The Bear

During every respectable beer-lovers life, there comes along moments of sheer joy – discovering breweries with seemingly strange but stupendous ideas for new beers.

Such a brewery resides in Ballarat: Red Duck.

Beginning in 2005 on the shores of Lake Purrumbete, this mob are one of the smallest micro-breweries going around and tend to specialise in off-beat, one-off batches.

They do have a core range of ‘everyday beers’ – namely a kolsch, pale ale, amber ale, porter and IPA – but it’s their experimentation that is most impressive.

Among others there’s been the White Garden (a witbier made with raspberry and rhubarb jam), the Red Admiral (a strong Celtic red ale), the Ox (an imperial stout), Canute the Gruit (a sour, smoky medieval ale), the Loch Ness (a barrel-aged scotch ale) and perhaps most ridiculously, the RA (an imperial Egyptian bread beer ). Quite what the last one would taste like is beyond the depths of my taste-buds, but you have to give them kudos for the sheer insanity of it.

Most importantly, averaging just 500 litres per brew, these releases are insanely limited and need to be snapped up as soon as you see them.

Fortunately finding its way into my possession was ‘The Bear’, a concoction that claimed to be the latest in a series of braggots.

This style of beer is particularly unknown to most people, and is a form of mead made with honey and barley malt, although traditionally without hops. A claim to fame for this style is being mentioned in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ in the late 1300s, but there are earlier references dating back to the 12th Century in Ireland.

As written about previously here, the brewing of medieval beers has become somewhat of a trend amongst micro-brewers. And really, who doesn’t want to explore the history of the glorious product we call beer? I don’t want the obvious lack of sanitation that would’ve existed in the brewing of beer hundreds of years ago, but I’d be up for a glimpse into what my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents were getting sloshed on.

Red Duck are no strangers to  using honey in beer, with their ‘Bumble Bee’ and ‘Queen Bee’ both containing honey. Additionally, there is the ‘Ugly Duckling’ – a 14.3% braggot introduced the style into their catalogue. For me however, I’ve only had beers which have used honey as a supporting ingredient, not the base.

The Bear comes to life when the brewers take some wild dark bush honey and fashion a batch of strong mead from it. When that’s ready, they try it and develop an ale to match the flavours. In this case, they decided upon a strong amber ale.

This ale is mixed with the mead, and the result is an intensely flavoured, rich, honey-filled beer.

Smell-wise, you get – as expected – honey and a suprisingly obvious alchohol sensation. It’s a dark honey colour with a long-lasting head (and considerable lacing), and it’s a tad more bubbly than I expected.

On the first swallow you get rich honey flavours with a big malty background, a solid kick of sweetness coming through and a lingering alcohol aftertaste (not surprising coming from a 9.8% brew).

There is huge mouth-feel, and an intriguing flavour that makes you want to hold the brew in your mouth and fully explore its sensation before swallowing.

In short: It’s amazing. Seriously strong and one you could only really drink one of at a time, but amazing nonetheless.

Next time you see one of their specialty releases, do yourself a favour and purchase it. Like, yesterday.

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