My third-nearest Young’s pub (which is named after the unpleasant, and unreadable, poisoned dwarf Alexander Pope, but I try not to let that damage my enjoyment of it) is currently selling draught Waggledance, the honey beer now, since all brewing of Young’s beers moved to Bedford, on its third brewery. This is not a beer I drink at home, but as I was in a pub I thought I’d experiment with Waggledance as a mixed beer. Young’s ales, since they have plenty of individual character, make excellent mixes, the best being a classic, Winter Warmer and Ordinary. This is the traditional “Mother-in-Law”, or old-and-bitter (no reference is intended here to any of my mothers-in-law, living or dead, and certainly not to you, Kate, as if …).
Waggledance (the name, of course, comes from the dance bees do back at the hive to show their fellows in which direction the best nectar lies, gyrating like little black-and-yellow hooped versions of John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction) was invented by Vaux, the Sunderland brewer, around 1994. It was a big-enough seller when that company suffered a “controlled flight into terrain” in 1999 to be sold on as a brand to Young’s, which began brewing it in Wandsworth. The recipe calls for half a ton of honey – the equivalent of more than 1,100 jars – to every 100 barrels of beer, which works out (to save you pencil-and-paper time) at almost exactly two and a half teaspoons of honey a pint. Dissolved in water that would make, I think, quite a sweet drink, but in a beer wort with an OG (original gravity) designed to give an ABV (oh, come on, if you’re reading this, you know what that means) of around 5.2 per cent, the honey, which is equivalent to more than 20 per cent of the grist, ferments out all (or near) the way. It leaves behind just a hint of honey on the nose and tongue which, in the draught version of Waggledance, is pleasant enough, balanced by a medium-dry hoppiness.
The Zythophile mixed-beer test comes in five parts:
- Order two halves of the beers to be mixed, in this case Waggledance and Special
- Drink half the first beer, noting flavours to be found
- Pour half the second beer into the first beer glass, to make mixed beer
- Drink the remainder of the second beer, again noting flavours
- Drink glass of mixed beer, noting how flavours of two drinks combine and differ from the separate beers on their own
On a sunny Saturday afternoon outside watching the traffic pass, with the Thames drifting slowly some 150 or so yards away, the Waggledance on its own was pleasant but unspectacular, the Waggle-and-Special better, with the honey notes further down in the mix. However, the Special on its own was surpassingly the best: a hoppy blast not unlike picking a handful of Fuggles out of a sack and stuffing it up your nose. So: only a C- for the bees in the mixed taste test …