The week before last, Mr. Bsag and I went to a great beer tasting session at the Birmingham Beer Festival. It was a guided session1, run by a lovely and very knowledgeable woman. I’ve drunk real ale for quite a while, but I’ve never done an actual tasting before, so it was very interesting. We started by smelling different varieties of hops and also eating malted barley. The barley was really a revelation: I couldn’t believe how much it tastes like beer. Since it is one of the main flavourings of beer, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but eating malted barley grains is like eating dehydrated beer. In fact, I’m surprised that no-one has yet tried to market it as dry, non-alcoholic beer — also high in protein and vitamins, and fat-free too! The other interesting thing was how much difference the malting process makes. Some were, well, malty and biscuity, others tasted like caramel or treacle (and were incredibly sweet), while the chocolate malt tasted (as the name suggests) exactly like dark chocolate with hints of espresso coffee.
This was all fascinating, but various hardened real ale enthusiasts around the table were keen to get to the part where we drank the actual beer, so we pressed on. We tasted 3 beers brewed by women, and two brewed locally. All beer was brewed by women at home at one time, but once commercial breweries took over, female brewers became very rare. I’m glad to say that there has been a bit of a renaissance recently, and a collective called Project Venus has been set up in which female brewers get together to collaboratively create a new beer.
One of the beers we tasted was a Project Venus beer. It was a dark porter called Venus Serem, brewed at the Waen brewery in Powys. Mr. Bsag is a big fan of porters (and of dark beers generally). I like some of them, but dark beers often come with a very high alcohol content, which I find a bit off-putting2. This one was absolutely gorgeous though. It had an amazing earthy, spicy scent, and then when you tasted it even more flavours came through. There were hints of chocolate and then something spicy. We had a guess at which spice it was, but didn’t get it right (it’s cardamon). I thought I could taste licorice, but apparently I was hallucinating that. It actually has beetroot and green chilli in it, which is much nicer than it sounds. The beetroot give it sweetness and a deep earthy flavour, and while it isn’t hot, the chilli leaves you with a subtle warmth in your mouth. It would be a really amazing Christmas beer — best drunk by an open fire, while wearing a thick woolly jumper.
The other beers were nice too, but the Venus Serem was definitely the highlight. The tasting has made me think a bit more about the flavours in real ale, and I now take the time to swirl the glass and smell the beer in the approved way before actually drinking it, so that I can appreciate the scent. I also try to hold a bit of the beer on my tongue for a few seconds before swallowing it so that the flavours get a chance to wake up my tastebuds. Sometimes I forget and just drink the stuff like a normal person. Thank goodness we weren’t obliged to spit out the beer after tasting like you do at wine tastings. I can imagine the horrified expressions on the assembled real ale enthusiasts: spit out perfectly good beer? Are you mad?