03 November 2010

From the weedpatch

It's a couple of years since Hall & Woodhouse's collaboration with River Cottage was the talk of the beerweb. Actually, you don't hear much from the Badger brand at all these days. I'd sort of forgotten about them until I spotted two of the River Cottage / Badger beers on the shelf of an off licence recently. I hadn't even realised there was a new one.

The original is Stinger, made with nettles for a "tongue tingling" sensation. Well maybe it takes a bit more to get my jaded old tongue tingling these days, but this wasn't doing it. The first thing I noticed was that despite the greener-than-thou organic badging and copious information on the hop:malt:fruit ratios on the label, there was no actual listing of ingredients. And when breweries throw odd things into their beers they usually follow it with a hefty bag or two of sugar, just to be sure. I think that's what's happened here: you get a heavy, thick, syrupy golden ale without much by way of aroma. There's a spice to it as well, buried quite deep, but I challenge anyone to drink it and tell me it tastes of nettles. Mind you, this is apparently what proper nettle beer tastes like, and this is a measure of its quality so maybe the bags of sugar were a good idea.

I expected more of the same from the dandelion one, called Dandelion ("Stinger" having exhausted the branding guys' imaginations). This time the sugar does add a bit of character -- it may even be brown sugar -- but beyond it there's absolutely nothing: another sweet syrupy ale with maybe a tiny herbal complexity at the back, but nothing that would make you think of dandelions.

I shouldn't really have consumed them back to back. I started to get a bit angry. I mean: how hard is it to do this sort of thing properly? Williams Brothers, for instance, turn out some fantastic beers with heather and spruce and seaweed. I've made one gruit ale once, flavoured mostly with yarrow and sage, and it was pretty damn drinkable. Marketable, even. So why is it that so many brewers, English ones in particular, think that when you break from the malt/hops norm you have to turn the whole thing into an alcopop? These ones may have organic credentials and a chef off the telly but they're really nothing more than Crabbie's in disguise, and a short skip through the meadow from blue WKD.

Stuff like this gives unusal ingredients in beer a dreadful reputation (though, granted, Dave in the links above isn't helping either). What's wrong with a bit more diversity?

8 comments:

  1. I was not impressed by that dandelion beer either. It is odd that 'weird' English beers are more wkd than cantillion

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  2. What I feel is that many brewers, when they want to break the norm, often fall in the same trap. They don't want to scare the mainstream drinker with something radically different, but in the end, they don't make anyone happy, the mainstream drinker is a bit let down because they are not getting something THAT much different and the more "experienced" or "adventurous" among us get mad at all that blandness.

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  3. Oh BTW I am fairly sure the problem with my nettle beer was with me not the nettles. I think I picked ones that were not fresh enough.

    I have had other homebrew nettle beers that used the nettle just for bittering that were lovely.

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  4. What is the River Cottage connection? Over at H&W's Badger Website they make a big deal of it on the Dandelion beer & don't mention it on any of the others.

    Not sure I'll try these after that review, but I have got a certain amount of time for Badger. I was mildly addicted to Blandford Fly for a while, and I still see Tanglefoot as a supermarket banker.

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