Name – Chalky's Bite
Classification – Aged beer (with wild fennel)
Strength – 6.8% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Deep straw gold.
On the nose – Vivid high note citrus. Faint aniseed.
On the tongue – A uniquely flavoured 'Belgian' homage. Powerful and immediate, yet equally poised and elegant.
On the subject – Fans of the much loved brewery Sharp's (now under the protection of Molson Coors) and fans of the much loved chef Rick Stein (now under the protection of BBC 2) have been brought together by one of contemporary western society's most cherished concepts – the 'Celebrity Beer Collaboration'. Gentle cynicism aside, the end result is rather wonderful in this particular case, and that's probably because both parties got where they are today on good old fashioned merit. Stein's fondly remembered pooch has two beers dedicated to him, the other being the ginger infused Chalky's Bark.
On the market – Your best chances will be in Cornwall, but word seems to be spreading fast. In the meantime, why not go online and buy from Chalky's former owner himself.
On the whole – 8.5/10
On the whole – 8.5/10
Until embarrassingly recently, fennel was out there in the great food unkown as far as my palate was concerened.
I knew fennel quite well, and had eaten it in various dishes over the years, but it was really the point of it that I hadn't grasped.
However, thanks to my blindingly attractive girlfriend and a wholesale change of eating habits – fennel is now among my very favourite edible things.
But drinkable fennel?
Was I quite ready for that?
Well, if my reaction to Chalky's Bite is anything to go by, then I am absolutely ready.
Described as being 'naturally flavoured with wild Cornish fennel', this bottle had me slightly spooked at first glance. But there was something about the names Sharp's and Rick Stein which made me wonder whether this beer could possibly be anything other than very special.
And having now consumed a glassful with the greatest of ease, I can reveal that 'very special' is exactly what it is.
These two giants of their respective trades have come together and delivered on the substantial promise which such a collaboration suggests.
It's a splendid creation. A big, hearty beer with a delicate, genteel soul is how I might sum it up. A grizzly bear with Victorian sensibilities.
The label waffles on (as so many labels love to do) about the various why's and wherefore's behind the product's existence, and amongst all of this is a claim that they were bearing in mind the 'Belgian greats' when they began to concoct the recipe.
Well, it's hard to know precisely what a 'Belgian great' means (about as hard as precisely defining a contemporary British beer), but the fact is that you can really get a sense of that thought process in the final result. It doesn't scream 'I'm brewed in the style of a Belgian great' but it cleverly evokes the feel of such a statement, as though the drink itself is quite literally bearing Belgium in mind as it tumbles into your mouth.
It's very cleverly done.
And the cleverness doesn't stop there.
The flavours have been assembled in the most refined and 'pitch perfect' way, and the sequence in which they occur to you is mesmerising and really quite remarkable in terms of execution. It feels like a whole new batch of precise mathematical principles have been applied to this flavouring process, with one theme leading on to another in an almost endless loop of sublime taste.
It's a spicy, resinous affair, with a warming richness and a tremendous sweet versus sour dynamic which does plenty to keep that Belgian flag fluttering.
Spiced apples, grapefruit and gooseberry from the hops are held aloft in fine style by some richly nutty malts – and all of this is held together by that fresh, vibrant fennel. The delicate licorice, pine and aniseed elements which the fennel brings to the beer are ceaselessly entertaining. I was held in thrall by them to the very last.
To say that I approached this collaboration with high hopes is perhaps an understatement. But to have seen those expectations greatly surpassed has been a genuine thrill.
Chalky bit me very hard.
And I loved it.