I confess I never really knew what exactly a wattle was, apart from some sort of Australian plant. But every time I hear the word — which admittedly doesn’t happen often — I think of the following declaration by the philosphy professors from the University of Woolamaloo in Australia. “This here’s the wattle — the emblem of our land. You can stick it in a bottle or you can hold it in yer hand.” All of their names are Bruce, of course, because the reference is from an episode of the brilliant British television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
But I saw recently that an Australian brewer, Barons Brewing, is using black wattle in their beer. So I figured it was time to figure out what the heck a wattle is, after all.
Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees of Gondwanian origin belonging to the Subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described from Africa by Linnaeus in 1773. Acacias are also known as thorntrees or wattles, including the yellow-fever acacia and umbrella acacias. There are roughly 1300 species of Acacia worldwide, about 950 of them native to Australia, with the remainder spread around the dry tropical to warm-temperate regions of both hemispheres, including Africa, southern Asia, and the Americas. The genus Acacia however is apparently not monophyletic. This discovery has led to the breaking up of Acacia into five new genera as discussed in list of Acacia species.
Black wattle, or Acacia mearnsii, is the variety being used by Barons Brewing.
Black wattle is a fast-growing leguminous nitrogen fixing tree. Native to Australia, A. mearnsii is often used as a commercial source of tannin or a source of fire wood for local communities. It threatens native habitats by competing with indigenous vegetation, replacing grass communities, reducing native biodiversity and increasing water loss from riparian zones. They are similar to Acacia dealbata. The species is named after E. A. Mearns who collected the type from a cultivated specimen in East Africa.
I’ve always been a fan of gruits and other beers made with herbs and spices. The complexity and range of flavors available by adding just a hint of one or more ingredients is astounding. And shrubs and trees, too, can work a similar magic on brewing. Beer made with spruce, for example, was quite common in colonial America where hops was in short supply. So I’m dying to try some of Baron’s new Black Wattle Superior, a Wattle Seed Ale.
Here’s what their website has to say about it:
In creating the Black Wattle range, we have used a combination of select malt and hops, brewed to traditional methods and standards. Black Wattle however, offers something special. All beers in the Black Wattle range feature a unique touch of Australia, incorporating native herbs and spices during the brewing process. The resulting beer delivers a wealth of flavours that have not been experienced in beer until today.
The first beer released is the Wattle Seed Ale, which starts with a blend of Australian and European malts, creating a rich flavour base of caramel with a hint of chocolate. The smooth malt flavours are lightly hopped and then infused with roasted Wattle Seed, bringing a unique and authentic Australian flavour to this fine red ale. The result is an outstanding ale that boasts a smooth taste profile balancing its robust character, an ultimately rewarding yet distinctive beer.
At 5.8% ABV and offering a long and lasting flavour, the Wattle Seed Ale is best enjoyed with or after a meal, complimenting a juicy steak, rack of lamb, or a prosciutto and rockmelon starter. Alternatively, this select ale will be enjoyed at almost any occasion by those who enjoy something special in a beer.
But I can’t bring up the Bruces from the Philosophy Department of the University of Woolamaloo without mentioning their “Philosophy Song.” I saw it performed live at the City Center in New York when my parents let me take my first unchaperoned trip to the Big Apple in 1976, when I was 17. It’s still one of my favorite Monty Python bits and I remain a huge fan of the show and much of the individual members’ later work, as well. The lyrics are reprinted below.
Bruces’ Philosophers Song
Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, [later versions have ‘Schopenhauer and Hegel’]
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya ’bout the raising of the wrist.
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away—
Half a crate of whisky every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And René Descartes was a drunken fart.
‘I drink, therefore I am.’
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed,
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed.