We have a rare and (UK-wise) unique draught beer on this weekend in our little shop in Felixstowe: Gulden Draak Calvados cask aged.
This beer is top fermented ale second fermented in keg after a period resting in an old Calvados barrel. The time in barrel has given it a brandy note but also a hint of slow (micro) oxidation through the wood. And it is sensationally different to your regular beer.
Why do I buy this kind of beer? One that requires explanation each time we sell a glass? I’ll come onto that in a moment. In the meantime, sampling it yesterday with some customers set me thinking……
By calling this amazing drink “beer” we may be cheating ourselves out of sales. Depending on their age and nationality, our beer drinkers may have been brought up on English-style lager, lowish strength real ale or similar and have, over the last few years, been lured over to modern IPAs sometimes cloudy and with fruit in them. The braver ones may even enjoy Imperial Stouts. But mostly they won’t have drunk much of the super-strong Belgian stuff except on a Bruges day-trip. And never aged in a brandy cask. So this beer may not be calling to them.
Wine drinkers who never choose beer will continue to not order this one.
Gin drinkers ditto.
Possibly sparked by the nascent and extreme variety of beers now available here but also continued wine tasting, my thinking has evolved regarding categories of drink. When we have lagers pretending to be ales, vice versa, white wines soaked on skins, lees aged and drunk at room temperature, red wines vinified almost as whites, vermouths reviving (more on this soon), Gins (vodkas) made from tomatoes and flavoured with pretty much anything to hand, perhaps calling a drink “beer” or “wine” or “gin” is actually counterproductive. And restrictive as the distinctions blur.
My suggestion is that these categories are old hat; not fit for purpose any more.
And if you need further persuading consider this; we can sell you a chilled 189.33ml (yes, this is a legal measure) glass of lightly sparkling, bright shining mocha coloured, 10.5%, refreshing drink with hints of almond, banana, brandy-rancio, malt and mild sweetness with a soft, smooth mouthfeel for £3.50 or a chilled 175ml glass of lively, golden, 13.5% refreshing drink with hints of stone fruits, honey, a hint of sweetness on the finish and a smooth, waxy mouthfeel for £3.80.
Both drinks are imported, both are “artisan” made, both will improve an afternoon spent in our new back-yard and I would suggest that either can be enjoyed by both wine and beer drinkers. And anyone who thinks the Gulden Draak is a bit strong in alcohol clearly failed their maths exams.
Almost forgot. Why do I buy this kind of drink? Drinks for which nobody asks? I believe the answer is simple; because I can. We have created a route-to-market that permits explanation of product. And we must use it.
The products exist, they always have done; I am regularly bowled over by the quality of drinks I see on my buying trips. Products that are ignored and shunned by importers because “nobody is asking for them”.
But how can they ask if they are unaware of them? Received wisdom dictates doing what everyone else does but if we did that you wouldn’t have a wine-boutique and we wouldn’t have an interesting wholesale business. If I don’t import these things, few others will.
So I say to our staunch wine drinkers, “come and have a beer”. You never know.