Palm Speciale

June 22, 2011

Sometimes, necessity plays a role in the creation of a beer and not just pure passion. Occasionally the butterfly wings of history will flap putting change into effect; the results felt thousands of miles away. Consider the following.

There was a time where the secret of using hops as a flavoring and preservative agent in the making of beer was a closely-guarded secret. Monks were, pretty much, the only guys around making beer for public consumption. If they were the only ones who knew the secret of hops, stands to reason their beer would always be considered the best and therefore the most popular. This meant they would sell more than anyone else and, thusly, have more money to use for their monasteries and communities.

Something happened, however, affecting all of Europe. Black Death. The Bubonic Plague swept through the continent in the 14th century killing roughly 75 million people — as much as 60% of Europe’s population at the time. People became suspicious of their usual sources of drinking water and turned to beer. The monasteries where much of the beer was being made had protected artisanal wells and, albeit unknown to medieval people, the boiling process with the wort killed off bacteria. All they knew was if they drank the beer in place of dirty water from the Thames River they stood a better chance of making it to the next day. As beer consumption skyrocketed, the monks couldn’t keep up with demand and had to reveal the hops secret. Commercial brewing was born.

New scenario: A couple of centuries ago, the pilsner style of beer became all the rage across Europe. This was fine and dear to central Europe but Belgium became nervous. Their beers utilize specific strains of yeast and grain and were top-fermenting, cloudy, funky, fruity ales. The pilsner trend was threatening to make their product obsolete so the Belgian Brewers Guild challenged their boys to come up with a method of pleasing both palates. The result has evolved over the last 200-odd years into Palm Speciale.

A hybrid of European yeasts retained the distinctive Belgian fruitiness while allowing a grassy and citrusy pilsner sensibility to show through. A third yeast from the Champagne region of France crisps up the texture and mouthfeel of Palm. It’s an amber ale with a very frothy top. The head dissipates slowly leaving some decent lacing. Palm has an interesting nose… a combination of a dusty-brassy British ale, Belgian banana funk and German lager “skunk.” Flavor-wise it’s malt-sweet at first before giving way to a muted tang from the hops. Tastes of toasted nuts, hay, caramel and more banana are all at play here.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. Palm is an example of how very true that is.