It’s listed in our bible, Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide (2000), so why have we never tried Williams Bros elderberry ale, Ebulum?
For one thing, their beers were rarely seen in London when we lived there. They would occasionally turn up in supermarkets, but we can’t remember ever seeing this particular brew in Sainsbury’s or elsewhere.
Then, not long after we started blogging in 2007, Williams Bros was one of the first breweries to attempt to send us some samples, but the postman apparently ‘misplaced’ them and they never arrived.
Perhaps it also got lost in the post-c.2005 ‘craft’ mania: it had the misfortune to be something other than an IPA.
In his GBG, Jackson promises it will be ‘slatey-black’, with ‘winey, rooty, licorice-like, slightly medicinal flavours’. That description brought to mind Riga black balsam, a potent, tar-like cough cure that Latvians drink for fun. That, perhaps, set us up to expect something more intense than we got.
We can confirm that, 15 years on, Ebulum remains black. Our first impressions on tasting, however, were of oily water. As it warmed up, the wine-like flavours promised by Jackson began to appear, but… it tasted like watered wine. We did start to detect a hint of Ribena, but perhaps that was the power of suggestion at work? A bit more concentration highlighted a sort of fruit leather character and some black treacle. Finally, in the last sips, something like juniper berry began to pop out.
Ultimately, we wanted something more from a strong elderberry ale — more obvious exoticism. It’s a perfectly acceptable porter-like beer, but could do with its fruitiness amping up, and perhaps some trickery to give it more body. As it is, we wouldn’t rush to drink it again.
Disclosure: we got our bottle of Ebulum in a case of samples sent by Williams Bros.