Fancy Dress Beer

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The creatures in this image wouldn’t have been conceivable a year ago, but might only seem tentative twelve months from now. We have an imperial Gose made with beetroot, lemon peel, coriander and black salt. We then have an ale suffused with lobsters, cockles, seaweed and “sea herbs”, and finally a kaffir lime Saison blended with a coconut stout.

So to recap, beer with taproots, crustaceans, molluscs, coconut, salt, fruit, algae and plants.

How should we define brews like these when they stray so far from the traditional four ingredients? Beer in its glad rags? Masquerade ale? Bière de grand guignol? I settled for fancy dress and what we’re here to ascertain is whether they wear these garbs proudly or just got changed in the dark.

Is there anything in this qualified experimentation? Are these three concoctions still actually beer?

And so to the fancy dress ball…..

Beerbliotek is a Swedish brewery from Gothenburg. For this venture, they’ve teamed up with A F Brew from St Petersburg. This is the beetroot, lemon peel, coriander and black sea salt candidate. The name of this beer is as abundantly Craft as the brewery itself:

Alternative Fact 1984: Beetroot Is The New Hops (can 6.6 abv):

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It pours an ectoplasmic pink like the brightest flush of rhubarb. The short-stay head is fluffy and as flamboyant a hue as candy floss. I notice small particles swirling in the vortex. There’s no mention of can-conditioning so this might be beetroot pulp.

On the nose, it smells like a well-used flannel; soaking wet and sweaty – this will no doubt be the salt that represents a Gose. The divisive Gose – I don’t think I’ll ever get used to sipping a beer and licking the salt from my lips. There’s also a tart citrus rind note in there.

I swig it. I’m happy to report it’s not only carbonated but refreshing too. The first taste I pick up is bittersweet like a blood orange but then the beetroot starts to come through loud and clear. Think of the sweet cytoplasm you get pooling on the chopping board when you grate the imperial purple one.

So, unsurprisingly, it’s like drinking a beetroot salad. If you enjoy Pimms, you might be cool with this. I could imagine drinking something like this in summer, and not just because the colour makes me nostalgic for cherry Slush Puppies (do they still exist?).

It contains corn, wheat and rye malt in the grain bill so this kind of fills the role of the yoghurt in a smoothie.

Out of this trio, Wild Beer Co is the producer I know most and hold in high esteem. Even given their infamous creative wont, this beer just seems mad with the addition of lobster, cockles, seaweed, sea salt and star anise.

Of The Sea (bottle 7 abv):

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Emptying into the glass, the liquid is a gorgeous glowing straw gold and is crystal clear. A huge lily rocky head lunges up and it sticks around. It looks like a Pilsner but that’s as far as the comparison can be pushed.

The aroma is elusive. It takes me a lot of swirling, cupping, inhaling etc to get any handle on it. My first approximation is strawberries and cracked pepper but then this ripens and I get a facial tan of sweet rich crab meat like unscrewing the top off a jar of Prince’s crab paste. I should say at this point that I’ve never had lobster so don’t recognise it. I’ve had langoustines/Dublin bay prawns but remember little of their taste or fragrance.

I take my first mouthful. I’ve never tasted a beer like this before and I’m afraid it’s simply my previous analogy writ large: I’m eating crab paste sandwiches on white bread – this beer is the sludge I chew it into. What you get on both on the nose and the palate is a complete side swipe to what your eyes tell you. Blindfold, this would be murky. Instead, the beer looks like clarified honey.

I get a touch of heat – a little spice that might derive from the star anise also used in the brew.

It impresses me by dutifully fulfilling Wild Beer Co’s mission statement to create a beer based on a lobster bisque. That’s been achieved.

It has carbonation and malt but in no way is it refreshing.

Wild Weather Ales have collaborated with Weird Beard Brew Co to pull off what’s possibly the whackiest offering so far by blending a kaffir lime Saison with a coconut stout:

Such A Bohr (can-conditioned 7.3 abv):

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It decants a dark treacle brown but this turns immediately to a foam that fills the glass. It’s one of those beers that you glaze over watching to settle but eventually it does. The expanded head is toasted, velvety and stubborn.

It smells like sweet coffee or coffee cake with a sprinkling of Demerera sugar.

I sip it. I get the levity – the fluorescent green of the limes followed by a full roast coffee nebula. I then get the stringy gnashy coconut too.

This is everything in all directions at once. Each of the disparate and contradictory characters seem to survive with their identities intact in this maelstrom. This is a blend – they can so often be like mixing paints on a canvas and ending up with a muddy brown. This beer isn’t like that, it’s like the individual colours in refracted light.

No ingredient overpowers the others; this beer is a perfect socialist state.

Conclusion:

These chimeras each made me sit up in some way. None of them is horrible but each is trying to get its foot onto the same stage as beer and so should be judged accordingly. I’ll be curt: If I had to vote one out, with regret due to my adoration of the brewery, it would be Wild Beer Co’s Of The Sea. It tasted like something I want to eat. I love sausages but I don’t want my beer to taste the same as them.

I’d next drop Such A Bohr. Why? Because even though it demonstrates brewing craft, it’s just too busy. Less is more but does make me reflect on a lot of people’s reason for disliking black IPAs – a style I love. They don’t like the sensory contradiction of the verdant citrussy hops paired with the unction of roast coffee. This beer is almost a caricature of that – the style taken to its logical conclusion and where some draw that line at black IPAs, I draw it here. I think many would love this beer.

And so back to the beetroot. If I was going to drink any of these beers again it would be this one. Despite the shopping list of ingredients, it’s actually the simplest one in this line-up and remembers that one of beer’s strong suits is that it should be refreshing (not an absolute rule – an imperial stout certainly isn’t) and it hits that spot. The beetroot doesn’t replace the hops in their aroma and bittering capacity. One thing a great Lager will always have over this is the dry aftertaste that sends you diving back in for more. So no – beetroot is not the new hops it’s still just beetroot. This is a refreshing low-alcohol cocktail and about three of your five a day.

English fruit tarts

a sour fruit beer vertical tasting

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Sour beer has really taken off in Britain. It was exotic just several years ago, known only to connoisseurs who’d explored the beers of wider Europe. My first ever sour was by Kernel but now it’s part of every new brewery’s core range. Most traditional breweries are yet to catch up – maybe in part because it’s not a style suited to cask condition but I believe that the older boys will jump on board just as they did with black IPAs. If you were brought up in northern Europe, you might always have had a sour tooth. Why? Just follow this sentence.

Elgoods brewery, hailing from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, is one of the country’s most traditional and is an exception. Its recent employment of a coolship in the loft of one of their brewery buildings was a very radical move for a purveyor of bitter and milds. A coolship is a large fermenting tank open to the air. Airborne yeasts kickstart the fermentation rather than being introduced by the brewer. It’s how Lambic beer is brewed in the Pajottenland in Belgium. With unregulated wild yeasts, the brewer needs to keep their fingers crossed. We can’t use the L word here though as it has protected geographic status. For the fruit version of their spontaneously fermented beer, Elgoods have steeped raspberries and blackberries in it.

 

Elgoods Coolship Fruit – bottle 5% ABV

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The pour reminds me a bit of decanting a bottle of pink Lambrini – the staple free bottle of plonk gifted to children when they turn eighteen at nightclubs (no I didn’t). It’s like carbonated rose wine the blush is of the resin on toffee apples.

There’s an off-white corona of a head that swirls around – a spiral galaxy imploding.

The nose is beautiful. It reminds me of grenadine syrup or even Vimto. It’s the smell of my own hands after scrumping brambles and dewberries as a child.

The beer’s very carbonated on the sip: it hits the tongue fizzing. It’s nowhere near as sour an experience as I’d anticipated. Nothing like, say, a brett beer. It’s tart-sweet – the fruit pushing through the most is the raspberry. It’s never sharp enough to make you squint.

I can still feel the buoyancy of the malt through all this. It thickens the liquid into a kind of fruit compote.

There’s absolutely no dryness or indeed bitterness. Just the tart-sweet.

A very refreshing beer but with no real complexity. In fairness, it never claimed it. It’s a showy extrovert rather than an introvert.

 

Buxton Brewery/Lervig Aktibryggeri Trolltunga – Bottle conditioned 6.3% ABV

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On the eye it’s a hazy dingy yellow. The head is white and pockmarked like grouting.

The aroma is sour, unripe, aggressive, not ready to be eaten, gorgeous. It’s like you’ve sliced into something green and organic and the acidity’s seeping out like milk. It makes your eyes water.

The liquid washes over the tongue like a cold tide across a fever. Sour and sharp, it passes through the roof of your mouth to the back of your eyeballs and unfocuses them. It’s strongly carbonated too which helps spread it further quicker. Osmosis drags it in and hastens the intoxication.

The pincer movement of nose and palate causes acute goosebumps. It cuts straight through. Goose grass with its barbs, gooseberries with their sharpness, goosebumps in defence. It stays the safe side of heart burn proving the brewer’s crafted it, not lost control.

You open and shut your mouth like a goldfish. You lick your lips like a lizard. It’s so sour.

This beer screams out for a soft rich fatty cheese to balance it out in a seesaw of extremes.

It’s piercing and makes your tense gimlet eyes equally so. Beautiful.

 

Kernel Brewery Damson Sour – Bottle conditioned 4.1% ABV

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Bermondsey’s offering pours a pinky purple with a gentle carbonation. You can see bubbles erupting on the surface like a volcano crater pool. It looks like beetroot juice. A half moon of light beige froth coronas the crater.

I smell fermenting fruit – it’s like a food waste bin in the heat of summer. Bacterial breakdown is happening with a red wine balsamic edge.

It’s so gentle when you swig it – the first beer out of this trio to soothe despite being a sour. The flavours come through after a short delay. It’s suave and restrained in its taste.

There’s the sensation of eating handfuls of red currants. The plum (damson) is of the tartest variety but not to the extent this becomes puckering. It’s still sharp – slightly unripe pink rather than soft blue but carrying enough sweetness to make it sociable.

The mouthfeel is smooth and the liquid on the palate is tangy rather than fizzy. It’s almost as creamy as a fruit smoothie.

There is absolutely no dryness to this. It’s a gorgeous beer but very polite. It has a U rating and can be shown on mainstream TV in the early afternoon.

Its strongest facet is the unabashed aroma of decay and fermentation. I love it.

All three beers raise the bar for the style. Each can definitely come back to my boudoir but I do have a favourite in this vertical taste-off and it’s hands-down Trolltunga. Without overbalancing, it just kept its passion so that the finishing sips were as purging as the first. It wasn’t afraid to come on strong and forced you to sip it respectfully.