When I was growing up, one of the best baked treats we could have in our house was some of my Nana’s banana bread. The bread, the result of some alchemy I couldn’t understand that involved bananas that looked way past their prime, was a perennial favorite. Though Nana isn’t with us any longer, my mom still makes a mean loaf of banana-y, nutty, rich and tasty bread. I imagine that someday the recipe will be passed on to me.
I’m not trying to say that I’m some sort of Zen master of baking, or that my family’s name should be on the side of bread trucks across the country. All I’m saying is that I know from banana bread. So, of course, I was incredibly intrigued when I came across a bottle of Wells Banana Bread Beer this weekend.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the Wells name here in the US, you’re probably familiar with more than a few of their brands. Wells and Young’s Brewery, based in Bedford, brews the popular Young’s Bitter, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, and the Courage line of beers. The brewers also contract brew and import Red Stripe, Corona Extra, Negra Modelo and Kirin Ichiban. Despite the brewers’ global reach, this weekend was the first time I came across the attention-grabbing Banana Bread Beer.
Here’s how the brewery describes the beer. Traditional English spelling means bonus u’s!
This unique brew (Alc 5.2% vol) combines all the traditional qualities and style of a Charles Wells bitter with the subtle flavour of banana. Its 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.
Poured into an English pint, Wells Banana Bread Beer looks the part of a traditional English bitter. The body of the brew is a intense copper colour (yay Britishness!), capped with a light tan head. It isn’t quite still, but other than the occasional lazy bubble there isn’t much carbonation. On the nose, the ale is wicked strong in banana without much to back it up. I’m not talking some banana-like esters like in a hefeweizen, but straight-up ‘nanners. As the Banana Bread Beer warms up a bit, just a hint of bready nuttiness starts to peek through.
The taste is all, y’know, banana bread. Seriously. I don’t know what the ad man from Wells was drinking when he described a “subtle flavour of banana”, but it wasn’t this ale. This beer is banana bread put through a blender ’til it hit the consistency of beer. This is my girlfriend’s banana lip gloss. This is my mom’s banana bread. The flavor is a mix of overripe banana and nutty bread and malts, with the only beeriness coming from a hop bite at the end. Other reviews suggest that the draft version of the ale has some more assertive hops, but from the bottle they are hardly noticeable. Even with all the taste of a loaf of bread, the body of the beer is surprisingly thin. It’d make for an easy drinker, if the flavor wasn’t so in-your-face.
More than any of the other brews I’ve reviewed, Wells Banana Bread Beer seems like a novelty beer. This isn’t a crème brûlée-like beer like Southern Tier Crème Brûlée or a blueberry-hinted ale like Sea Dog Blueberry Ale – this is liquid banana bread. On the one hand, I don’t think the Banana Bread Beer is something I could drink a six-pack of, or even more than one in an evening. On the other hand, the banana bread flavor of this beer is so fully realized that you absolutely have to try it.
So, um … buy it? Just know what you’re in for.
Pairing Suggestion; Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel