Have you ever wondered what would happen if you brewed ale using every grain type available? I have, but that question has thus far gone unanswered. Now however, from a Nisa Local shop on Old Street, London, comes the answer, in the form of this bottle:
It is what I presume, Bateman’s standard issue, built-like-a-tank brown bottle. Embossed around the shoulder is the Bateman’s name, their windmill logo and “Est 1874”. There’s a strange, lumpen bulge around the neck of the bottle. Presumably it has something to do with stopping the beer ‘glugging’ when you try to pour it. It’s certainly not there for reasons of elegance.
Good news on the labels begins immediately with the neck label.
“Gold Winner” at the “International Beer Awards” is something to be proud of. No wonder they advertise the fact right at the top of the bottle. Expectations are rising.
The main front label is a picture of idyllic, rural, agricultural imagery.
The top has the main facts. The name of the brewery, the name of the beer and the alcoholic volume are plain to see for anyone browsing the shop shelves. I’m surprised it’s not a little higher than 4.7% alcoholic volume, but why quibble over a few decimal points when the taste is as good as I’m imagining it will be.
The main part of the front label is a take on the roundel. Except this time, the roundel-y shape is made up of illustrations of hops and grains and other crops. Supposedly, the same things that went into this ale.
Helpfully explaining for dummies like me, why this is called “Combined Harvest” “Multigrain Beer”, are the names of the different arable crops that went into it. “Barley” is the staple. No surprise there. Then there’s “Wheat” which I remember from most of my all-time favourite beers. “Oats” and “Rye” are the surprises, and al combined, make you wonder what the heck it tastes of.
Fortunately, a back label crammed with facts helps you get to grips with what “Combined Harvest” is all about.
Not only do they have an exceptionally detailed description, but also a taste profile box. I love it when brewers don’t skimp on detail. With so much to get through, I better start at the top.
They open by describing it as “a unique combination of barley, oats, wheat and rye”. That it appeals to lots of different groups of drinker because of its “subtle, smooth bitterness”. We also learn that Batemans is “one of the few remaining family brewers”, having been brewing since 1874. And that they’re brewery is in the old windmill of the logo, “on the bank of the river Steeping”.
Then they take it up a notch. Instead of writing a description of the brew themselves, they instead print an independent description by celebrity beer writer and socialist, Roger Protz. Unlike me, he is an old school beer writer, so here he is quoted verbatim from the label:
“A bronze pale ale brewed with pale and crystal barley malts, combined with malted wheat oats and rye and hopped with Phoenix and Target varieties. The superb aroma is dominated by tart orange and lemon slices fruitiness, with a bready note from the rye. As it contains no fish based firings it is vegan friendly”.
He does rather well with that description. And so have Batemans for using it. It sounds as interesting as you can get.
Before reaching the taste profile chart, they also describe Combined Harvest as “an ideal accompaniment to most dishes due to its well balanced delicate flavours”. On to the taste profile chart itself, and I love these devices. Okay, it’s not called a ‘taste profile’ this time, but Badger who use it most consistently across their range, do. So what does this ‘taste profile’ tell us?
This ‘taste profile’ tells us values from one to ten for aroma, bitterness, fruitiness, maltiness and spiciness. The main points we can take from the chart are that it has fruitiness and spiciness in abundance, and that it’s also quite malty and strong smelling. The fruitiness, spiciness and maltiness would come from the all of the grains squeezed into the bottle, and from strong hoppiness. The rest of it, I can’t wait to discover for myself.
Then we reach the small-print. For the curious, this is a 500ml bottle, which with its 4.7% alcoholic volume contents, comes in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol. In you want to write them a letter, their address in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire is printed. As is their web address of www.batman.co.uk. A website best described as trade orientated. Persevering with their website which looks like it was developed in 1999, I managed to find the Combined Harvest homepage at http://www.bateman.co.uk/BeerF.htm. If you want to subject yourself to the horror of a website that still uses frames in 2010, then go to http://www.bateman.co.uk/HomeF.htm.
On to the last bits of small-print, and there is a Vegan Society logo if you happen to be the sort of person who looks for such things. They also recommend that you “Serve Cool”. Not knowing whether my fridge counts as ‘cold’ rather than ‘cool’, I’m going to leave it in the fridge for just an hour or two before drinking it.
So what does Combined Harvest taste like? Finally, I’ve reached the part I’ve been looking forward to. With ale this complex, the only way to answer that question is to crack it open, so let’s do just that…
Pouring was no problem. The funny shaped neck causes it to come out in lots of tiny ‘glugs’ before settling into a smooth pour. In the glass, my fridge cooled Combined Harvest is a copper-amber colour. The head has depleted down to a patchy layer of white foam. And you can see a fair bit of carbonation in the glass.
How does Combined Harvest smell? Rogre Protz described the aroma as “superb” and being “dominated by tart orange and lemon slices fruitiness”. I’m going to ignore all that and describe it as smelling strongly of bread. A few more sniffs, and I’m figuring out that the breadiness comes from the wheaty maltiness. After getting used to it, a few sniffs later, I’m starting to fall into line with beer guru Roger Protz. I am now smelling a citrusy fruitiness that can only come form hoppiness.
What does Combined Harvest taste of? The ‘taste profile’ chart hinted at bags of fruitiness, maltiness and spiciness. Beer legend Roger Protz didn’t describe the taste in his description. What a pity. That means you’ll have to go by mine instead.
So what does Combined Harvest taste of? The first gulp is an easy and yummy one, leaving the first impression of that this is going to epitomise what a British ale could and should be. A couple more equally easy and pleasant gulp confirms the direction in which Batemans Combined Harvest is going.
On the flavour side of the gulp, you have a nice, light, savoury maltiness. On the aftertaste and finish side of the gulp, you have a smooth, gentle bitter finish and the taste of that maltiness, carrying with it hints of the taste of all the grain types that went into it. None of them are overpowering. You begin to think of bread, but then the citrusy, spicy, hoppy bitterness creeps in. All of which leave your tongue swiftly, making Combined Harvest very easy to drink.
What am I loving about Batemans Combined Harvest? I’m loving that they took the risk of putting every grain they have into it. I like the distinctive taste experience it gives you. And I love how, despite being a complex, unusual beast, it remains immensely light and easy to drink. Well balanced is another way of putting it. There is no strong bitterness to scare you away. I also like that it isn’t too gassy. And I like very much how good the bottle labels are.
What am I not loving about Batemans Combined Harvest? It is not perhaps, the taste explosion that I was expecting. There’s no in your face flavour. Eight out of ten for “Fruitiness” on a ‘taste profile chart’ from other brewers might have produced much fruitier results. It’s also very hard to find and quite expensive. At least here in London.
To conclude, Batemans Combined Harvest will remind you why you love British ale. It takes chances, it does things differently, it’s delicious and very drinkable. If you can’t tell, I like it.
Have you tried Batemans Combined Harvest? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.