“Your mother was a hampster and your father smelled of elderberries!” was the famous taunt John Cleese’s French guard character threw out against King Arthur and his knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They were under the impression that the Grail may, indeed, be contained within the stone walls of the castle being occupied by snooty foreigners with a penchant for insults.
Is smelling of elderberries a terrible thing? The humor of the situation lies both in the Frenchman’s broken English and his perception of a scathing tongue-lashing. Still, what the heck is an elderberry and what do they actually smell like?
Sadly, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve looked over different horticultural websites and Wikipedia’s entry… nothing about their scent. The closest extrapolation I can derive is that they’re similar to blueberries, if that helps.
Either way, we do know that elderberries have been used as a medicinal ingredient for centuries. Some believe it’s effective in treating symptoms of the flu, battling allergies and other respiratory ailments, rheumatism and sciatica. Go back to the 9th century and you’ll find that Welsh druids used to drink beer made from them, too.
In 1988, a woman approached Bruce Williams in Glasgow, Scotland with a recipe for an ale recipe dating back, purportedly, to 2000 B.C.E. The result was a heather-based beer that ignited a passion in Bruce to recreate ancient Scottish ale. One of these old beers was Williams Bros Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale.
These beers were originally known as “gruit” — ale made with a plethora of spices before the switch to hops as a flavoring and preservative agent. Ebulum actually utilizes hops in the modern take on the recipe along with roasted barley, chocolate malt and bog myrtle. Bog myrtle has its own place in folk medicine supposedly alleviating bronchitis, fever, stomach and liver problems and works as a druid’s “Skin-So-Soft” of sorts warding off flying, biting pests while benefiting skin’s quality.
Here’s where we can imagine Mr. Cleese describing the beer to us. In an exaggerated French accent, no less. Ebulum is as black as your English heart and as refreshing as crushing the British empire. You wish you smelled of chocolate, blueberry, red wine and roasted malt! Rich flavors of cocoa, pomegranite, zinc, anise and coffee fly in the general direction of your pitiful Anglo-Saxon palate! Now go away while I enjoy this magnificent and sophisticated ale, you boiler of used underthings, or I shall taunt you a second time.