St Austell have continued their exploration of ‘world beer’ styles with a Belgian-style sour cherry beer.
We’ve met Roger Ryman, head brewer at St Austell, a few times, and he has always struck us as rather sensible — the kind of bloke who keeps a very tidy glove box. Get him on to the subject of Belgian beer, however, and he becomes positively giddy.
Last time we bumped into him, in a pub in Penzance, he’d just come back from a trip to Poperinge accompanied by the latest edition of Stange and Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium, and was excited to have re-stocked his cellar with multiple cases of De Ranke XX Bitter.
So when he brews Belgian-style beers at St Austell, it isn’t a text-book exercise or a mere marketing gimmick — there is a certain amount of passion (sorry) behind it.
The base beer for Tamar Creek was brewed on a tiny experimental brew kit, inoculated with wild yeast and brettanomyces, and then aged in wooden barrels on a bed of cherries from the Tamar Valley for six months. It comes in 750ml corked bottles wrapped in printed paper, in a tribute to Liefman’s — a better marketing manoeuvre than this rather gory PR photo:
We bought our bottle at the brewery shop for £9, but the online price is £14 including delivery. Is it worth the money?
On opening, we got hit by an immediate nostril-curling sting of ‘funk’ which reminded us specifically of apples rotting in an orchard. (Brace yourselves — this review is all about ‘the erotics of disgust’.)
Poured into squeaky clean glasses, a soapy rose-tinted head rose up and over the lip of the glass before prickling away to nothing after 30 seconds or so, leaving what looked like a glass of well-aged red wine.
Despite a rather thin body, it tasted convincingly Belgian, the funky aroma matched by an acidic note not unlike (brace…) bile. It took us a while to pin down exactly which taste memories were being triggered, then it clicked: it had the skull-dissolving tang of pink grapefruit juice.
There was a dry tannic note, too, which wasn’t unlike biting into a grape seed.
On the whole, we’ll call it a grower. Though, at first, it seemed thin and one dimensional, the texture and sweetness built as it coated our mouths, and ‘ho-hum’ eventually turned to ‘yum yum’.
We didn’t regret spending £9 on it — about the same price as an imported Belgian equivalent — but whether you reach the same conclusion will probably depend on your interest in the exercise, the value you place on ‘buying local’, and your knowledge of the style.
We certainly look forward to future iterations of this brew, and to more heartfelt Belgian-inspired experiments from St Austell.