BACK from my experiment with bland Polish lagers, I’m feeling the need for something quirky. And British. What better place to start then, than with Wells Banana Bread Beer.
So far, I’ve only seen one corner shop in the Bethnal Green and Brick Lane area selling this. And at the ultra-premium price of £1.89 pence. Needless to say that you could need to put in some leg work to track down a bottle of this oddly-named beer.
Remember that this is the same Wells that brought us the excellent Bombardier Satanic Mills. And that they’re part of the Wells & Young’s who came up with the above average Young’s Special London Ale and honey-tinged Young’s Waggle Dance. With the Wells name on the bottle, it’s looking promising that Banana Bread will be good.
I’m certainly stumped by the connection between bananas, bread and beer. They’re as unrelated as soap, gravel and Incan sun gods. The front of the bottle doesn’t solve the mystery, but it does have good news. That’s because, in true Wells fashion, this, is a full-pint bottle. Not one of those homogenised continental millilitre measures here.
The main front label doesn’t exactly answer any questions. But it does add to the sense of quirky eccentricity. Which is what I hope they were aiming for.
Under the big “Banana Bread Beer” name is a picture you’ve probably never seen before. Nor ever will anywhere else. If you’ve ever imagined what a peeled banana would look like with a glass of beer where the edible part would normally be, then you’ve got a strange imagination indeed. And, as it happens, the same sort of imagination that came up with the picture on the front of this label.
Also on the front label, in very small writing, is the volume. Which comes in at 5.2%. Not bad. At least it’s above the ever-so-unimaginative 5% you see everywhere these days.
Over on the back of the bottle, you’re subjected to the full-force of the Wells style of back label.
With a pamphlet worth of information, it’s hard to know where to begin. To save you the trouble, I’ll start with the big small-print at the bottom of the label. Then try to summarise the novella on the subject of how this beer came to be.
The bottom of the label is where you’re eyes are drawn to first. Mostly because, ironically, the small-print details are bigger than anything else around them. You’ll be pleased to see that this “Full English Pint” weights in at 568 millilitres. And that this “Premium Ale” contains “malted barley”.
All this adds up to a whole 3.0 UK units of alcohol. So girls, if you care to follow such guidelines, which you don’t, you’ll have had about enough for one day after one bottle of this beer. Gents, you can have around half a cheap lager more.
Now to take on this enormous, two-column block of writing about this beer. And try and answer some questions about what a beer has to do with bananas. And bread. First, they boast about using water from their own well. Then, they tell us that the hops they use, are English “Challenger” and “Goldings” hops. They go on to say how they brew this beer using Fair Trade Bananas. And that this provides “roundness in flavour” and an “appealing aroma”. No mention of why bananas. Like it’s normal.
Instead, they go straight on to say that these ingredients are fermented for seven days. And that this “intriguing” beer is award-winning. Although there’s no word on what award it was. Award for most unusual combination of ingredients would be my guess. Lastly, they inform us that they named this beer, in part, after the Saxon name for beer, which was “Liquid Bread”. It’s a tenuous connection, but you can just about see how the bananas, bread and beer came to be on the same beer label together.
What am I expecting from this? Almost no idea. Apparently it’s a bitter, but it could have some trace of banana in the smell and taste. How drinkable that will be, I look forward to finding out, because now it’s time to see if it’s any good.
Pouring this full-pint into a pint-glass, the main worry is whether the head will overflow, making a mess of your kitchen countertop. But that wasn’t a problem, because Banana Bread Beer has only the thinnest layers of head.
The colour is a darkish, reddish deep shade of amber. Bitter colour, I suppose. The smell is where Banana Bread Beer really starts to deviate from the usual. Dominating the aroma, is the smell of bananas. Just as promised on the label. Only stronger than I expected. You’ll get your first whiff of it as you’re pouring. It reminds me of those bags of bright yellow, bananas flavoured sweets that you can buy in bags. I cannot do it justice. You’ll have to see, or smell this for yourself. A beer that smells of bananas, and smells delicious too.
A couple of gulps in, and like with Waggle Dance, I’m surprised by how normal the taste is. The tastes that strike you are the usual, yet high-quality, hoppy bitterness and sourness. Underneath the mad-as-a-brush exterior, you’ll find a bitter-tasting, good-quality ale.
The flavours don’t stop there though. There’s a pleasantly tangy, if somewhat hidden banana flavour still present. And this gives an otherwise typical ale, an unusual and citrusy twist. I’m thoroughly enjoying the imagination that went into this.
Other things I like about it are that it’s not too gassy. It’s smooth. It has that full-bodied, full-flavoured and complex quality I’ve been missing recently with all those bland European lagers. The character and originality of that blend of flavours scores it marks too. And the quality of everything that went into Banana Bread Beer shows in how drinkable it is. You would have to be a very timid drinker to be offended by anything about this beer. I’d happily get a few bottles in, if I could afford them.
And that starts a look at the downsides. It is expensive. At least it is from the shop where I bought it. And it’s not as if there’s much choice of where to buy it. And, while I loved the blend of bitter ale and banana, I couldn’t help feeling that more outrageousness was in order. Anyone, who buys a beer called Banana Bread Beer wants something totally off-the-wall. But that eccentricity, instead of taking centre stage, is obscured.
I absolutely enjoyed Wells Banana Bread Beer. It’s not as unusual as I’d hoped, but it’s more unusual than honey beers like Waggle Dance. It takes and smells unlike anything else I’ve tried. Unusual, drinkable and recommended if you can find it and afford it.
Have you tried Wells Banana Bread Beer? Or any other banana beer? What did you think?
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