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In search of the sexiest brew

On Valentine's Day, the woman in my life likes to clink glasses. Actually, she likes to do that most days. Perhaps this year I will offer her a Cupid's Ale, a tawny, lightly nutty, brew, with a touch of ginseng dryness. It is made by the sinfully-named brewery Cain's, of Liverpool, and was the first Valentine's beer I spotted this year. Like so many of the most unusual brews, it is available in supermarkets, but not bars.

If it were not an ale, but a lager, would it sell in bars? There was a ginseng-flavoured lager some years ago, called La Bière Amoureuse, but it seems to vanished. It was in a phallic-looking bottle, something between a willy and an under-arm deodorant, and was made by the Fischer/Pecheur brewery, of Alsace.

I do not think TWIML requires an aphrodisiac but, if she did, I might try an oyster stout. Being red-haired and green-eyed, she may prefer to leave stout until St Patrick's Day. Unless, of course, I offer a trip to Dublin to visit the Porterhouse. (The one in Covent Garden, London, does not brew on the premises; the Dublin original does).

Or I could take her to Massachusetts, to a bar called The Boston Beer Works, which does its own brewing. One St Valentine's Day there, I tasted a Chocolate Cherry Stout. The manager showed me the recipe for a ten-barrel brew. It included ten pounds of milk chocolate, twenty of semi-sweet, and a priming of cherry syrup.

Recent evidence that chocolate is good for the health (as well as possibly triggering pleasure centres in the brain) can only help the sales of beers that mimic the magical pod. Some actually contain chocolate, while others achieve the same character by the use of highly-kilned malts.

A good example of the latter has a label that seems at first glance to reproduce Rubens' painting of Adam and Eve. A closer look reveals that Adam is tempting Eve not with a boring old apple but with a glass of beer. This potion comes from the home of Rubens, and of the world's most sensuous beers, Belgium. It is labelled in Flemish as De Verboden Vrucht and in French as Le Fruit Defendu, which should leave no one in any doubt that it is Forbidden Fruit.

This full, soft, nectar is rich with the chocolate flavours of dark malts, sharpened by additions in the brew-kettle or Curacao orange peels and coriander seeds (as well as hops). Forbidden Fruit is beautifully balanced: big at first, then soothing, seductive and warming (at 9.0 per cent alcohol). It brewed by Hoegaarden.

Actually, I am rather hoping TWIML will join me in a Waggle Dance. This ritual was, as I am sure you are aware, first described in detail by the Viennese sensory physiologist and Nobel prize-winner Karl von Frisch (1886-1982).

The dance, in which the abdomen is waggled (some might say wiggled) is typically performed by bees to inform one another of nectar sources. I shall be sharing with my love a beer called Waggle Dance, which is made with honey in addition to the usual barley malt. I find it very honeyish and sweet.

Honey is regarded an aphrodisiac in Celtic, Moorish, Greek and Hindu legend. Hence the term "honeymoon". Sacrifices of mead were offered to Priapos, the Greek God of procreation. Mead is made only from honey and water. A drink incorporating honey, grain and fruit was served at the funeral of King Midas in Central Turkey in about 700BC - according to recent scientific research based on the analysis of deposits on fragments of clay drinking vessels from archaeological sites. Perhaps at that time a clear distinction was not made between mead, beer and wine. A honey-flavoured drink based on grain would be a beer. There are some suggestions that honey, and perhaps dates or other fruits were used to flavour ancient beers in the Near East before the introduction of hops as a "seasoning". After the food shortages of the Second World War, there was in Britain a fashion for "nutritious" beers.

During this period, a brewery in East Anglia made a honey beer. In 1993, bee-keeper Will Constantine-Cort revived the idea with Enville Ale, in a new micro-brewery on the estate of the Earls of Stanford, in the West Midlands. In 1995, the Vaux brewery, of Sunderland, created Waggledance, which was initially made by its subsidiary Ward's, of Sheffield. After Vaux and Ward's closed, the product was taken up by Young's, of Wandsworth, London.

Fruit was employed in beer by the Ancients (see above), but its use survived most strongly in Belgium. The most traditional fruit beers are made with small, dark, variety of cherry grown around Brussels and known in Flemish as the Kriek. Partly because this cherry has a quite a dry taste, and because the beer is left on the stones for a time, the really authentic Kriek beers are not sweet. Their typical dryness is heightened by the use of acidic Lambic beers as the base. Lambic beers gain a sharpness from the use of wheat (in addition to the usual barley malt), and a wineyness from the use of wild yeasts.

Chocolate Malt is a British tradition. Malt kilned to taste chocolatey has traditionally been used in British Stouts. The first beer to be called a Chocolate Stout was launched in 1994 by the Brooklyn Brewing Company, in New York. Its stout does not use chocolate, but achieves an astonishingly appropriate taste with malt alone. Soon afterwards, Young's launched a Double Chocolate Stout, using the same technique with a further addition of chocolate itself.


Published Online: FEB 12, 2001
Published in Print: FEB 1, 2001
In: Class Magazine

Food/Pairings - Beer Review - Editorial

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