. The promised hop tang appears only briefly at the end. I've said before that none of these variants have improved on the original and this is no exception. If you live for coconut in stout this will provide full satisfaction; me, I was too bothered about the good flavours being smothered by the gimmick.

Guardian of the Galaxy black double IPA was one of the brewery's best offerings last year. Now we learn that, together with DOT, they aged a portion of it in rum barrels and stole a name from a different science fiction franchise to create Hitchhiker's Guide. This is badged as a "dark ale" rather than any sort of IPA, so I assume the hop side has taken a dive. It looks slightly paler too: a cola brown or red rather than black. The aroma is very spirituous, with a touch of the fusel effect I often detect in rum and rum-flavoured things. Although it's a whopping 11.6% ABV, the texture is surprisingly light and there's not much of a booze kick. In fact the flavour is quite muted in general. Yes it's rummy. I've come to regard rum as the raspberry of spirits: when added to beer it tends to dominate everything. Here's it's subtle and pleasant: bringing a dash of vanilla and molasses, but nothing severe. It sits on a gentle base of milk chocolate and runny caramel. My only issue is that something this strong and convoluted should be more complex. Time seems to have smoothed out the multifaceted character that made the original so excellent. You're left with something extremely elegant, but running the risk of seeming bland with it.

The pale one in the set is the deep ochre Locavore Autumn 2021. The Locavore project began as a single annual beer using the brewery's own hops. For this barley wine, not only are the hops their own but the barley is too and, amazingly, the whiskey barrels it was aged in were made from Wicklow-grown oak. Now that's commitment to the bit. The end result is a 13.5% ABV whopper, so viscous it pours like it's been nitrogenated, a surge of fine bubbles forming the thick head. It's smells a little sickly-sweet, ripe forest berries on sappy young wood. The mouthfeel is as thick and oily as expected, and this helps create a kind of coconut greasiness in the foretaste. Blackberry and strawberry follow, before it turns bitter in the finish -- an almost Saaz-like grassiness. The barrel's contribution is slight, adding nothing more than a spicy seasoning and letting the malt do the talking, which is as it should be. Honey and dessert wine are mentioned on the blurb and I fully concur with that. It's a sticky sipper but still a superb interpretation of barley wine in the style of the classic American versions. This is very impressive stuff, even regardless of the all-local conceit. I would love to see it added to the brewery's annual roster.

That brings us back to Apex. The Imperial Four Bean version reviewed in here last year has been given the bourbon barrel treatment to become Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Four Bean Apex. That boosts its ABV from 9.5% to 12.7%. There's still no mistaking the tonka, however, its cinnamonesque spicing in full control of the aroma. As with the original version there's not much else going on in the flavour: a hint of coffee, a dusting of chocolate powder and a small squirt of vanilla and that's your lot. It doesn't taste beefed up or boozed out by the bourbon. While the barrel ageing of the previous beer added a subtle complexity, here they may as well not have bothered. It's just too strongly flavoured to get the benefit. If it's to be brewed again the tonka needs to be dialled right back, or removed. Three beans is plenty. Don't get me wrong, this is still a lovely, soft and warming imperial stout with a comforting sweetness that's not overdone.

All this, and new vintages of the Locavore winter stout and the iconic Pointy Shoes imperial stout too. I don't know if Wicklow Wolf exports much of its product but they make fantastic examples of what Irish microbrewers are doing. It deserves recognition.