New We Are Chester writer klaxon! Real ale connoisseur James Wright went along to The Botanist in Chester to take part in an evening of real ale tasting, with some pampering thrown in courtesy of the good folk at Suave Male Grooming Lounge in Chester. We think he rather enjoyed it. Judge for yourself. Photos: James Wright.
The allure of a wine tasting event must be impressive for anyone who enjoys a nice Merlot or Chardonnay, rubbing elbows with like-minded individuals whilst us ale drinkers stick with our Budweisers and Coors Lights. However, for a truly special night, the Beer Guru (yes, it is a thing) in The Botanist in Chester treated a select handful of us to some of the best ales money can buy.
Before I bore you with the science behind the sherbet, let me just say that for anyone who truly enjoys knowing what goes into some of the craft beers that beardy types drink on a night out, The Botanist’s Beer Guru is a man who clearly knows his stuff, despite not having too much of a beard!
Firstly, and I’m sure some of you will know this already, but beers and ale are composed of four key ingredients: hops, yeast, wheat (or barley) and water. That’s it. And whilst the grains of wheat (or barley) can be used in the process of making whiskey, these are normally smokier in consistency. And, as you might expect at a tasting event such as this, there were examples of ingredients for us to smell and enjoy should we wish.
For the sweeter ales, a malted wheat is preferred and likewise, for a smokier even coffee textured taste then you look towards a darker roast. Some examples of a darker roast can be seen in the production of Guinness or other stout ales.
A little known fact about the hops in ale – they contain a natural antiseptic within the oils they produce, but I’m not saying that a bottle of bubbles will clear away a nettle rash, before you try it!
In terms of location, the UK traditionally has very earthy hops, perhaps why we produce so many bitter style ales. The USA tends to have more citrusy and tropical flavours, again possibly a reflection in the lighter ales America is usually associated with. Mainland Europe’s taste can be best described as spicy in flavour, though I don’t necessarily think your average bottle of Kronenbourg 1664 can be best described as being spicy.
And finally, the Pacific region of the world is closely related to producing quite fruity and fresh ales. Which I think leads us on nicely to the first beer we tasted. Huzzah, I hear you cry – the science-y stuff is over!
James’s verdict on the ales
New World Trading Co.
A clear product fitting of the name blond, this fruity beer has all the aromas of a nice mango or passionfruit (hence the name) and with a slight carbonation to it, it verges on being classified as a blond bitter.
A nice, easy entry to the taste testing, this beer is certainly one you can see yourself enjoying in a beer garden on a nice summer’s day.
An English best bitter with a traditionally earthy taste, this amber beer has a slightly metallic fragrance with a taste that can only really be called one thing – bitter.
Thwaites Brewery has been one of the main breweries in the UK for well over 200 years and despite all the fancy new tastes and brands that were represented on this evening, Thwaites stick to what they know and what they know is people love their beers.
Einstök White Ale
Coming out of the largest craft beer of Iceland, this white wheat beer was one of my favourites of the night. With an orange and coriander smell and a citrusy taste, this beer was an unexpected crowd pleaser, despite not being a true beer style. Whilst most beers are brewed over time, like a cup of tea, this beer is boiled with the coriander and orange peel. I could go on at length detailing the ins and outs of the beer fermentation process but I wouldn’t want to bore anyone. Let’s just say, if you like that sort of stuff, it is fascinating.
Erdinger Heferweizen (hay-fuh-veyt-sssenn)
This is truly a classic tasting beer. Cloudy and blond in colour, sweet in fragrance and with a taste that has had people compare it to honey, bananas and even pink bubblegum, this is truly a beer unto itself.
A little bit of useless information for you, this is one of the traditional German beers that follow what is known as the German Beer Purity Law. Basically, without going into the whys and the hows behind it, breweries in Germany and its predecessor states were only permitted to include water, barley and hops – no wheat! For anyone interested in reading more on this, search for reinheitsgebot. Who said beer wasn’t educational!
If you are interested in a truly sour, bitter taste, then get your hands on one of these! Whilst not winning over many of the other tasters, this was perhaps my favourite beer of the night. With a unique brewing process that is left open for a year, no yeast is added by hand. Instead, through the process dedicated to this beer, wild yeast is added by natural methods.
The end product leaves a cloudy colour with a sour taste and a scent that I think can closely be associated with horse blankets. I’ll leave that thought with you for a moment.
Kona Big Wave
For anyone who fondly remembers soft drinks like Um Bongo as a kid, this is the beer for you. A golden beer with a sweet, fruity palette, the Big Wave is every bit it says on the bottle – a celebration of what makes Hawaii truly special. Certainly a crowd pleaser whether you’re into surfing or not.
This golden ale comes in a can, but don’t let that put you off! With a lychee/passionfruit aroma this golden ale is hoppy, tropical and truly a flagship beer for Beavertown, the brewery started off and run by Logan Plant, who besides running a brewery that is out of this world (seriously, check out their website), he just so happens to be Robert Plant’s son. So go on, show this beer a Whole Lotta Love.
Sorry, but how often do you get to do a Led Zeppelin pun? (and quite right too James – we love a bit of the Zep – Ed)
The Wild Beer Company
You ever wanted a beer that you could enjoy as much as a chocolate dessert? The Wild Beer Co.’s Millionaire does just that. This experimental beer uses lactose along with the usual suspects behind beer production to create something not found in nature – a sweet stout. Obviously, being a stout, this beer is dark in colour with the usual coffee aromas and taste, but with the added benefit of tasting like dark chocolate with a creamy sweetness the likes of which you’d normally expect to find in a millionaire’s shortcake. So if you’re cutting out the chocolate but still crave the taste, there’s a beer for that!
Schneider & Sohn
The strongest ale on offer, this beer has its roots in a company that have been brewing for over 500 years, and Schneider-Weisse hasn’t changed in taste since 1907. A dark and cloudy ale, this is actually quite a fruity beer with the taste and smell of banoffee pie, molasses, treacle, and something the Germans know a thing or two about, Christmas cake. Another dessert beer for you pudding lovers out there.
Nine beers tasted
And there we have it, nine beers tasted, nine beers loved to varying degrees. Whether you’re an avid ale drinker already or just looking for an alternative to wine that doesn’t cost an average of £15/bottle, there’s something for everyone in the world of beer. And, hopefully, trying these will open your tastes up to other craft ales out there, whether they be from the local microbrewery or further afield with the large corporate breweries. With any luck, I’ll see you at the next tasting event. Cheers!