Captain First Rank Jack Manly stroked the stubble of his chin. It was a three-day growth, despite the fact that he had had his regulation shave that morning. The air was warm, but there was a bite of winter in it. Two layers of leather and cotton enclosed him. He looked around, at the cabin that was beginning to feel too small. A cat licked herself, noisily, while a pan of meatballs for tomorrow’s lunch – submarine sandwiches – simmered away on one of the four burners on the stove. That wasn’t regulation chow; his mouth watered at the thought of it.
In his hand there was a nondescript, black-and-white-can. It was white-labelled, with black writing on it. It was almost like a laundry list, some words, phrases and numbers picked out in purple. It almost looked like it could be a newspaper, listing the casualties of the war. Not his war. The paper never found out about his heroic deeds of valour.
The can gave tasting notes for the beer inside. He upended it into a glass, its angular sides sloping upwards and inwards to a lip that recurved back out. The can was a standard craft beer can, 375ml with a 66mm diameter and a height of 130mm. It poured black – like it claimed – but burnt umber when it caught the light, or gleaming red if you were really looking.
He brought the glass to his ruggedly handsome lips – it was rich, chocolatey and smooth. The carbonation was gentle, which really lent to the chocolate milk vibe he was picking up straight away. As the initial flush of flavour faded away, he noticed a slight bitterness – not like hops, but something differently astringent. Probably from the oatmeal, he reasoned deftly, or the roasted malts.
He smacked his lips. It was good. The brew was slightly sweet and had a pour-over coffee characteristic – softly acidic and fruity like berries. It put him in the mind of a lightly brewed black coffee with just a splash of cream and one sugar. The chocolatey note came back – not bittersweet dark, but smooth milk chocolate, again with that hint of red fruits. The mouthfeel and taste seemed to progress through three almost distinct stages of textural flavour. The three-grain malt bill led him through rich, sweet and finally bitter.
The paradoxically light but creamy, rich but somehow thin stout made him smile as a memory was dragged involuntarily from the recesses of his mind. When he was posted at Torii Station in Japan, he had marvelled at the vending machines, seemingly capable of providing anything you might need on a whim at a moment’s notice. He remembered trying to navigate the coffee vending machine without speaking the language. It was blind luck as to what you got. It would dispense a small, rigid can of either chilled or piping hot coffee, luck-of-the-draw as to whether it had a splash of milk, or some sugar. The taste of this beer was oddly close to the taste of some of those cans, and it brought those memories flooding back; of standing in front of the machine with a 100 yen coin, trying to get the right config for your morning joe.
He finished the beer and set his jaw, firmly. It was time to head out. “All engines ahead slow, Ensign Kochka” he said. “Time to save the world.”