Aromatic Isles: A Somali Spiced Beer for Bristol Craft Beer Festival 2021
We are extremely proud to have brewed this year’s official beer for Bristol Craft Beer Festival 2021. Aromatic Isles, a 4.0% Pale Ale brewed with a Somali spice blend called Xawaash will be pouring at all BCBF sessions in June (final few tickets available here), or you can order a few cans from our online shop now. Read on to discover more about how we collaborated with three partners to develop this delicious beer.
This beer has long reaching roots, with a few different stakeholders involved, so hang with us while we trace the story… Back in late 2019 the Bristol Craft Beer Festival team had been in chats with Wriggle, a Bristol-based app and website that helps its users discover the best independent food and drink venues in the city. The beer festival crew were keen to work with Wriggle on the official festival beer for the 2020 event, bringing in Wiper and True as the host brewery. Excited to push the boundaries of flavour, the Wriggle team hooked us up with Fozia Ismail, a local food scholar who runs a Somali supper club called Arawelo Eats. The four teams (Wriggle, Bristol Craft Beer Festival, Arawelo Eats and Wiper and True) all met up back in February 2020 to kick things off with a discussion about Somali flavours and the way these could work in a beer. Looking back, it feels like these photos are from a lifetime ago - this meeting was one of the last times we had friends and colleagues over to the brewery to sit around the bar, enjoying some beers and talking excitedly about projects, events and the future.
With an infectious enthusiasm, Fozia talked us through a selection of East African flavours that we could infuse into a beer, spanning everything from green mango to tamarind. After a lot of fun experimenting and dosing, creating flavour concoctions, we settled upon the idea of using Xawaash (pronounced ha-wash): a traditional Somali spice blend used mainly in savoury dishes across the country. Fozia explained to us that Xawaash is derived from an Arabic word translated as ‘essentials’ - referring to the popularity (or even necessity) of the various spices in the mix. Each cook has their own way of interpreting and creating their Xawaash blend, but typical mixtures include cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, cumin, turmeric and coriander.
Right at that very first meeting, we began some preliminary experiments in how this could work in a beer for the festival, decocting Fozia’s own spice blend into a variety of our beers, feeling our way through the ingredients and working out which ingredients we might want to scale up and which we’d want to tone back for a festival beer. We were blown away by how well the spices worked with some of the hops we paired with, bringing the complex, tropical and fruit notes from the hops to life in new and unusual ways. We noticed that the cardamom paired really well with Citra hops, playing off their sweetness, and that the lime and coconut from Sabro hops really set off the cumin and cinnamon. The beauty was that it was difficult to place where the hops ended and the spice began, they came together so well. There’s such a vibrant play on the palate when you use spices with sweet notes, and it was a real pleasure to taste our beers with even more colour and complexity thrown in. We left the meeting buzzing with excitement about bringing the beer to life, and dates in the diary to continue refining the recipe.
The next part of the story will be familiar to everybody: Covid-19 and lockdown hit, pressing pause on all our plans as a brewery. Bristol Craft Beer Festival still went ahead in September 2020 and was a great success: safe, secure, Covid-compliant and fun, but it wasn’t the right time to brew this four-way collaboration. Instead, we created a delicious Saison for the festival. The beer went down a storm, and behind the scenes we kept the conversation going around our Xawaash plans.
Fast forward to early spring this year, and we began planning for the 2021 beer festival. Michael Wiper and Fozia had been hard at work finalising the details of the beer, and tweaking Fozia’s spice blend to bring out the perfect balance of flavours. We did a lot of research working out the best ways to extract the flavours and keep them true in the beer, breaking down the blend and analysing/dosing each one into the beer individually. We had several blending sessions with Fozia guiding us and teaching about how different grinds impact on bitterness, or temperatures will extract different qualities. The real surprise was the Cumin, which we were all nervous about in a beer. But the savoury association somehow works magically with the softer fruit notes and adds a real depth of flavour that works really well.
We brewed a base beer of a New England-style Pale Ale, with our soft, slightly hazy house yeast blend and a powerful trio of hops: Citra for citrus-fresh zest, and Sabro and Talus for tropical coconut and vanilla vibes. After extensive tweaking and testing, we dialled up the cardamom in the Xawaash, balancing it with cumin, coriander and cinnamon.
The finished beer is a 4.0% Pale Ale called Aromatic Isles, a phrase taken from regio aromatica – the old Roman term for Somalia. We are so happy to have had the opportunity to work on this beer with Fozia, Wriggle and the Bristol Craft Beer Festival team. It’s tasting absolutely amazing, and is a real testament to the wonderful things that can come about when collaboration takes place, challenging the ways we think about beer and helping us to reach new flavour combinations that we’d never have arrived at on our own. Aromatic Isles will be pouring on Wiper and True’s bar at the Bristol Craft Beer Festival this June, and is also available to order from our website now.
Massive thanks to Fozia for all her help in guiding us through the wonderful world of Xawaash.