After a long period of what seems like never-ending experimentation, could it be that brewers are finally running out of inspiration? There does seem to have been a desire, amongst some, to shock by attempting to marry together totally different flavours in a way that simply doesn’t work; even with the best will in the world.
Allied with this is a willingness amongst a significant number of beer geeks, to embrace some of the stranger concoctions with a sycophantic acceptance which borders on obsequiousness, even though they know in their heart of hearts that certain combinations are never going to work. To say that there is rather more of a hint of “the Emperor’s new clothes” about this, would be an understatement.
Most people could name the four main tastes which the human tongue is capable of differentiating; namely bitter, sweet, sour and salt. Certain tastes combine well, such as sweet and sour, and bitter and sweet, but others do not; the chief one being a combination of sweetness and saltiness.
I should perhaps have known this before picking up a bottle of Maritime Salted Caramel Porter 5.5% in M&S the other day. Instead I had been looking forward to trying this beer, so imagine my disappointment after cracking it open to find that the added “Belgian-inspired twist of rich, salted-caramel” didn’t work at all. Combining salty and sweet flavours on this occasion, was a dismal failure, which did lead me to wonder, what a respected brewer like Meantime, who produced this beer exclusively for Marks & Sparks, was doing?
Unfortunately this is not the first time I have encountered beers with an odd (off-beat is being too polite!), combination of flavours, but rather than something turned out in a railway arch, I have to say the culprits have often been some of the more mainstream and established brewers.
A while back, I purchased three bottles of Bateman’s “Craft Beer” from Morrison’s; a supermarket I rarely use, simply because the company have no stores in this part of Kent. I wouldn’t normally have bought them, as they looked rather "gimmicky," but as they were priced at just 99p each, I decided to give them a go.
I didn’t drink them straight away, but when I got round to opening them I made some notes. Unfortunately, I have to report that with the exception of one of them my initial feelings were correct. Anyway, here’s what I wrote at the time.
Bateman’s Orange Barley 6.2%. Brewed in small batches, and in small bottles, this beer forms part of the company’s “Sovereign Range”. According to the label, “The beer is brewed with zesty oranges and natural cane sugar to deliver unabated sweetness, bite, body and charm”.
The beer was quite drinkable; not too sweet and with distinct orange over-tones. It was an enjoyable beer, which would go down well after a meal, but it wasn’t a beer I would go out of my way to drink.
Bateman’s Hazelnut Brownie 6.3%. Another beer from the same range, which is described as “Deliciously fudgy, rich and nutty,” and contains Belgian chocolate, plus a hint of cinnamon.
This one was rather too sweet for my liking and, whilst not unpleasant, was again not a beer I would choose to buy.
Bateman’s Mocha Amaretto 6.5%. Described as, “The perfect blend of coffee pot aroma, almond and chocolate indulgence with the sweetness of Biscotti. This delicately prepared beer is a true homage to all that is wonderful about Italy’s café culture”. This was the third beer from the “Sovereign Range.”
Well the marketing people certainly had a field day with this beer. It was truly awful; so much so that I couldn’t finish it. It was as though someone at the brewery had been playing around with the essences and flavourings, and that someone didn’t really know what they were doing! Although the beer had an air of amaretto, it was cloyingly sweet with a horrible clash of different tastes and aromas.
Whilst the Hazelnut Brownie was drinkable, and under the right circumstances would not have been unpleasant, the Mocha Amaretto was absolutely ghastly; so much so that I poured most of it down the sink! It would seem that I am not alone in my dislike of this beer and my thoughts about just adding flavours for the sake of it, as an online search brought up this review from Pubcask.
The strange thing is that Mocha coffee flavours can work with beer, and Bateman’s are well aware of this; as witnessed by their 6.0%. Mocha Beer. This beer is brewed using fresh coffee and chocolate beans which are combined with a rich malt base, and is definitely one of the better coffee and chocolate infusion examples.
On the sweet side, as expected, but with rich chocolate and coffee notes to the fore, this would make a good after dinner beer; or even one to go with the dessert. I would not want to drink more than one Bateman’s Mocha during a session, but it’s not a bad beer to round off the evening.
Dark Star Espresso 4.2%, is another coffee flavoured beer, and like the Mocha Amaretto is one which just doesn’t work for me. Brewed with roasted barley malt and bittered with Challenger hops, freshly ground Arabica coffee beans are added to the copper for a few minutes after the boil to provide a rich and complementary coffee aroma.
The brewery’s strap-line with this one is that “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea!” If you forgive the awful pun, I don't think it's anyone's cup of tea, as I haven’t found a single soul who admits to liking it, and yet it’s one of the company’s regular beers, and has been part of their portfolio for quite some time. Somebody must like it then, as surely novelty sales alone would be insufficient to make this a viable brew.
The message to brewers then is clear; experiment by all means, but don’t be blinded by what you create. Above all, think things through carefully before launching. The message to beer geeks is similar and basically is don’t get sucked in by the marketing and the associated hype. Use your own experience of knowing which tastes go together and which don’t and if you then try something, which isn’t really for you, don’t go around saying it’s marvellous, just because (insert the name of your own favourite hipster brewer), brewed it.