I enjoy beer for a variety of reasons. For example, beer lends itself to social interaction, since alcohol tends to loosen your tongue, and you have to do something in between sips; although, I have to admit that we engineers tend to gravitate toward other forms of entertainment besides conversation, such as gaming, watching TV, etc. — anything other than direct, personal interaction, really. Another reason I like beer is the variety; a Bavarian Hefeweizen has about as much in common with a Double IPA as a VW Beetle has with a Ford Excursion. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, which is what makes them both interesting. Now where things get really interesting is when my social activity ends up expanding the variety of beer I try.
I have stated before that I’m a bit of a purist. Now, to be fair, my favorite beer is a sour Belgian Strong Dark, aged with black currants in wine barrels; it’s not exactly a classic style, but a historically and geographically appropriate variant of one. I really don’t trust a new brewery until they have shown me that they can produce an excellent example of, say, a Pilsner, or a straight up American Wheat. Something not complicated, but clean, with no off flavors. The down side of this is that I steer away from many funky beers just because I’m unsure of the brewery or have never tried the style before. This is where the social interaction comes in. I have received beers from all over the world as gifts from friends and family, and they typically consist of odd things that they found interesting on their travels. When I’m out at a bar, my friends often order odd things that they think I should try. Personally, I find this quite rewarding and enjoyable, especially as it resulted in this week’s beer review.
The beer this week comes from Wells and Young’s Brewing Company of Bedford, UK. The company was formed in 1875 when Charles Wells, a sailor in the Merchant Marine, gave up his life of adventure on the high seas to marry his wife. He bought a brewery and a number of tied pubs at auction, and began rapidly expanding the operation. The brewery has remained a family operation ever since, and in 2000 merged with Young and Co to form the largest family owned brewery in the UK. The beer in question this week is their Banana Bread Beer, which is brewed with real bananas. This beer is traditionally served on cask, and won “Beer of the Festival” at CAMRA’s London Beer Drinker Festival in 2002.
The beer pours a crystal clear golden amber, with only a tiny bit of foam forming a skim that barely covers the surface. I found the lack of head retention surprising, given the high carbonation evident and the fairly vigorous pour I used, and my best guess is that it is because they used actual bananas to make this beer. The bananas contain oils, which inhibit head formation (interjection: this is one of the difficulties in making bacon beer). The most curious part about this is that after I drank half the beer, the head retention got better. My only guess to explain this is that the oils floated to the top as I slowly sipped this beer, and after I consumed them better head retention and lacing was promoted. The beer smells quite strongly of bananas, with a big underlying sweetness and hints of orange and yeast. The yeast scent surprised me a bit, as there is no sediment on the bottom of the bottle and the beer is so clear. The carbonation is quite high, which plays interestingly with the thick body; the mouthfeel is thick towards the end, leaving a bit of a cloying sweetness coating the mouth, but is quite thin up front, especially around the edges of the tongue.
I actually really enjoyed this beer as it reminds me of a Dunkelweizen but without the yeast flavor and a bit more malt focus. The pairing for this is a bit harder than I expected, as it won’t stand up to strong counter flavors, but also might not go well with chicken or fish; however, I suspect mild cheeses, sourdough bread and salty snacks will work well. The pretzels I had been munching on complimented it nicely, now that I think about it. I would recommend trying this beer, especially for people just starting to branch out into good beer, as it has low hop character and the banana provides a focus besides the “beer” taste that some people complain about.