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It's a raft of special editions from Wicklow Wolf today, beginning with numbers 31 and 32 in their Endangered Species series which landed late in the summer.

I like the concept of the first one, except for the slightly cringey name. It's a pilsner with Sorachi Ace hops, which is good, but this apparently makes it an Italian-style pilsner and earns it the moniker Toto Sorachi. It's a football thing. 4.9% ABV is more than adequate for a pils but it still looks a little anaemic in the glass. And then... It's not what I expected. Sorachi Ace has a very distinctive flavour: coconut foremost, pith, maybe plastic -- this has none of that. The confounding of expectation is the only disappointment, however, because what you get instead is gorgeous: a fresh and juicy melon and lychee affair seasoned with white pepper which is sinkable and thirst-quenching but fascinating too. Did they come up with the name and then swap out the Sorachi for Mosaic and/or Strata at the last minute? Regardless, this is a hit, being a proper high-end pilsner that also has fun with non-typical hop flavours. Not every brewery gets this right when they try it.

Onwards and upwards to Decipher purporting to be a tropical double IPA, though at a mere 7% ABV. Yeast vendor WHC Labs gets a shout-out on the label, but maybe their yeast isn't as hard working as one would like. The beer is a standard hazy orange and smells nicely dank with some fresh-squeezed orange vibes. The flavour has a certain sweetness up front but reverts to the west coast quite quickly: grapefruit, lime and a little unpleasantly acrid burnt plastic. Once again we're looking at false advertising: while this is mostly fine, it's not really appropriate to make "tropical" the headline descriptor. It's citric and bitter, and nicely crisp and clean. "West Coast" would also not quite be honest but it exists in a happy place somewhere between the two.

Then September brought number 34 and, praise be, it's a black IPA. They've called it Sirius, and it's 6% ABV. It passes the blackness test, which not every BIPA does, though the aroma is a little quiet for my liking. The roast and citrus are there, but you have to inhale hard to get the benefit. It seemed a little thin, too, not feeling like it's above session strength. But session it I could: the flavour is mostly quite subtle, though very tasty, emphasising the chocolatey dark malt, plus a jolt of espresso, and definitely spiked with red cabbage and grapefruit in the way that good black IPA ought to be. Sirius is built for the pint, tasting great but not so strongly as to be loud or annoying. While stonkingly punchy will always be my preference for these, there's no harm in having a less sippable, more drinkable one too. This recipe might warrant promotion from endangered to core, if there's a vacancy.

Not a candidate for core-dom is Locavore Autumn 2022, a 10.5% ABV barley wine made with all Wicklow ingredients, though aged in sherry barrels which presumably came from somewhere else. A deep red-brown colour, it's as dense as one might expect, forming a thick head as it poured, but very very slowly. It tastes great, the cherry-jam sweetness countered by liquorice laces and a dry oaky char. It has a lot in common with style leader Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, which is impressive by itself, but that the hops are Irish grown makes it doubly so. I'm not sure the barrel adds much positive to it. It doesn't taste of sherry, and the wood does kind of get in the way of the precious malt and hops. If they're considering something similar next autumn, a non-barrelled edition would be welcomed by me.

It's a while since we had a new hacked version of Apex. The latest is Apex Death By Chocolate, and as ever I'm sceptical of the merits of pastrifying a very decent serious oatmeal stout. I think they've got away with it here, though, with a beer that's very enjoyable on two different levels. The rich, full and dead classy base stout is still there, smooth with a dry grain-husk finish and even a certain hop tang. The chocolate isn't fatal, and the sweetness it adds doesn't interfere with the fundamentals. Instead, it brings a warming hot-chocolate effect: comforting and classy, not a tacked-on gimmick. This is great stuff and I can see why they did it: chocolate stout as it should be.

That was Endangered Species 35, followed by 36: Black Castle. Here it's not the ingredients that were locally grown, but the oak which made the barrel in which it's been aged. It's an imperial stout at 9.5% ABV, and very dark. I didn't even notice that the head was foaming up and overflowing as I poured, so deep is the colour. The oak is very loud in the aroma, making it smell like a big Gran Reserva Rioja wine, down to the cork and the raisins. I was worried it would be overpoweringly vanilla'd, or dry and splintery, but the density of the stout comes to the rescue and ensures that there's more going on. Yes, it's very very oaky, but before that kicks off there's a luxurious seam of dark chocolate and a plenty of toasted grains. The raisins I noticed in the aroma are full-on red grapes here and I don't know how that's done but it's lovely. All told, this is a class act; multifaceted, interesting and very tasty.

Wicklow Wolf is a brewery that tends to have everything dialled in right. Here, the quality is impeccable but the naming in occasional need of intervention from the Quality Assurance team.