Ice, ice, baby

This post should come with a health warning. I wrote it, and then I forgot about it. It has sat, unloved, like an unfavoured child, being ignored and passed over. It is almost apt that it is a post all about vanilla, that undervalued and oft-forgotten flavour. It is also a beer review and it was written before my cliche-ridden reviews were hauled up and my new approach was born. I have edited it for cliches and I hope I have caught them all, but I wanted to explain why it does not adhere to my new Guess Brew approach. Enjoy…

Vanilla. It’s a bit boring, eh? A DVD with no special features? That’s a vanilla DVD. Choosing an ice cream? Vanilla is always the ‘plain’ option, less exciting than the other flavours.

Well, maybe not. Mrs RB, as it turns out, loves vanilla. She would choose a vanilla ice cream every time. And some people are making an entire living out of vanilla, such as the Devon-based Little Pod company who sell a range of vanilla pods, pastes and extracts. But I am interested in another application for vanilla: beer.

The Little Pod company have teamed up with Hunters Brewery to brew Vanilla Beer. They have gone for the Ronseal approach with that name, but it is an interesting bottle with nice labelling. Vanilla Beer won a Great Taste Gold award in 2012 and was, as far as I can work out, first brewed to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It is now part of the Hunters bottled range; this is the brewery, don’t forget, who previously collaborated with the Blueberry Brothers on their blueberry beer, so they have a history of doing this sort of thing.

Vanilla Beer was more successful than the blueberry beer. For a start, I quite liked its taste. It doesn’t have an overpowering taste of vanilla, which is a good thing I think, but you could tell that it was there. It was a little fruitier and hoppier than I had expected, for a vanilla beer. You never know, this is a beer that I might well come back to again in the future.

Away from Devon, there are other breweries stuffing vanilla into their brews. Mikkeller are a Danish brewery and they produce some exciting beers (there is an entertaining section on their website explaining how it is possible to go from being a maths and physics teacher to an acclaimed brewer in less than a decade). This is their Vanilla Shake, an oatmeal stout brewed with coffee and vanilla. It comes in at 13% ABV and one bottle was enough for Mrs RB and I to share before wobbling off to bed (a 330ml bottle of this little beer is 4.29 units – remembering my recent brush with binge drinking, we made sure to share this one).

Mikkeller vanillaAgain, the vanilla is not front and centre, although it is definitely there. The coffee flavour is more recognisable than the vanilla, at least at first, and you can also taste the strength of the beer. But in a good way. It has the tang that I enjoy in stout, which sits nicely with the other flavours. I liked this, although I wouldn’t recommend having too many before you try and walk anywhere.

And then we have the Omnipollo Hypnopompa. Yes, exactly. This is an 11% imperial stout from the Swedish brewers and, in their words, is brewed with “almost 100 kilos of marshmallows and Tahitian vanilla beans (the size of cigars)”. It is also, probably, the most obviously vanilla of the beers, with a strong smell of chocolate vanilla. And it doesn’t hide its high alcohol content; it tastes strong. The flavours begin sweetly and work their way through to a dark chocolate bitterness, leaving you with a lingering taste at the back of your throat. Dark in colour, and with little carbonation, this has a thick, velvety texture. I only had a 330ml bottle, but even that was beginning to be a bit too much by the time I got near to the bottom of the glass. It is an interesting drink, but you really don’t want a lot of it.

But this does all go to prove that vanilla doesn’t have to be boring. Far from it.