Session #137: “Banana Beer”

Weizen.

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to Ses­sion #137 host­ed by Roger at Roger’s Beers.

Our introduction to German wheat beer happened long before we were interested in beer and before we’d ever thought of going to Bavaria.

It was at the Fitzroy, a Samuel Smith pub in cen­tral Lon­don, in about 2001, where the house draught wheat beer was a ver­sion of Ayinger brewed under licence in Tad­cast­er, North York­shire.

We had encoun­tered Hoe­gaar­den by this point – it was ubiq­ui­tous in Lon­don at around the turn of the cen­tu­ry – but had­n’t con­sid­ered order­ing any oth­er wheat beer until a friend urged us to try Ayinger. “I call it banana beer,” they said, “because it tastes like puréed banana.”

At first we did­n’t quite get it. To us, it tast­ed like beer. Weird, soupy, sweet beer. So we had a few until we under­stood what he meant. And yes, there it was – the stink of black­ened bananas left too long in the bowl. “It gives you ter­ri­ble hang­overs, though,” he added, a lit­tle too late to save us. We could­n’t think of it for a year or two after that ses­sion with­out feel­ing a lit­tle over­ripe our­selves.

Pin­ning down any­thing relat­ing to the his­to­ry of Samuel Smith beers is trick­i­er than it ought to be but, in the absence of firm evi­dence, we reck­on it’s a safe guess that they start­ed brew­ing Weizen in the 1990s, dur­ing or after the brief craze for wheat beer among the British beer cognoscen­ti (Hook, Dor­ber et al) dur­ing 1994–95. (As always, sol­id intel prov­ing oth­er­wise is very wel­come.)

Sam Smith’s take might not have had the cool of a gen­uine import – the hip kids raved about Schnei­der – but it had the advan­tage of being both acces­si­ble and acces­si­bly priced, and we can’t help but won­der how many oth­er British beer geeks were first intro­duced to Ger­man wheat beer this way.

5 thoughts on “Session #137: “Banana Beer””

  1. Sum­mer 2000. The only out-of-the-ordi­nary beer avail­able in Dublin was Erdinger, which I drank because it was sum­mer and I had mon­ey for the first time. I recall meet­ing a friend for pints and bring­ing my tall taper­ing glass to the table and him recog­nis­ing it, exclaim­ing “Oh! Banana beer!”

    1. It’s weird to think of how excit­ing and exot­ic Erdinger once seemed. Pret­ty much the main attrac­tion at North Bar in Leeds back in the late 1990s, we gath­er.

  2. My first encounter was in the mid-90s, large­ly inspired by how good the pho­tos in Michael Jack­son’s books (and his descrip­tions of them) made them look.

    1. Ha, our first draft of this post men­tioned Jack­son’s Great Beer Guide (AKA the Bible). It was the first beer book we bought, at a branch of the long-gone chain Books Etc. off Buck­ing­ham Palace Road. The pho­tos did make every­thing look real­ly tan­ta­lis­ing. Every­thing glowed!

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