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Drink pink for summer

Fruit beers may work for a picnic or as an aperitif

Several brewers who persistently win awards use the same trick to add character to their beer. After boiling the juices of malted barley with hops, they add a stage to the production. They put an extra dose of hops into a strainer and run the hot brew through it to pick up the extra resiny, leafy, flowery aromas and flavours.

At Bateman's, under a windmill at Wainfleet in the flatlands of Lincolnshire, brewer Martin Cullimore is a keen exponent of this method. The other day, he tried variation on the theme. This time, into the hop-strainer went 200 lbs of strawberries, a crop grown nearby. The result was a beer called Strawberry Fields, which Bateman's hopes will bring the mood of summer picnic and days by the river to those who cannot make it to Ascot, Wimbledon or the Henley Regatta.

I had a pint at the White Horse in Parson's Green, London. It looks like a regular bitter, with a hint of pink, a malty sweetness, and a light note of strawberries.

The same notion may have commended itself to the Lakeland Brewery, which adjoins the Mason's Arms at Strawberry Bank, Cartmel Fell, near Lake Windermere. The local fruit there is the damson. Lakeland makes an intense, fruity malty, almost whisky-tasting damson ale, white its pub also offers beers in this vein from several brewers in Belgium, the home of the idea.

In Flanders, the use of the local kriek cherry may pre-date the hop blossom as a means of adding acidity to beers to balance the sweetness of malt. The most typical kriek brews use whole fruit, added during maturation, to a wheat beer that has been fermented with wild yeasts. Wheat imparts tartness, wild yeasts contribute wineyness, and the fruit adds its own flavours and an almondy dryness from the stone.

The traditional region for these beers is the rural hinterland of Brussels, along the small Zenne river especially around the town of Lembeek (whose name may have been corrupted into "Lambic", as wild-yeast wheat beers are called). It is occasionally possible in Britain to find the extremely dry fruit Lambics of Cantillon, from Brussels, and the complex examples of Boon (pronounced "bone"), made in Lembeek itself. These have the same sort of acidity as pink champagne, which makes them wonderful as an aperitif.

While the cherry has the strongest claims to tradition, there is some history of raspberry being used. Many Belgian brewers now augment or replace the whole fruit with juices, syrups or extracts.

Among the more readily available Belgian fruit beers in Britain, those from Timmermans have the best Lambic character. They have just gone on sale in Threshers shops. The other widely available fruit beers are:

Cherry (kriek): Timmermans has the true "horse-blanket" aroma of a wild-yeast Lambic beer, with touches of iron in its fruit character. Chapeau, from the DeTroch brewery is medium-dry with the juice and fibres of the fruit in the flavour and texture. Lindemans has almondy notes and is assertive in both sweetness and acidity. The Liefmans range of fruit beers is less acidic, being based on a brown ale.

Raspberry (framboise): Timmermans has the slightly medicinal character of an eau-de-vie; Lindemans is smoother, sweeter, more bonbon-like.

Peach: These generally taste more synthetic and liqueur-like than the cherry and raspberry beers. Timmermans Peche is golden, sparkling, and light in both body and flavour Lindemans Pecheresse has more of a peach-nectar character.

Other flavours: Chapeau does a sweet mirabelle with a remarkably authentic aroma, and a product called Tropical tasting of bananas and mangoes. Timmermans has a Ribena-like Cassis, St Jozef (in Belgian Limburg) has Bosbier, made with bilberries on a lager base.

Published Online: MAR 20, 2000
Published in Print: JULY 8, 1995

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