My Eve was tempted by a glass of ale
Malt we know about. But other sweeteners can bring sensuality to hops. Michael Jackson brews up for Valentine's Day
Saturday 11 February 1995
The dance, in which the abdomen is waggled is typically performed by bees to inform one another of nectar sources. Being concerned with the amber nectar, I shall be sharing with my love a new beer called Waggle Dance, made with honey in addition to barley malt.
When I first heard about Waggle Dance, I imagined it might contain a dash of honey, as a flavouring. In fact, there is half a ton of honey in every 100-barrel batch. The beer is made from more than 20 per cent honey, less than 80 per cent barley malt. The honey comes from variety of sources, the barley malt from Yorkshire, and the beer is spiced with Kent hops, mainly of the Fuggles variety.
It is a golden brew, with a suggestion of honey in the bouquet, a notably firm, very smooth body; a touch of sweetness, suggestions of orange and lemon, and a flowery dryness in its long finish. It has 5.0 per cent alcohol, and is a cask-conditioned draught.
Waggle Dance is available (at £l.45 to £1.65 a pint) at about 200 pubs, mainly in the North of England, especially those owned by the brewing company whose name it bears, Vaux, of Sunderland. The beer is made by the Vaux subsidiary Ward's at its splendidly Victorian Sheaf Island brewery, in Sheffield. This brewery is already known to beer-lovers for its less romantic-sounding Sheffield Best Bitter.
The new product is labelled "The Original Honey Beer". Rather extravagant, that. As Vaux is first to admit, honey has sporadically been used in beer through the ages. "People are looking for tradition in beers, and we wanted to feature an ingredient that was used in the earliest days of fermented beverages," explains Vaux's marketing man Ted Blaze.
Vaux puts its honey in the brew-kettle, where the barley malt and hops are boiled together (this is the actual act of brewing). An earlier revivalist of honey beer, Will Constantine-Cort, adds the magic ingredient as a priming during the maturation of the beer he makes on the Enville estate, near Stourbridge, on the edge of the Black Country. Mr Constantine-Cort is himself a bee-keeper.
Whether it is added in the brewing or the maturation, the honey largely ferments, but its complex sugars do leave behind their own flavours, as well as some proteins and amino-acids. To my taste, Waggle Dance has a more robust honey character, but Enville Ale offers more flowery delicacy and complexity.
Which, though, will be the more powerful love potion? Whether in beer or mead (which contains no barley malt, nor any other grains), honey is regarded an aphrodisiac in Celtic, Moorish, Greek and Hindu legend.Hence the term "honeymoon". Sacrifices of mead were offered to Priapus, the Greek god of procreation.
Supposing my love declines the offer of honey ale, or cannot be tempted to the environs of Sheffield or Sunderland? Then I may choose an altogether different brew, one bearing a label that seems at first glance to reproduce Rubens's 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 Dfendu, 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 curaao orange peel and coriander seeds (as well as hops). Many spices and herbs were used in beer before the hop was widely taken up by brewers, but I suspect that orange peels and coriander are more recent. Forbidden Fruit is beautifully balanced: big at first, then soothing, seductive and warming (at 9.0 per cent alcohol).
It is very much the kind of beer to serve with a dessert, ideally involving Belgian chocolate. I have seen Forbidden Fruit more often in restaurants, usually fashionable spots, than in shops, though some speciality beer stores do have it, at around £1.75. In London, a reliable source is Grog Blossom, at 253 West End Lane, West Hampstead (071-794 7807).
If Forbidden Fruit does not tempt her, I might fly my love to Boston, Massachusetts, for dinner. A pub-restaurant called The Boston Beer Works is making a special beer for St Valentine's Day. It is a Chocolate Cherry Stout. Ten pounds of milk chocolate, 20lbs of semi sweet, and a priming of cherry syrup, says the recipe for a 10-barrel brew.
Thanks heavens for tradition.
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