Dean McGuinness samples some very special brews...
Say the word ‘cocktail’ and people will immediately assume that you are talking about a spirit based drink – often involving fruit juices. Most people drink beers straight without mixing them with anything (the key exception being a shandy – beer and lemonade).
A brewery in Belgium – Duboisson – found that some of their customers experimented with mixing one of their beers with a fruit lambic, with delicious results. To-day, we are tasting the base beer for this ‘beer cocktail’ – Bush Ambree. Our second ‘beer’ for tasting is ‘Peche Mel’ – the name given to a 50/50 blend of Bush Ambree with Timmerman’s Peche.
This tasting is an opportunity for me to get all geeky about how our brains are processing flavour in beer. However, the first thing about doing something that involves experimenting with mixes of flavours is to enjoy the flavours.
When brewers are designing recipes, a key consideration is how they achieve balance in the beer. Flavours interact, and the way that we perceive flavours depends on the context in which they are presented. Brewers will introduce bitter flavours (through hops and/or through dark malts) to balance sweet flavours (achieved from some types of malt and from flavours developed during fermentation). In some other styles of beers, the balance might be between sourness and fruit or sweet flavours. A one-dimensional beer – that tastes of only one flavour, without this flavour being balanced against anything else – is in danger of being cloying or over-powering. While somebody might enjoy the first sip of a unbalanced beer if they particularly enjoy the flavour that is dominant in it, it is most likely that the person will have enough of that beer very quickly.
When a beer is well balanced, the drinker gets to enjoy the flavours in the beer without finding that they tire of these flavours. Balanced beers will lean in one direction or another in most instances – they may be particularly malty, fruity, hoppy, sour or have a flavour that is more evident in the beer. However, when the beer is well balanced, there will be other flavours present to ‘round out’ the taste experience. Just like seasoning in cooking, these balancing flavours should not over-power, and should be present to complement and enhance the taste experience.
Beer Style - Strong Belgian Amber Ale
Alcohol by Volume - 12.0% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Brasserie Duboisson
Brewed in - Pipaix, Belgium
Let’s just get one thing out of the way to start with. We are talking about a 12.0% a.b.v. beer – significantly above average strength. With ‘standard’ mainstream beers in Ireland typically being around 4% to 4.3% a.b.v., this beer is around three times stronger. We can expect more flavour, and it is inevitable that there will be an amount of character resulting from this high strength – but this, in itself, is an interesting dimension of the flavour of this beer. Brewers’ yeasts will typically find it difficult to ferment a beer above 14% to 17% a.b.v. – the alcohol produced during the fermentation inhibits the yeast from continuing to ferment sugars. So, at 12.0%, this beer requires an alcohol-tolerant yeast to be used, and is coming up on the limit for the alcohol content that is achievable in a ‘normal’ beer. (Freeze distilling allows beers to reach ridiculously high strengths, but this process is changing the character of the beer significantly, and requires a process beyond what is normal in brewing).
Bush Ambree is a strong Belgian Amber. When poured properly, it will have a significant white head of a size associated with Belgian beers. At 12%, the alcohol content of the beer will tend to limit the extent to which this head will sustain on the beer – high alcohol level in beer is detrimental to head retention. The beer itself presents with a luxurious burnished gold colour.
Beer Style - Beer Cocktail consisting of a 50/50 blend of
Bush Ambree (Strong Belgian Amber Ale) and
Timmerman’s Peche (Fruit Lambic)
Alcohol by Volume - 8.0% a.b.v. (after blending 12.0% and 4.0% a.b.v. beers together)
Brewed by/in - Bush Ambree – Brasserie Duboisson, Pipaix, Belgium
Timmerman’s Peche – Timmerman’s Brewery, Brussels, Belgium
The possibilities for combining Bush Ambree with numerous foods can make for incredible food pairings – whether with lighter meats (chicken, turkey, pork), pasta dishes, or with desserts. Combining Bush Ambree with another beer extends the idea of a beer-food pairing – a beer-beer pairing, if you will.
In Ireland, you will not see a bottle of beer called ‘Peche Mel’. While the brewery has started blending the two beers and bottling the result themselves, at the moment, a Peche Mel can only be achieved in Ireland by blending Bush Ambree and Timmerman’s Peche in a 50/50 blend.
Above, we have talked about the flavours of Bush Ambree by itself. As a fruit lambic, Timmerman’s Peche balances luscious peach fruit flavour with tongue-puckering sourness to give a tart and thirst quenching fruit beer. Blending these two beers together curiously results in a beer that is an easy to enjoy explosion of fruit flavours as well as being an incredibly complex and layered taste experience.