Botanicals in gin, we’re pretty used to. Juniper is essential, but after that we get to play around a bit. Core botanicals include angelica, coriander, and orris, but we’re used to seeing citrus peels, liquorice, and cardamom appearing regularly.
But what you may not realise is that along with the botanicals they added to jenever – the starting point for what we now know of as gin – the Dutch also have a long history of adding botanicals to their beer. As Dutch explorers wandered the globe, they brought home a variety of herbs and spices which would find their way into beer.
Frederik Kampman, the chap behind Lowlander, made this discovery, after his work in a UK gin distillery led him to explore the idea of adding botanicals to beer. It all goes back to a time when beer was made without hops – whilst we (as humans) have been brewing some form of beer for thousands of years, hops are a relatively recent addition.
Whilst there is always going to be a place for hoppy beers in my life, having sampled these prettiest briefly at NRB in Manchester, I was more than happy to get my grubby mitts on some full size bottles to enjoy.
There are five beers in their range, and I sampled four. The first of which was their White Ale. Each beer has a selection of botanicals added for flavour, and in this case, I was also sent one of these. Curacao orange is one of the botanicals that gives the White Ale it’s light citrus flavour, the other two being chamomile, and elderflower. Unlike with a gin, where you can often expect these flavours to dominate, these are blended beautifully, resulting in a light, citrussy, floral beer. The bitterness is light, but definitely present, making it quite a refreshing beer to start with.
The second sampled was the IPA. Rather than a traditional IPA, this is more of an ‘Indonesian’ IPA, with the light lemon sweetness of coriander seed (a very different flavour to the leaf) and white tea. The result is a good bitter hit of flavour, with a layered citrus. Surprisingly, given the delicacy of white tea, the floral bitterness it imparts, is there, even if you have to hunt for it a little bit.
The third beer was probably my favourite. It’s a stunning American Pale Ale, so good I actually didn’t want it to end. Frederik and his team wanted to create something as zesty as a lemon drizzle cake, and they have. Using botanicals such as sumac, grapefruit and blood orange. It’s bright, zesty, with that distinctive grapefruit bitter florals, and the gentle acidity from the sumac. It’s so good.
The final beer is the Poorter. As you’d expect, this is richer and heavier than the other three, but without being so heavy that you feel like instead of drinking a beer, you’ve eaten it. The botanicals that help give it a sweetness, and roundness of flavour without the weight are liquorice and vanilla. I expected more vanilla, but the liquorice tends to dominate, the vanilla more rounds things off in a rather pleasant way, without taking over, or fighting with the liquorice for space. In itself, it is rather moreish, if beaten by the flavours of the American IPA.
Frederik has done more than nod to the history of Netherlands beer, he’s recreated it with a modern kit (I’m a geek, I know, but it’s beautiful), and for modern palates.
Now, to try and find me a big pile of that American Pale Ale…