Unusual ingredients are one of the more popular trends in British brewing at the moment – whether reviving the traditional or attempting the astonishing. Putting aside ancient herbs and sausage fillings, fruit has for a long time been one of the main adjuncts added to beer to give it a more unusual flavour. But what about vegetables? Depending on how strictly you want to classify things – pumpkin, ginger, chili peppers have all been used fairly regularly in brewing. But garlic? RateBeer.com lists only two garlic-based beers, one of which (Antonio’s Original Garlic Pils from Brew Brothers in Alberta) yields a score of 6 out of 100.
In our Beer of the Year shows we traditionally finish with a surprise unusual beer, and when in December I read about a newly-released Garlic beer on Tyson’s Beer & Cheese Blog something clicked. The small village of Newchurch on the Isle of Wight hosts both a brewery and a garlic farm – so combining the two was probably only a matter of time. David Yates used to brew for Ushers on the island, but went down his own path when they closed production. That was in 2000, and four years later Yates’s 5.5% Special Draught won a bronze at that year’s GBBF.
There’s no question Yates’s are a talented brewery – but this experiment should have stayed on the flipchart. I love garlic, don’t get me wrong, and flicking through the pages of the website of the Newchurch Garlic Farm was really interesting. But this beer is just completely awful. It pours a strange russet beige colour with a murky haze, even with the majority of sediment retained in the bottle – along with half a clove of garlic, floating around like a dead fish in an aquarium.
The aroma is all garlic, that instantly recognisable smell of Italian or Asian food. There’s some sourness in there as well – but that obviously doesn’t make it any more appealing. Strangely the first taste isn’t that strong – there’s a vague mustiness that reminded me of composting vegetable matter. Then, however, the garlic hits and dominates the flavour and the aftertaste. It certainly doesn’t disappoint, if that’s what you were after – if it was meant as a novelty then fair enough, but as a drinkable beer it falls short on every level.