Killing two birds with one stone here. Bear with me. Is it bear with me or bare with me? Definitely one of the two.
Dead Bird #1: We were at the Great Scottish Beer Festival this weekend where Ultravilot absolutely flew out. Yep, you heard.
Dead Bird #2: A suggested blog topic via Twitter was “The Creative Process”.
You can probably tell from the above where this blog is going, so let’s just crack on eh? Ultravilot is one of our more esoteric brews; a classic hefeweizen recipe infused with Parma Violets. We’d love to take credit for the idea of using the wee purple beasties in a brew, but that part actually came from Baz at Cloisters, who was after a Parma brew for his beer festival. After a fair bit of “Aye, right Baz.” we got to thinking that it might actually work – floral flavours in beer are not unheard of after all. The obvious thing to do would be to stick them in an IPA, but we’re not huge fans of the obvious, so we put on our thinking caps and did some thinking with our brains.
My best bit of advice for would-be beer designers is to get into cooking. Learn about how flavours work together. And how they don’t. Learn about over-doing things. And under-doing them. The idea of using sumac in Sumac Me Feel Like A Natural Saison only came about after I went on a bit of a Middle Eastern cookery spree, for example (cheers Yottam!). Something like Parma Violets in a beer could easily be perceived as a bit wacky for the sake of it, so we work super hard to keep drinkability at the heart of all of our beers. Internet beer reviewers are a curious bunch, but when we get a decent mix of reviews saying either “needs more x…” or “too much x…” we figure we’re probably getting the levels of x about right (incidentally, look out for our x-infused Berliner Weisse, coming soon!). After throwing around all sorts of ideas, most of which could be filed under ‘Commercial Suicide’, it was Matt who mooted the hefe idea, figuring that the banana, clove and bubblegum flavours from the yeast could work brilliantly with the slightly-chemical floral twang from the Parma Violets. It could also have been a total car-crash, but he who dares Rodders, he who dares. We kept the hefe part of the beer as classic as we could – wheat and pilsner malt, hefe yeast and a high fermentation temperature for maximum bananas. We do add a tiny amount of distinctly non-traditional light crystal malt though, just to give a wee bit more oomph to carry the floral sweetiness.
Does the beer work? We think it does, aye. The violet flavour is there, but restrained enough to not overpower the hefe-ness; there’s body to it, but not enough to make it cloying. Fundamentally, it’s a bloody drinkable beer. There’s no point pretending that a Parma Violet hefeweizen is going to be for everyone though – those that love it love it, but those that don’t really, really don’t. Those that order it not knowing what it is tend to wander away looking confused and a bit sad.
As a final aside, the question we got asked most regularly at Great Scot was “how do you get the Parma Violet flavour in?”. The answer is that we use Parma Violets. 12kg of them in every brew, unwrapped by hand. By the end of the brew-day our hands are little more than non-functioning purple flippers; trust me when I say we wouldn’t put ourselves through it if we didn’t really believe this is a beer worth making.