There are some beers you can ruin for yourself if you have them too early in your beer journey. These are beers that you have to serve an apprenticeship for before drinking them. You need to have spent time building up your palate so you can handle the flavours these special beers will throw at you.
If you drink them before you’re ready, then you’ll likely dismiss them as being crap when really it’s your fault and not the beer’s. Then, when your palate is ready, you might not try it because you have that memory of it being crap.
Such was the case for me with Billy B’s Apple Beer from Thorogood’s cider makers in South Australia. I tried this about three years ago, when I’d just started writing a weekly beer review column for the newspaper. I was still shamefully wet behind the ears, having only recently discovered things like saisons and dunkleweizens existed. So I was so not ready for an apple beer.
As such, I hated it. And figured I’d never try it again.
And then I listened to a Beer Diary podcast, in which Phil Cook was raving about the beer (so much so that I think co-host George Langlands was a bit miffed that he’d likely never try it). I remembered the beer and how much I disliked it. But I thought “if Phil (yes, we’re on first name basis) is bigging it up so much, there might be something there. Maybe I need to have another go-round at it”.
Slowbeer had some. I bought it. And, on Friday night, I drank it. And this time, I was ready for it. I loved it. It’s always a great sign when you finish a bottle of beer and your first thought is “wish I bought two of them”. That’s what I thought here, 12 ABV be dammed.
I don’t really know how they make apple beer – at a guess the apples would be used as fermentables and maybe they blend in some cider to give it the sharp edge. But it tastes like a beer made with apples. The nose is all scrumpy cider – not alcopop cider. To me, the flavour was a brilliantly blended combination of old-fashioned cider on top, with a spirit-like flavour lurking underneath. Where the lingering hop bitterness would be in a normal beer, is the tartness from the apples. A tartness that I found walked right up to my tartness limit and stopped. There I was, preparing to pucker my mouth and make that sour face but it never quite came.
It’s a really lovely, complex, weird, wonderful beer. While making this on a bigger scale would certainly make it easier for me to find more bottles, I’m happy with it being a hard-to-get niche product. It fits in with the nature of the beer, where so many people have never heard of it. Where one beer geek may pass on information of its existence to another when he reckons they can handle it.
It’s a beer that’s spoken of with reverence in the beer world. And it’s a reverence that’s entirely justified. It’s also the closest you get me to drinking cider.
Categories: beer review
Sure is. I reckon it’d have to be in my top 10.
I thought much the same about apple beers until I recently tried an Apple Ale from New Glarus Brewing. It had the flavor of a fresh pressed apple cider. It was so surprisingly good. They don’t distribute very far from their brewery in Wisconsin, but if you ever see it definitely give it a shot!