Beer with flavours, but not flavoured

La Soccarada beer.

There’s been plen­ty of think­ing recent­ly about whether adding ‘non-beery’ ingre­di­ents to beer is a good idea. (Here’s Jeff Alworth on that sub­ject.) Broad­ly speak­ing, we tend to agree that throw­ing in things like cocoa nibs, dough­nuts, maple syrup, wasabi and Tun­nock­’s Tea­cakes fails more often than it suc­ceeds. This week­end, how­ev­er, we were remind­ed that ‘wacky’ ingre­di­ents can work, if they’re used well, and we’re will­ing to broad­en our minds a lit­tle.

First, on Fri­day night, we drank a Span­ish beer, La Socar­ra­da, import­ed by a Welsh del­i­catessen and restau­rant chain, Ultra­co­mi­da. We have pret­ty low expec­ta­tions of Span­ish ‘arti­sanal’ beer (based on past expe­ri­ence), and espe­cial­ly when it’s pitched as being ‘for food’ (max­i­mum pre­ten­sion, min­i­mum flavour). La Soc­cara­da, in a plain bot­tle with a glossy card tied around its neck, did­n’t look promis­ing, and the talk of rose­mary and rose­mary hon­ey as key ingre­di­ents were imme­di­ate­ly off-putting.

Things got worse when, on open­ing, it almost gushed, dis­turb­ing the yeast as it surged into the neck, which left us with a glass of cloudy, rather soupy, dark orange liq­uid. Our first reac­tions: “Oh, no! Eugh!” But then we thought about that reac­tion: were we being like those peo­ple who reject­ed Cas­cade hops for tast­ing ‘weird’ back in the sev­en­ties? We per­se­vered. We find rose­mary rather intense and a lit­tle nau­sea-induc­ing in great amounts; and, of course, we asso­ciate it with savouri­ness, which made it a chal­lenge. (And being ‘chal­lenged’ is over­rat­ed.) But we kept sip­ping, just like we can’t stop eat­ing Twiglets once we start.

By the end, we’d decid­ed that, actu­al­ly, it was a pret­ty decent if rather unusu­al beer. The flavours cer­tain­ly weren’t ‘dumb­ed down’ and were actu­al­ly rather intrigu­ing. In par­tic­u­lar, we were inter­est­ed to note how strong­ly the hon­ey came through with that throat-catch­ing, med­i­c­i­nal note that sets it apart from sim­ple syrup. They did­n’t sit super­fi­cial­ly ‘on top’ of the beer, either, at least not any more than a big dry-hop aro­ma can be said to do so. It might ben­e­fit from more obvi­ous hop bit­ter­ness, and a spici­er yeast, but, in con­clu­sion, we’d be pleased to drink this instead of Estrel­la Damm in a Span­ish restau­rant.

On Sat­ur­day, ham­mer­ing the point home, we tast­ed Har­bour Brew­ing Choco­late & Vanil­la Impe­r­i­al Stout along­side Rebel Brew­ing Co’s sim­i­lar­ly con­ceived Mexi-Cocoa, and were impressed at the inte­gra­tion of the ‘flavour­ings’ into the body of both beers. Both were smooth and clean, with those ‘nov­el­ty’ ingre­di­ents bed­ded deep down, over­lap­ping seam­less­ly with the bit­ter­ness of dark malts. Har­bour’s milki­er, sweet­er beer was slight­ly more to our taste, beat­ing Young’s Dou­ble Choco­late Stout and prob­a­bly also Mean­time’s take on the same idea.

We did­n’t pay for any of these beers: La Soc­cara­da was sent to us by Ultra­co­mi­da’s PR firm, and Dar­ren ‘Beer Today’ Nor­bury sup­plied sam­ples of the stouts at a ‘sam­ple shar­ing’ ses­sion in the back room of a local pub.

5 thoughts on “Beer with flavours, but not flavoured”

  1. Extra ingre­di­ents in beer can be great fun, but I don’t get why some brew­ers add ingre­di­ents that intro­duce char­ac­ter­is­tics already present in some vari­eties of malt or hops.

    1. That’s a pet hate of mine. I real­ly like Dubbels and sim­i­lar strong dark beers, so when I see words like “raisins” and “cin­na­mon” on a label I perk up imme­di­ate­ly. These days, nine times out of ten what the brew­er’s done is add actu­al raisins and cin­na­mon to the brew, result­ing in some­thing that tastes like a cheap imi­ta­tion of a Dubbel (if you’re lucky) or like a beer that’s had raisins and cin­na­mon added (more usu­al­ly).

      That said, I have had some ter­rif­ic ‘flavoured’ beers. What most of the good ones have had in com­mon is that you get the added flavour quite sep­a­rate­ly from the flavour of the beer, as an after­taste or just sort of float­ing over the top – hard to describe, but that’s what it feels like. If you take a mouth­ful of a quince beer and imme­di­ate­ly taste quince, it’s prob­a­bly not going to be very good.

  2. I wish there was anoth­er word for the drinks oth­er than beer. Mead works that way. Our Cana­di­an law requires they be labelled “flavoured beer” but some his­toric sin­gle word, like mead with malt being brag­gott, would be so help­ful. What is Welsh for nat­u­ral­ly adul­ter­at­ed?

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