beer reviews

More fruit beers in the garden


We love drinking fruit beers in the garden on hot days, and last week, we went for a couple of weird ones.

First, a mango beer from Shongweni brewery in South Africa, courtesy of our local off license.  It boasts about its secondary fermentation in the bottle, but tastes pretty dull — possibly the effect of being shipped halfway round the world and sitting in a warm shop for several months? We could taste a hint of fruit, but would struggle to pinpoint it as mango.  Pity, as it sounded really interesting.

We’ve had a bottle of Melbourn Brothers’ Apricot beer in our cellar for way too long.  Somehow we could never find the right occasion for this British-brewed, spontaneously-fermented fruit beer, especially when we learned it had been discontinued by the brewery. It just didn’t feel right to drink it without paying proper attention. So, we paid attention, and thought it was lovely. It smells wonderfully malty, and the intense apricot flavour when you sip it really knocks you back.   It had a slightly acrid aftertaste, which is probably due to it sitting in our cellar for so long.  What a pity it’s no longer made.

Jeff Pickthall likes it too. It certainly beats second-rate Belgian fruit beers like Floris.


Blackberry wit beer works

Blackberry wit beer, on our aspirational garden table, next to an aspirational salad
Blackberry wit beer, on our aspirational garden table, next to an aspirational salad

Last year we brewed a lurid blackberry wheatbeer. It was actually pretty successful — it was refreshing, very fruity and very purple. There were no off flavours, but the problem was that it didn’t really taste of anything other than blackberry.

So when the blackberry season came round again, we were determined to try and make something a little more subtle. This time we used a Belgian wit beer as a base (perhaps more on how we made this another day), siphoning off around five litres into a carboy after three weeks of primary fermentation.

We prepared a blackberry concentrate by mashing up around half a pound of blackberries with a bit of water over some heat. We strained off the juice, and boiled this for 10 minutes to make sure it was sterile. This left us with about 50ml of thick juice. Once cooled, we added it to the witbier. We left it for a month in secondary, and then bottled it about three weeks ago.

We’ve just opened our first bottle, and it’s a triumph, though we do say so ourselves. You can definitely taste the underlying witbier, but it blends rather nicely with the fruity and slightly tart notes the blackberries lend. I’d be interested to try this on someone who didn’t know what was in it — I think they’d identify that it may have fruit in it, but they may not guess blackberry. That said, the peachy colour looks unusual. I think we’ve hit on the right proportion of blackberries to add an extra layer of flavouring without overpowering the base beer, and it would be interesting to try the same procedure with other types of beer.

It’s also very refreshing and drinkable. We don’t know exactly how strong it is, but the base witbier is about 3.7% so it’ll be a little over that, I guess. Anyone know how much sugar there is in half a pound of blackberries?

PIty we made so few bottles… but there are more blackberries in the freezer.


beer reviews Belgium

Fruit beers in the garden

We were going to return to our quest for a decent Baltic Porter, as we’ve got a few awaiting tasting. However, it was such a lovely day yesterday that we decided to drink fruit beers in the garden instead.

To give some context to our tasting notes; neither of us are massive fruit beer fans, and we certainly both prefer our fruit beer to be identifiably *beer* first and foremost, not an alcopop. I really can’t deal with overly sweet drinks of any form, but I do have a bit of a “sour tooth”, whereas Bailey doesn’t tend to go for sour flavours.

Timmerman’s Kriek, 4%
Looks quite artificial, with deep red colour and pink head. There’s a definite hint of sourness in the aroma though, which is promising. The taste – Bassett’s cherry drops. The aftertaste contains a blast of pure sugar on the end of the tongue which I’m not so keen on, but overall, it’s not as bad as I was expecting, i.e. not as sickly sweet as Fruli.

Boon Kriek 4%

We had high hopes for this one, as it seems to be generally quite rated and is as authentic as you like. However, it was a lot like the Timmerman’s – overly sweet and not very complex at all. It was a bit more buttery than Timmerman’s, and had even less sourness.

Mort Subite Kriek (original) 4.5%
This we liked a lot. It’s a much less lurid pink, and the flavour is a great balance of sweet and sour, with a nice dry refreshing finish. Definitely a lot more going on with this one than Timmerman’s or Boon. The difference is in the aftertaste – whereas with the above two we got sugar, and not a lot else, here you get a crisp fruitiness that lingers on the palate.

Meantime Raspberry Grand Cru 6.5%
Bit of an odd one out in this session (raspberry, not lambic, British) but it’s always been a favourite, not least because it’s beer first and raspberry second, with a good bitterness that you don’t tend to get in fruit beers. That’s what we remembered, anyway (see a review from December 2007 here). It always tastes slightly different from batch to batch in the Union, their brewery tap, and we’ve noted that in the last few years it’s become less pink and less obviously raspberry-flavoured.

However, this incarnation (and it is the stronger “grand cru” version) seems to have forgotten the raspberries altogether. There’s a generic fruity taste, a bit like a nice Koelsch, but unless someone told you it was raspberry, you wouldn’t know. The refreshing tartness makes it a pleasant drink, but I think would be a disappointment to people looking for a fruit beer, and at 6.5%, this is not one you want to quaff much of in the sun.

Disappointing – I know this can be better.

Cantillon Kriek 5%
We bought this when we visited the brewery back in August 2007, so it’s been in storage for around nine months, in addition to the time it’s already spent at the brewery.

You have to have the courage of your convictions when you drink this beer. If you gingerly sip it, all you get is SOUR, but if you take a big gulp and let it cover your tongue, there’s a pleasing explosion of apple, cherry, pink grapefruit and strawberry, with red wine / sherry notes in the finish.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to sip this all day long; even in the sun it’s hard work, although the champagne body and bubbles gives it a pleasing decadent feel.

All in all, Mort Subite was the surprising winner for both of us.

For more tantalising beer on grass action, check out Beer Nut’s post on wheatbeers. He’s got a bigger garden than us though.

For more on fruitbeers, here’s a Session post we did back in August 2007 on the same topic, including notes on our own blackberry beer.


beer reviews

Wychwood Plumduff

logo_wychwood_2.gifReading and writing lots of beer reviews can get dull, but every now and then you have a beer that’s so damn tasty you have to write about it. Even more so when it comes from a surprising source.

We’ve never been that enamoured of Wychwood – we just don’t find their beers that exciting. But we picked up the seasonal Plumduff a month or so ago on the recommendation of the Beer Nut, whose review you can find here.

We’ve only just tried it, and it is lovely indeed. The addition of plum juice makes it fruity, but not in an over-powering fruit-beer type of way. Definitely ale first and fruit later. It smells and tastes not unlike a Belgian “abbey” ale, like Ciney, with very slight sour notes. Or perhaps a bit like Cain’s Raisin beer.

It feels stronger and therefore more “warming” than its 5% suggests (this is not always a good thing, but definitely welcome during this cold snap!)

I gather from their site that this is just brewed for Sainsbury’s, and just at Christmas. Pity.

Anyway, I’m sure Wychwood don’t need our love, but I thought I’d put this up to encourage other Wychwood apathists to give it a go.  Big thanks to the Beer Nut for the recommendation.


The Session

The August Session – Blackberries & beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session was set by Beer, Beats & Bites, and the challenge is to write about fruit beer.

As this coincides neatly with the start of the blackberry season in the UK – or at least in our part of East London – we thought we’d focus on blackberries and beer for this post. (By the way – is it me or is the blackberry season getting earlier and earlier?)

We’ve often wondered why blackberries don’t feature more in beer. They’re fairly similar in structure / texture to raspberries, and are easier to grow. It seemed natural to us to try and use last year’s haul in one of our brews. But how? We looked around for inspiration.bramble_stout.jpg

One idea was to add the juice to some stout. We found out the Burton Bridge Brewery had beaten us to it. Their “Bramble Stout” is an excellent stout – but if you didn’t know that there were blackberries in it, you probably wouldn’t guess. It has a sourness that could be attributable to the blackberries, and the chocolatey aroma is perhaps also a bit fruity. We’ve just had another bottle in honour of The Session, and enjoyed it just as much as last year, and we would definitely recommend it, even to”serious” beer drinkers who don’t like fruit beers.

When it came to our own brew, we wanted something where the blackberry flavour came out more, and so we decided to try and brew it with a wheatbeer. The inspiration for this came partly from the Meantime Raspberry beer, which we think manages to achieve a full fruity flavour without being an alcopop.

blackberry_wheat.jpgOur recipe was easy enough — pretty much a standard German wheat beer recipe, except that, when we transferred into secondary fermentation, we threw in a slightly over-the-top 7lbs of blackberries. (We had pasteurised them by cooking them for 20 minutes and then we strained them through a sterilised sieve when they were cool) This kicked off a fairly vigorous secondary fermentation — there’s a lot of sugar in 7lbs of blackberries.

The finished product is very popular with our friends. We’re quite hard on ourselves, though, and will probably work on the recipe some more. For one thing, our fancy-pants German wheat beer yeast didn’t really get going, so we ended up using dried lager yeast, which didn’t exactly impart a lot of character. We might also try to keep a bit more malt sweetness — it’s quite sour. But the colour is great… like Calpol. Altogether, it’s very refreshing, and looks spectacular, but needs to be more complex if it’s going to knock anyone’s socks off.

tayberry.jpgAnd, as a “bonus track”, in honour of this Session’s topic, we also tried a bottle of the Williams Bros Brewing Company’s “Roisin” tayberry beer. Tayberries are a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, but this beer is probably accented more towards the raspberry flavours. Like other British fruit beers — notably Cain’s excellent raisin beer — it’s an ale first, and a fruit beer second. You can taste the malt, and particularly the hops, and is only slightly redder than a standard bitter (unlike our blackberry effort). The hop bitterness is perhaps rather overpowering, although it seemed to mellow as we got down the glass. It has a very pleasing fruity aftertaste. It’s worth a look – again, even for those who aren’t particularly into fruit beers. It’s available in Oddbins in the UK, and is plastered all over with US import information, so must be available there, too.

Note: more fancy beer photos, although a bit rough and ready this time. The “Roisin” pic has a grey background because trying to white out around the base of a stem glass was beyond me… for now.

#UPDATE# Session round up posted here.