Do dark beers sell as well in the summer months? I’ve noticed at the Coach and Horses that it’s definitely pale beer season, with even my favourite Thornbridge session ale, Ashford, pushing three days for a firkin to empty as beers such as the delightful Hopton, our English Pale Ale showcasing the new season Bramling Cross hop (with a touch of Pioneer for bittering), Seaforth, our new 5.9% English IPA and the elusive Black Thorn selling with a lot more gusto. Speaking of the Coach, not only did it win the Sheffield CAMRA District Pub of the Year, but it also went on to be placed third in the Derbyshire Pub of the Year awards, so well done to Cat, Mark and the team!
I digress… some of you may have heard of, or even tried Alecost before, as we brewed it last year with Mike Pidgeon of the University Arms and Ben Tysoe of the Devonshire Cat, both fantastic pubs in Sheffield.
Probably the most interesting thing about Alecost is linked to its name. Alecost was a term used for the herb Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) that has been used in the brewing of ales and beers since at least the 15th century. The famous herbalist and physician, Nicholas Culpepper refers to it as the “Balsam Herb” due to its balsamic odour, though I think the most noticeable character of this herb is the spearmint aroma that it gives off when rubbed or picked.
So why on earth would we want to put something that smells like spearmint chewing gum in a beer you may ask? The malt bill includes a good whack of Maris Otter Pale Ale malt and is complemented by flaked barley, Munich malt, roasted barley, amber, black and crystal rye malts. This gives a wonderful, deep complexity with the toasty graininess of the rye combining well with the charred, bitter chocolate characters of the deep roasted grains and the intense, almost coffee-like amber malt. The alecost works to slightly lift this stout, making it, in my opinion, the perfect good weather beer. Instead of the dull thud that the swallow of a heavy stout can sometimes give you, this lifts at the end with an underlying fruitiness and almost cooling effect. It’s not noticeable as being herbal, it just lightens the load a bit!
Hop wise, we originally went for the Japanese/American hybrid, Sorachi Ace with it’s fantastic over-ripe orange and coconut characters and the New Zealand Saaz offshoot, Riwaka with its grapefruit, lime and tropical fruit undertones. This time however, we were out of Riwaka, so chose the delightful Spalter Select instead. On the rub this hinted at strawberries and cream and a boiled sweet character that we thought would help to bring out some fruity sweetness in the aroma.
It doesn’t just end there though. To accentuate both the roasted malt characters and the gentle alecost aromas, we added a bunch of ground caraway seeds. The brew we did last year used only dried caraway seeds from Julian Graves, however this year, our wizard gardeners here at Thornbridge grew some Caraway(Carum carvi) for us to use.
The fresh caraway seeds smelt a lot different from the dried seeds. Being fresh, they had a lot more of a grassy aroma, were not as pungent and minty as the dry counterparts and the green, unripe seeds had a light, almost coriander leaf character to them. In the end, we went for a blend of the fresh and dried seeds. The great thing about caraway is that along with the mint character, it also has a lovely almost aniseed like quality to it. This blends in perfectly with the dark malt characters of the beer and brings all of the ingredients together!
Caraway is also a well known digestive aid… does this make Alecost the ideal food accompaniment? I’d quite happily drink this beer with a load of different dishes, whether enjoying it with some fresh herb-filled sausages on the barbecue or enjoying it alongside a spicy cumin-filled curry. There’s lots of options for this beer.
Good old wikipedia informed me that caraway seeds contain limonene that actually has yeast killing properties! Apparently this is why rye bread (which usually contains caraway as well) is more dense than normal bread. My understanding is that most hops contain the wonderfully fragrant limonene (you can probably guess from its name what it smells of) and most beers containing hops ferment relatively well. Maybe brewers yeast is just a lot tougher than bakers yeast. Is this true of brewers and bakers as well? Could this be the next genre of Ultimate Fighting Championships?
Another interesting thing I found in my research is that costmary contains compounds called parthenolides which have been shown to help in migraine prevention… I wonder if that means no headaches the next day…