Ginger. It used to be my own personal beer Kryptonite; The Devil’s Root, an unforgiving ingredient that was poured into boiling kettles by clumsy brewers all too often. Easy to get hold of, familiar enough to be comfortable with, yet misunderstood by too many.
Ginger’s versatility in flavour is both its greatest asset and biggest downfall. If you equate it to food, think about how it can go from warming, roasted, spice in Parkin or Ginger Shortbread, to the citric bite that it adds to Thai food. I would very rarely get that wondrous gamut of flavour in beers, instead getting soap or just harsh, plain heat. Until recently.
Last summer, a bottle of Little Valley’s Ginger Pale Ale turned my head simply due to that lightness of touch that I was seeking being present. The ginger in it simply surfaced at the back of the throat following a sip, and this was not only pleasant but entirely intriguing. It beckoned you to take another sip. I’ve been keeping an eye out for ginger in beers ever since, my curiosity piqued.
Nethergate’s Lemonhead was a beer I had low expectations of, to be frank. It sounded like an alcopop (with hints of lemon and ginger!) but it actually turned out well. Uber-pale, it did blend juicy, fresh lemon notes with subtle, drying heat courtesy of the ginger at the end of the sip. Packing a lot of body into a 4.1% abv beer, it’s a beer I would probably still steer away from on cask but a chilled bottle on a a warm day….perhaps. Nethergate do have form with me; as I type, I’m reminded of a delicious pint of Umbel Magna (spiced with Coriander) that I enjoyed a while ago.
Marble’s Ginger is held in high regard but I am pleased to see 1888 Ginger Stout (6.5% abv) appearing in bottles. Now, in my mind (which is probably too much in ‘Kitchen’ mode here) Stouts and Porters should be where Ginger shines and this is no exception. There’s that familiar Marble nose wafting across as I pour; slightly estery, fruity and wild, backed this time by a touch of Coca-Cola that hints at the spiciness within. It’s just that; although the beer is slightly thinner than I’d like, there is a lovely blend of inherent spiciness going on – Liquorice being the main note, with the warming, almost soothing Ginger popping up on the tongue at the end. It’s like a liquid Ginger biscuit and it’s lovely.
Arran do seem to be everywhere at the moment. Currently steaming through a massive period of growth (well documented by Robsterowski here) but they are still a brewery I don’t see enough of down here. I’ve enjoyed many a pint of blonde, and although my recent experiences with their bottles have been hit and miss, I really enjoyed Fireside (4.7%abv). Looking like a glowing ember in the glass, this hearty amber ale embodies the balance that I’ve been looking for.
This bottle was super-fresh; bursting with aromas of creamy malt, bonfire toffee and even an odd-yet-entirely-lovely pear drop note. The overall impression is that of a robust scotch ale, all crisp malt and sweet toffee, until that hit of ginger gatecrashes, bringing a little heat to the party. It’s just a little heat – and that’s the key.
So, overall, my palate is taught a lesson. My eyes remain open, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll start opting for Ginger on the bar before too long.