Saturday, June 25, 2011

DRANK: Kelpie Seaweed Ale, Williams Brothers Brewing Company, Alloa, UK (Scotland) - BOTTLE

Stan Hieronymus recently had a post up about the "smell of the sea," or more accurately dimethyl sulfide (DMS), in beer. Stan's point was that even though DMS is considered an off-flavor, said beer might remind you of a trip to the ocean, so context is important. I'm paraphrasing, but you can read it here.

What if that "smell of the sea" was done intentionally? Not by chemical reaction, but by adding a little bit of the sea itself, into the beer. Williams Brothers of Scotland, UK, has done just that with Kelpie, a seaweed ale (I'm not making this up) of their historic beers of Scotland series. The label reads:

Prior to the 1850's there were many Scottish coastal alehouses, which brewed their own ales, these ales were made from local malted barley, which was grown on fields fertilised with seaweed. 
This environment gave the barley a very specific flavour which we have recreated by the inclusion of fresh seaweed in the mash tun. Seaweed (bladder rack) taken fresh from the water on the Argyll coast is 'mashed in' with the malted and roasted barley.

Now that all might be horse shit, I have no idea. Ron, Martyn or Barm would all be better judges of that. I do know that oysters were at one time (and sometimes still) used in the production of some stouts, but seaweed is new to me. Either way, Kelpie is nothing if not unique.

This nautical brew pours nearly black with a thick, voluminous tan head. Even with my mug on the counter it gave off a heavy roasted malt and caramel aroma. Then there came a freshness, an outdoorsy smell, not unlike (dramatic pause) a walk on the beach. Seriously though, there was a very discernible "smell of the sea." Kelpie is rich and quite smooth with a sweet, mineral quality. Bittersweet chocolate and molasses notes are very prominent; with a slightly smokey, peated, earthiness and a hint of vegetable-ness at the end. It's got some bitterness, but the hops do play second fiddle to some of the bigger malt and sea oriented flavors. This feels like a much bigger beer than it's 4.4% ABV would suggest. My only reservation with this one is it's mineral quality. Personally, it seems to be bordering on salty. I don't have a lot of experience with seaweed—other than nori-wraped sushi rolls—so I don't really know what bladder rack (I keep thinking that says Blackadder, by the way) seaweed is going to bring to the party. Is the "smell of the sea" psychosomatic? Does Kelpie really smell and taste like the sea, or do I just want it to? Apparently I need to brush up on my edible Protista.

All-in-all I like this one. The salt is a little distracting, but what's a seaside inspired beer without salt? Anybody else in the mood for oysters?

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