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A brand new beer from Trouble Brewing arrived just before Christmas. As far as I can see we didn't get a new iteration of their Dash Away cherry chocolate stout this year, so instead it's a straight-up milk stout called Nocturne. It looks well: black with ruby edging and topped by a creamy off-white head, just like stout is supposed to be. There's a surprising, and pleasing, vegetal bitterness in the aroma, hinting that this will be more in the traditional dry style than anything candyfied or otherwise deriving from the lesser stout cultures of America and Britain.

Sure enough, there's a bitterness at the centre of the flavour, although it is as much the luxurious bite of high-cocoa dark chocolate as the metallic rasp of old-world hops. Either way, it works beautifully. There's only the faintest lactic tang in the aftertaste to remind you this is anything other than a classically constructed Irish stout. If the very idea of milk in stout puts you off, here's an example that might just change your mind.

As a top-ranking husband, I bought the Panda Saga box set from BRÚ Brewery for my Panda Nero loving wife. As a top-ranking wife, she let me have a small taste of the one I hadn't had before: Super Panda. This one follows the basic chocolate and coffee pattern of all the other variants but ramps everything up to 15.2% ABV, so a small glass should be plenty.

It seemed a little thin and translucent as it poured, suggesting high attenuation rather than high gravity. And indeed it's thin on the palate, which is not the way Very Big Stout is normally done. The add-ons are very concentrated, to the point of seeming harsh, and there's very little sense of an underlying beer. This is more of a liqueur than anything else, and I couldn't imagine drinking a whole can. Big pastry stout should be richer and more filling, not simply stronger.

I really hope the current panoply of dark Irish beers doesn't get reduced just because the evenings start to brighten. It's always winter somewhere.