The electric shirt-collar

On flavourings in beer (as on much else), I tend to agree with Barm:

I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed, a few months ago, when a mailing from an online beer merchant offered a very, very special mixed case from Buxton, featuring

Rocky Road Ice Cream, 10% – Collab with Omnipollo
Texas Pecan Ice Cream, 10% – Collab with Omnipollo
Ice Cream Pale, 5.6% – Collab with Omnipollo
Yellow Belly 2016, 11% – Collab with Omnipollo
Yellow Belly Sundae 2016, 12% (we only have 216 bottles so this will limit the quantity of cases available.  These are the only bottles of YBS 2016 in Europe outside of Sweden) – Collab with Omnipollo

In fact, I don’t think I was even whelmed – least of all when I checked up and discovered that the aforesaid Yellow Belly is a “peanut butter biscuit imperial stout”. Now, I like peanut butter, and I like biscuits, and I like an imperial stout, but… On paper, at least, these beers seem to combine several different things I don’t like. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘fruit machine‘ style of brewing, where brewers seem to try and make their beers unique by adding two or three qualifications to every style (“whisky-aged… red… porter!”). I’ve always liked big, complex beers, that get everything from raspberries to dark chocolate to wholemeal bread to marmalade out of malted barley, hops and yeast (and maybe a bit of sugar) – which in turn means I’m not a massive admirer of beers that taste of raspberries, dark chocolate or marmalade because they’ve had those things added to them. And one thing I’m really not keen on is brewing as fan service – the kind of brewery that’s got itself into a position where beer geeks thirsty for rarities are its main customers, so that short runs and scarcity pricing become the normal business model. Still, I guess it doesn’t do me any harm, so they may as well get on with it.

That was the sum total of my thinking about the weirdly-named Swedish brewery Omnipollo and their collabs with Buxton, until the other day when I was passing my local craft emporium and in the mood for a half, or even a third, of something silly. They had Buxton/Omnipollo Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie on. I used to love a lemon meringue, although I haven’t tasted one in years – my mother used to make them – so I decided to give it a go, albeit with some trepidation (it sounded awfully sweet). I paid £2.70 for a third; the price was displayed, coyly, as £5.50 for 2/3 of a pint. So £8 a pint, then. (Apparently it’s available to the trade for £129 plus VAT for a 30L key keg; even with the VAT, I make that £3 a pint at the outside.)

It was clear but yellow – bright yellow – and it tasted of lemons. It really tasted of lemons; it was a properly sour beer. No sign of the meringue or the ice cream – apparently there’s lactose in there, but for all I could tell it had fermented out in the key keg. So just lemons, really, perhaps with some grapefruit – a big citric sourness, backed up by a mild but definite bitterness. There wasn’t any meringue in there – let alone ice cream – but the way the sharp attack and the bitter finish drifted in and out of focus did remind me of lemon meringue, or at least of the lemon curd base of my Mum’s meringue.

Lemons and plenty of ’em, then, but there was something else going on too. It was a bit like when I tasted some barrel-aged beers from Wild – the flavour was dominated by a big, uncomplicated fortified-wine sweetness, but alongside that there was… something else. They were interesting beers, not because they tasted of Madeira, but because they didn’t just taste of Madeira; there was something else about them, something that stayed with me for days. Similarly, this time round, I wasn’t just tasting lemon juice; the flavour of the beer stayed with me all the way home, and not just because I was checking my teeth for where the top layer of enamel had been stripped off.

The beer wasn’t a world classic – if anything it was just at the enjoyable end of ‘interesting’ – and £8 a pint for a 6% keg beer is crazy; I probably wouldn’t order it again. But it piqued my interest and gave me a sense of how sour beers might be enjoyable – very much as those Wild beers did for barrel-aged beers – and that’s the first time I’ve got that from a sour beer. New horizons in flavour!

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8 Comments

  1. Posted 11 April, 2017 at 10:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sorry Phil but a cost price of £129 / 30l at a reasonable pub GP of 65% comes out at £8.18 a pint.
    At your suggested £3 a pint you’d be getting it served to you in a heated, staffed, rate paying pub at near as damn it cost price.
    Next time bump into you, happy to explain the economics to you.

    Totally agree with you on the beer though. Tried it because of social media comment and while wasn’t disappointed to have tried it, would not have had another one (regardless of cost).

  2. Posted 12 April, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    Normal brewing yeast won’t ferment lactose so it should still be there, but compared to other sugars it isnt’ that sweet.

  3. Phil
    Posted 12 April, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ed – you’re right, of course (I was reading about milk stout the other day, too).

    John – £3 was my estimate of how much the bar is paying; I wouldn’t expect to buy it at cost price! I’m a bit surprised that a reasonable margin is that high, though. (That’s 65% as in “gross profit makes up 65% of the price to the customer”, I take it – so more like 270% as a ratio of the cost price).

  4. Posted 12 April, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink | Reply

    John arithmetic seems dodgy too here. Assume 52 pints from the keg. At £129 the bar is buying it (excluding VAT I assume) at £2.39 a pint. How it gets to £8 depends how you do the maths. On a straight 65% markup you get £3.94 a pint. Add VAT at 20% and you get £4.73 a pint.

    So I don’t get the maths on this at all even if you add markup to VAT.

  5. Posted 12 April, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink | Reply

    Actually £129 seems cheap for this?

  6. Phil
    Posted 12 April, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink | Reply

    £129 is from this page – which also gives suggested prices per pint which aren’t a million miles from John’s calculation (or the Font’s actual pricing). They reckon 50 pints. By my maths 65% GP equates to a 170% markup, give or take.

  7. Posted 12 April, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Think I’m having trouble with markup and profit here. “To calculate the gross profit percentage, also known as the gross profit margin, the gross profit should be divided by the total revenue and then multiplied by 100. This is the percentage of money that the company makes from selling goods or services after subtracting the costs of producing them.”

    Hmm.

  8. Posted 13 April, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Perhaps it is easier just to say that standard practice for bars is to sell beer for a little under three times what they pay for it.

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