He was born on 12 May 1955 [1] which makes him a spritely 60 years old though he does not seem to have aged a day since Season Two when they hired some decent animators. Homer has contributed many gems of wisdom to the English language including “d’oh” (which made it into the Oxford English Dictionary) [2] and “it takes two to lie; one to lie and one to listen.” [3]

While he has many wisely considered opinions on a veritable cornucopia of important issues, the Homer quote that I use most often is “Mmmm, beer – my one weakness, my Achilles Heel, if you will.” It is a versatile saying as “beer” can be replaced with virtually anything – chocolate, a classical forward defensive shot or X Factor to name but three.

I have been known to use numerous variations of this Homerism, at times in rapid succession. I was once rightly called out for declaring (within half an hour) that IPA was my one weakness, that spicy chicken wings were my one weakness, [4] and that listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on endless repeat was my one weakness. When challenged after the flagrant repetition of the “one weakness” claim, I could only meekly reply “I like to consider my weaknesses one at a time. It makes things appear more manageable.”

As Homer lamented in Season 21, “she found my one weakness… that I’m weak.” Although I do have many and varied weaknesses, it transpires that a fondness for chocolate is not among them. In fact, I have no sweet tooth at all. For me, dessert tends to consist of any combination of another pint, some ripe cheese or fine Scotch.  

Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor clearly thought I had too much fun last week being paid to write about British politics, Boris Johnson and PJ O’Rourke. [5] Laughing manically, he listed this week’s featured beers – one made with chocolate, one made with bananas and one made to resemble a quintessentially English pudding. Yay?

Given my entrenched chocophobia, I turned to the venerated Oxford Companion to Beer which had an entry on “chocolate” penned by Garrett Oliver, founder of Brooklyn Brewery, author of “The Brewmaster’s Table” and editor of the Companion itself. He wrote:
“It is safe to say that the flavours of chocolate are today among the favourite food flavours of people worldwide, and it is not surprising to see that brewers seek to incorporate it into specialty beers. Chocolate-like flavours can derived from roasted malts, including a variety called chocolate malt, so named because of its colour and chocolate-like flavour contribution to beer. The flavour of actual chocolate tends to be somewhat different than that of roasted malt, however, so brewers wanting true chocolate flavour will introduce chocolate or cacao at various points through the brewing process.”
“Commercial craft brewers tend to focus on the use of the cacao nibs (chopped beans) themselves…  Those wishing to retain purer flavours will stick with straight cacao or with baker’s chocolate. Either can be added to the boil. Another popular method is to age beer on cacao nibs post fermentation… Used well, various forms of chocolate can add pleasant notes to porters and stouts, but brewers have added chocolate to many other beer styles with varying success.”

One of the first internationally famous chocolate beers was Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (5.2%). It was the certainly the first true chocolate beer I ever sampled and it later proved annoyingly popular at my tastings. First produced in 1997, this beer uses crystal malt, chocolate malt, a “special blend” of sugars, real dark chocolate and chocolate essence to produce a rich, full flavoured dark beer.

My own tasting notes read “this deep mahogany beer has a fluffy tan head and a moussey nose of chocolate and fudge. Somewhat reminiscent of a frothy chocolate milkshake, the beer is a veritable smorgasbord of velvety chocolate, Milo, vanilla and coffee with a deftly crisp finish.” [6] Others have picked notes of roast coffee, tiramisu and chocolate bread. However, (former) beer writer Cameron Williamson said it best when he said that Young’s Double Chocolate Stout was “a totally indulgent oddity.”
I’ve been made to write about chocolate beers before, almost always as punishment. This time, Colin went all “cruel and unusual” on me with the next two beers. Wells is a long-established British brewery best known for the traditional and patriotic Bombardier bitter. However, they have long produced Waggle Dance, a quirky beer made with honey, which alone should have made me suspicious.

That said, I’m not sure anything could have adequately prepared me for Wells Banana Bread Beer (5.2%). Officially, this beer has been inspired by beer’s historical reputation as “liquid bread.” The brewers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make liquid banana bread because… because they could I guess. They added Fairtrade bananas to allegedly “awaken the senses.” The tasting notes I have seen record notes of ripe banana, bread, caramel and Banoffee pie. [7]

Not satisfied with putting bananas in a place they have no business being, Wells decided that what drinkers really wanted in their glass was the dessert their grandma made after rationing was ended.  Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale (5.0%) is officially based on the Great British pudding of the same name and is reportedly “full of rich, sticky toffee-ness.” [8]

Drinkers with higher sugar tolerances than I have tried this beer. Those brave souls recorded notes of toffee, Crème Brulee, caramel, nuts and spice. Generally held to be not as sweet as predicted, it is definitely a niche beer that you have to be in the right mood for. Now, if that mood happens to be “being flooded in Wellington right now”, then this beer will fly off the shelves.

Malthouse is delighted to again host the Wellington Launch of Renaissance Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout on 28 May 2015. This much-anticipated beer has been released annually since 2009. In addition to the use of oatmeal to fill out the already smooth mouthfeel, Craftsman uses cocoa nibs both in the boil and fermentor, ensuring rich chocolate and coffee notes. Previous vintages (each is subtly different) have been described as black with a tan head, notes of medium-roasted coffee, dark chocolate, burnt toast, caramel, vanilla and stonefruit. The silky mouthfeel is always a highlight.

Next time, we drink to the brave construction people currently trying to restore Wellington’s contact with “the rest of the North Island.” [9]

[1] “It’s still real to me, dammit.”

[2] Being stuffy and English, the OED simply had to change the spelling to “doh” and stress that they knew the term had been around for absolutely ages.

[3] An excuse with an even lower success rate than “the cheque is in the mail,” “the dog ate my homework” or “the car was on fire when I rented it.”

[4] A concept which has its own grammatical complications.

[5] To be fair, I also had a lot of fun watching the pollsters squirm in their expensive suits, Dave (I call him Dave) Cameron sweeping back to power and George Galloway getting the arse card from yet another electorate.

[6] Despite numerous kind offers from the Handsome yet Softly Spoken One to re-try the beer for research purposes, I believe my original notes fully capture the essence of this brew.

[7] Banoffee Pie – a contender for my version of food hell – is made with malt biscuits which seems appropriate in this instance.
[8] At least according to noted food critic “Label on the Back of the Bottle.”

[9] Now there is a phrase you never really want to read.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine
TheShout Magazine
New Zealand Liquor News Magazine


Young’s Brewery – http://www.youngs.co.uk/
Wells – http://www.charleswells.co.uk/
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