Beer history

Ale in Dublin: Mit Schuss?

‘Vanilla is a Bean’ by Christian Newton, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

The Dubliners who took to ale showed what seemed a clear contempt for the stuff by sprinkling fruit cordial into it — a row of cordial shakers stood on every bar and the choice included raspberry.

That’s a claim made by ‘Dublin boy’ Gerard Fay in a 1965 article about Guinness called ‘My Goodness…’ and included in The Complete Imbiber Vol. 8 edited by Cyril Ray.

This is the first we’ve ever heard of this practice and it sounds very… Un-Irish.

Can anyone confirm or deny? And is anyone else up for giving it a go?

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St Austell Strawberry Blonde

St Austell Cornish Blonde fruit lager.

Christopher Hutt’s The Death of the English Pub (1973) is full of grim prophecies, but he saves this dystopian vision for the very end of the book:

Professor Hough of the British School of Malting in Birmingham University predicted in 1972 that we would soon be drinking raspberry, strawberry and other fruit-flavoured beers. On cue as always, one of the big six was already test-marketing an orange beer, and this is now generally available. A pint of orange today, a pint of strawberry tomorrow.

St Austell, the biggest of our local breweries, has been experimenting with fruit in the last year. The raspberry porter we tried at the brewery bar was excellent and the latest effort, Strawberry Blonde (4%), was… a lot better than we were expecting.

It comes in a clear bottle and looks very much like rosé wine, though the marketeers have admirably avoided the temptation to write FOR GIRLS! on the label. Among the ingredients, as is the fashion, are strawberries from a specific Cornish farm, along with crystal malt, corn and hop extract. So, that’s a clear bottle and dodgy-sounding ingredients: hopes were not high.

Note, however, that no strawberry flavourings are listed. That fact, which we kept checking and rechecking in disbelief, made the bold aroma all the more impressive. This beer smelled like a big pink milkshake, strawberry chews, or a four-year-old’s birthday jelly.

The flavour wasn’t too bad, either — crisp, rather neutral, with just a hint of underripe sourness — but couldn’t possibly live up to the perfume. Perhaps future version of this beer would benefit from a more interesting base beer? Something with more body and more tang? Clouded Yellow, St Austell’s clever faux-Bavarian wheat beer, might work.

We bought our bottle of Strawberry Blonde in the Great Western Hotel in Newquay.

beer reviews real ale

Fruit beer that works

Getting fruit flavour into beer is harder than you might imagine.

Some fruit beers are too sweet, others are too sour. The fruit flavour can be overpowering, or barely perceptible. Worst of all, it can sometimes be just too pink.

Saltaire’s Blackberry Cascade and Raspberry Blonde get it exactly right. They both taste enough of fruit that you can tell it’s there without being told (we tested this theory on unsuspecting friends). They’re a little sweet, hardly at all sour, and un-dyed.

We’re not 100 per cent sure but we suspect the trick might be to get over the purism which says fresh fruit is best: these beers are ‘infused’ with ‘flavours’, which to us suggests extracts or syrups. Who cares, though? It works.

Blackberries are Boak’s favourite fruit, which is why Blackberry Cascade has edged it as our beer of the week.

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Lesser spotted Badger beers


Our local Turkish supermarket has recently started selling ale as well as Eastern European lagers, although they only offer the usual suspects from  Shepherd Neame, Hall & Woodhouse and Wychwood.

We sometimes struggle to see the appeal of Hall & Woodhouse, aka Badger, but they’ve been experimenting quite a lot recently, so there’s often something new to try.

Harvester’s Ale is mere 2.5%, and I’ve been interested in trying it for a while for that reason. To combat the sweet, watery flavour you get with low-alcohol beer, the brewers have added plenty of hops, and the result is very drinkable. It’s almost lager-like in its fizziness, but really not bad at all. The kind of thing you might down a pint of as your first beer after work, before getting onto the proper stuff. Would probably be good at summer barbecues, too. There was a slight acrid flavour somewhere at the back but that might well be because a beer this weak is even less capable than others of standing up to the fluorescent lights and variable temperatures of the local corner shop.  If you want a second opinion, Melissa Cole reviewed it here.

At the other end of the strength scale, Poacher’s Choice (5.7%) is made with liquorice and damson. Its wonderful fruity aroma filled the room as soon as we opened the bottle. The fruitiness is not “subtle” as the bottle claims.  In fact, we would classify this as a fruit beer, in the same territory as JW Lees’ Plum Pudding. The fruit is fairly well-balanced with the spice and the hops, though. In all honesty, we couldn’t drink much more than a pint of it — it is a bit rich and sickly — but it’s definitely an interesting beer, and well worth trying if you see it.