While Will was in one bar of the Grove, waxing lyrical about the joys of American beer, I was in the other bar suffering one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever experienced in a glass, thankfully I had only ordered a half but that was quite enough to set me off on a rant. I had the misfortune to encounter Davenports 'Strawberry Fields'.
Before I get going, let me say that I do not dislike all fruit beers. The Belgians do wonderful things with fruit for example, and some British breweries make a decent attempt. This was not one of them though. If you want a glass of something thick, syrupy and sickly this is the beer for you. It reminded me of the strawberry juice that you squeeze onto ice cream, not what I want in a beer at all. I am sure this is a beer made with strawberry essence, and lots of it at that.
I am not even sure strawberry and beer should go together anyway. I had a similar horrific experience with a Batemans strawberry beer a few years back, which almost made me a lager drinker it was so appalling. I do not think for a minute that brewers do things like this deliberately to annoy me but that certainly succeeded. After some considered reflection I have concluded that it is not the fruit that is the problem, but the way the fruit reaches the beer. Let me try to explain.
Coach House brew plenty of fruit beers, some are 5% and other are 4.4%. The 5% 'Blueberry' is one of the best beers I have ever tasted, clean and refreshing and many of the other 5% range are similar, with the fruit being incidental to the beer. I believe, although I am not totally sure, that these beers use proper fruit. The weaker varieties exhibit all the problems I earlier mentioned, being sweet and sickly and I would assume use fruit essence. This changes the character of the beer entirely and the fruit becomes overwhelming. Why do they do it ?
I can name any number of beers that suffer from the same problem, Wells 'Banana Bread' beer is a perfect example. Who, in their right mind, would want a beer tasting of sweet bananas ? Saltaire are also guilty sometimes of making beers that have the same characteristics.
Casting my mind back, I remember the Kitchen brewery at Aspley, (who can forget them?) where Rob Johnson threw all sorts of fruit and veg into his beers. They may not have been to everyone's taste. Lets face it, onions, potatoes, and parsley are not your usual flavours for beers. But none of the beers I came across tasted like syrup, I assume therefore, that he used the real thing and not concentrate in his brews. Why can't other brewers follow his example ?
I know this is my opinion, and that does not count for much in the great scheme of things, but there are plenty of good ingredients to put into beer nowadays, why use cheap essence as a flavouring ? And spare a though for the poor publican who has to clean his/her lines after one of these beers has been on the bar, it will take forever to take the taste away. There, I have said it,I must make my way round to the other side of the bar now to try the American stuff, to try to cleanse my palette.