For our latest podcast, we started off drinking beers that didn’t seem related – but by the end a very definite theme had developed. Two chestnut red ales, the second of which was billed as having hints of a certain yellow fruit, were followed by two that had very serious hints of the same thing. We’re not sure if any other beer website has tried a Banana special before, but we started ours with White Horse’s Dragon Hill (4.1%) from Oxfordshire – which admittedly has nothing to do with bananas. We then move on to one from our side of the border – Williams Red (4.5%), from the eponymous brothers based in Alloa. Our third beer moves towards the theme, as we sample Wells Banana Bread Beer (5.2%) from the Wells & Youngs Brewery in Bedford. Finally we finish on the ultimate beer for the flavour – Mongozo Banana Beer (4.5%), from the Chokwe people of Africa, via Belgium. This edition sees a joining of our two panels, as Andy and Jess jet north to Edinburgh to join Richard and Shovels.
1. Dragon Hill (4.1%abv)
White Horse Brewery, Faringdon, Oxfordshire.
500ml glass bottle
The White Horse Brewery are a small producer based in the valley of the same name in rural Oxfordshire. Faringdon is a market town on the edge of the Thames Valley, and it’s here that Andy Wilson founded his brewery. They attempt to use local produce as much as possible for their ales, such as White Horse Bitter and their fiery, aromatic Wayland Smithy. Dragon Hill takes it’s name from the small chalk hillock nearby, upon which legend has it St George did his noble deed to resolve a problem with a large reptile. It’s also near the Uffington White Horse, a 300ft long prehistoric outline carved into the ground that forms the company logo.
What They Say – “Just like Saint George making his stand on the Dragon Hill many years ago, this beer is chestnut red in colour, with a dry biscuit after taste and a hoppy finish. As the start to the New Year has passed, it is time to re-define those taste buds with this early season beer made with the finest English malt and traditional hops.” [Official Website]
What We Say…
Richard – It’s very dry, with quite a biscuity aftertaste 7
Jess – I can drink it although there’s nothing rich in the taste 5
Shovels – A bit like bottled Deuchars, it’s underwhelming 5
Andy – The John Major of beers – not offensively bad, just so middle of the road it’s without merit 4
2. Williams Bros Red (4.5%abv)
Williams Bros, Alloa, Clackmannanshire
500ml glass bottle
The family-run company started in 1992 by brothers Scott and Bruce Williams first produced eclectic traditional Scottish beers brewed to historic recipes – such as Fraoch Heather Ale, (first produced in 2000BC). In 2004 they took over larger premises in Alloa and formed a new line of beers under the brand ‘Williams Bros’ – Gold, Red, Black, and Joker. The last couple of years has seen them expand into many more brands, such as the excellent Midnight Sun and Good Times. 2009 has seen the affable brothers score four beers in the finals of Sainsbury’s Beer Challenge – Birds & Bees, Williams 80/-, Ceilidh Lager and Williams IPA, which are all seriously drinkable (particularly the IPA). However, for this episode we sample one of their oldest lines – Williams Red.
What They Say – “Williams Red is a rich ruby malt ale, medium dry with hints of toffee and banana. Balanced with fresh spicy hops to give a zesty peppery backdrop, Williams Red is a warming full flavoured beer to be savoured.” [Label Tasting Notes]
What We Say…
Richard – I don’t get toffee or banana, just general sweetness 6½
Shovels – As malty red ales go it’s the right side of the 80/- line 6
Jess – I would have liked it more if it was more bitter 6
Andy – Just a bit too much for my fragile taste buds 4
3. Wells Banana Bread Beer (5.2%abv)
Wells & Youngs, Bedford, Bedfordshire
500 ml glass bottle
Charles Wells was born in Bedford in 1842. At the age of 14 he left school and boarded a frigate bound for India. By the time he was Chief Officer he had courted and proposed to a woman named Josephine Grimbley. However, her father had no desire to see her married to a man who would vanish for months on end at sea, so Charles abandoned his naval career and decided to open a brewery. He found a site on the River Ouse, sank his own well on a nearby limestone hill, and got started. Today, following a 2006 merger with London’s Young’s concern they are the largest privately owned brewer in the UK. Their Eagle Brewery in Bedford brews many beers under licence, such as Kirin, Cobra and Red Stripe. Their flagship brand is Bombadier, and they also own an estate of over 250 pubs.
What They Say – “It’s flavour unfolds with a sensual sparkle and a smart crispness, which balances its aroma perfectly. Tropically fruity; its ripe banana flavour, emphasised by a hint of bitterness, comes from the addition of real fair trade bananas and finishes with an emphatic, steely dryness.” [Official Website]
What We Say…
Andy – For an odd beer with stuff in, it’s as good as it gets 8½
Jess – It’s like drinking beer and having a lovely slice of home-made banana bread 8
Richard – Bananas come through in the smooth aftertaste 7½
Shovels – Tastes like banana bread with a fizz at the end 7½
4. Mongozo Banana (4.5%abv)
Brouwerij Hughye Melle, Belgium
330 ml glass bottle
Several years ago, Henriqe Kabia’s mother had a problem. Belonging to the Chokwe people of Angola she would follow tradition by passing on her grandmother’s palm nut homebrew recipe to her oldest daughter. Trouble was, she didn’t have any, so it was Henrique that got the know-how instead. When he moved to the Netherlands in 1993, he decided Europeans should get the chance to sample traditional African beer. After a struggle, he teamed up with Jan Fleurkens and persuaded the Belgian Brouwerij Van Steenberge to let him experiment – and it proved to be a hit. Today Brouwrij Huyghe (of Delirium Tremens fame) produce Mongozo under licence, and there are five flavours available – Coconut, Quinua, Palmnut, Mango, and last but not least, Banana (based on the Masai drink mbege). Henrique was killed in a car accident in Switzerland in 2003, but the beer survives and is increasing in market share throughout Europe.
What They Say – “The word Mongozo means ‘to your health!’ in the language of the Chokwe people of Africa. Banana, as already indicated by the name, is the unmistakeable flavour of Mongozo Banana. The beer flavour only comes through in the aftertaste. It goes without saying that Mongozo Banana is the yellow colour of ripe bananas.” [Official Website]
What We Say…
Andy – It smells like you just opened a tub of pick n’ mix 5
Shovels – Should be called Monsweeto, a 3yr old would love it 4
Jess – No beer in it at all, it tastes like a fizzy drink 3
Richard – Tastes like colossally sweet banana cordial, it’s a poor excuse for a beer and just isn’t nice 1½
Panellists – (from top left) Andy, Jess, Richard, Shovels
BeerCast panel verdict
Wells Banana Bread Beer (31½/40)
Williams Bros Red (22½/40)
White Horse Dragon Hill (21/40)
Mongozo Banana Beer (13½/40)