Flavourings in beer are something I’m ambivalent about. A good dubbel, or a particularly good stout, will spark off thoughts of coffee, marmalade, dark chocolate, fruitcake and so on without actually being made of anything apart from yeast, hops and grain (and maybe just a bit of sugar). Actually putting coffee, marmalade or whatever into the beer seems like missing the point, and/or trying to take a shortcut. Too often it’s a self-defeating shortcut, as well – you can order ‘bramble overtones’ and end up with a pint of lager and black. Beer should taste of beer – the genius of a beer like Orval is that it tastes unmistakably of (a) marmalade (b) dark chocolate and (c) beer, in no particular order.
Flavourings can work when the brewer bears this in mind – when the flavouring doesn’t get in the way of the base flavour of the beer but works with it & enhances it. I’ve had a few beers that pass this test: I could name Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout, Nook Raspberry Blonde, Thwaites’ Cherry BB1. And now, courtesy of a ‘review bottle’ punted my way by the people at Ultracomida, I can tell you about another one: La Socarrada, a beer made with rosemary and rosemary honey.
La Socarrada is described on the label as a “cervesa artesanal“, which should tell anyone with holiday Spanish that the label isn’t in Spanish. The beer’s produced in Xátiva in Valencia – midway between the city of Valencia and Alicante – where they speak Valencian (more or less the same as Catalan). The bottle’s a rather fetching 75 cl champagne-type bottle (although the cap’s a standard crown cork); it’s labelled with a swing tag so as not to clutter it up. The beer’s 6%; even if you aren’t sharing it, the bottle works out at about the same alcohol content as a couple of pints. It pours a clear gold; my first glass had a slight haze, probably from chilling. It’s a light, clean-tasting beer, with a subtle but very distinctive flavour. The rosemary is present in the aroma more than the flavour; the honey adds a distinct flavour but without adding any sweetness (a very difficult trick to bring off, and an area where many ‘honey beers’ fail badly). And yes, I think you can taste the fact that it’s rosemary honey.
Verdict: clean-tasting without being bland; subtle without being over-complex; very drinkable! Most importantly, this is a beer with flavours, not a flavoured beer. Recommended.