Saturday, 31 May 2008

Updated top ten

Having tasted over 100 Belgian beers now -- well beyond the original expectation of the 40b40 -- I have had to make a few changes to my list of top ten Belgian beers, adding Chimay Grande Réserve (aged) and Floreffe Prima Melior. I made some space on the old list by combining Rochefort 6 and Rochefort 10 into one entry and lumping Floreffe Prima Melior with the Floreffe Dubbel that was already on the list.

If you think this combining is cheating, I can only say I refuse to have a rerun of the great Corsendonk Crisis. Feel free to sue me. I am 100% confident the law is on my side in this.

I also slightly downgraded Achel Brune in my top ten. It's still there under the entry for Achel Brune Extra -- a phenomenal beer -- but I've been having worrying thoughts about the regular old brune. I tried it again during the Ardennes winter retreat in a blind taste test, and I have to say I wasn't very impressed. In fact, it tasted like a completely different beer, not my beloved malt-loafy brew. I am going to have to do more research to resolve this question.

In any case, please have a look at the list of top ten Belgian beers, and let me know if you think I've got it right.


Floreffe Prima Melior

Trying to catch a few rays of sun on the terrace here in the early evening, but the air is still cool. Time to open a new beer.

I’ve had Floreffe Dubbel before, and it was so good, it actually joined my list of top ten Belgian beers. So, this Prima Melior has a lot to live up to...

This abbey beer pours dark chocolaty brown, with a lovely firm head. I’m expecting something quite thick. The initial taste is... wow. Rich. Charcoal, burnt malt, bitter, hints of nutmeg. Pillowy body. It’s very close to Westvleteren 8, actually. Slightly thinner, perhaps, and not quite as sweet and gingerbready, but it is excellent. 8%, in case you’re asking.

I think I am going to have to review my top ten again. I’ve got several problems actually, but perhaps I should save that discussion for a separate post. Right now, I just want to enjoy the rest of this Floreffe Prima Melior.

And, by the way, I am fairly sure this is a UN beer, given the sky-blue cap it wears.

Friday, 30 May 2008

In a land where Belgian beer is illegal

No, I'm not going to talk about Saudi Arabia. Actually: Alabama. Apparently, any beer over 6% ABV is illegal in that US state.

A campaign called Free the Hops has been pushing for a change in the law. Labeling themselves "Alabamians For Specialty Beer", they certainly have my support.

A new bill is being discussed, it seems. Lew Bryson had a clip of the debate on the issue in the lower house of the Alabama state legislature, which really is worth watching. If you are like me and often marvel at the depth of ignorance displayed by elected officials at the national level in that country, you really should see what state-level politics offers. You'll need something over 6% ABV after watching that.


Thursday, 22 May 2008

Chimay Grande Réserve 2001

I was wondering what beer I would have for my 100th tasting in the 40b40, when my colleague Alain invited me out to Beermania for a drink. We looked around the shop for something special, something I hadn’t tried before, and we settled on a dusty bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve 2001.

I had tasted the Chimay Grande Réserve 2007 before, but I really wanted to see what aging process would do.

In short, the 2001 is a completely different beer from the 2007. It’s darker, thicker and one hundred times smokier. It has none of the raisin/date taste to it. And, it’s gorgeous. Just a wonderful beer in every respect. Aged Chimay Grande Réserve needs to go on to my list of top ten Belgian beers, but I’ll have to think about what to get rid of from that elite group. And I’ll need to experiment some more with older and younger bottles of this one.

Cheers, Alain! Hopefully we will get the photos out of your phone at some point...

Sunday, 18 May 2008

La Trappe Witte

Its label proclaims La Trappe Witte to be, “the only Trappist white beer in the world”, so I was a bit surprised when I poured it out and saw it has the colour and clarity of a pilsner. Ah, but then I poured the rest of the bottle into the glass, and this variety’s typical cloudiness emerged.

No mistake in the taste, however. This is a wheat beer -- and with a similar set of aromatics as Hoegaarden. Smooth and refreshing. Maybe slightly less sweet and bit more grassy than Hoegaarden, otherwise indistinguishable from it.

Following on my tastings of La Trappe Blond, La Trappe Dubbel and La Trappe Quadrupel, this one is again nothing super. Once more, I’m just left with that feeling of disappointment: a Trappist beer should be something special.


p.s: This is the 99th beer I’ve reviewed on this blog. Looking forward to number 100...


La Cuvée des Trolls

I have already poured scorn on the idea of using fairy-tale creatures on beer labels, but since we’d just emerged from the cinema where we watched a very good new fantasy film, Chasseur de Dragons, I decided to give La Cuvée des Trolls a try.

We sat down in the nearly empty Armour Fou on Ixelles high street, and after waiting about 30 minutes to be served, I had in front of me a frosted glass with a little gremlin painted on it. I felt very adult.

This is not an unusual or exceptional blond beer. It’s smooth and yeasty, slightly lemony. Drinkable enough, but nothing worth killing a lot of time writing about.

Would rather kill that fucking little troll.


Saturday, 17 May 2008

Joseph the spelt beer

Our local bakery sells a great loaf called “14 cereal bread”, and every time we buy it, which is pretty often, we challenge each other to name 14 different grains. We get to about nine or ten if we’re lucky.

Spelt is a cereal variety I’ve at least heard of, barely. But it’s not one I’d recognise like, say, barley. A 50-kilo sack of spelt could fall on me, and I wouldn’t have any idea what hit me.

And a spelt beer? Dubious. And “bio”, ie organic? Sounds too pure, perhaps. Indeed, I bought this bottle in my favourite eatery in our neighbourhood, La Tsampa: a faux-Tibetan vegetarian restaurant and healthfood shop run by a friendly group of mostly Portuguese Buddhists. Just goes to show, there is a Belgian beer for everyone.

Joseph the spelt beer is cloudy grey-yellow and has a slightly astringent smell. The initial taste suggests a hint of detergent. But nothing in that is immediately off-putting. The body is thick and syrupy, but not at all sweet. It coats the tongue. Very strong yeastiness. (it is bottle fermented) Lightly bitter aftertaste. Low alcohol, 5%.

I’d like to suggest that maybe someone’s washed a sock in this liquid at some point, but that sounds a bit harsh. I don’t mean a dirty sock, if that helps. There’s just something of a woolly residue about the whole thing.

It’s not great, but it’s not horrible either. Perhaps spelt just isn’t the right grain for beer. Perhaps stewed sock is a bit of an acquired taste.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Malheur 6

Belgium’s May heatwave continues into this three-day weekend, and after a good few hours in the garden, I’m settling back with a Malheur 6 on the now steaming terrace.

I’ve had Malheur 10 before, and I wasn’t raving about it. Of course, that was during a low-point in the 40b40, in which I was sampling one strong blond ale after another, and growing quite sick of them.

Malhuer 6, however, is something different. Very smooth. At 6%, it’s not as strong as the 10, and I think the easiest way to describe it is that it’s like Leffe Blond without the sticky sweetness. That means, it’s very good, because it’s that syrupiness that ruins the other beer.

Malheur 6 has mild carbonation, notes of stewed sour apples, and a lovely hoppy finish. Strongly recommended drinking for a steamy afternoon when everything in your garden is thriving so much that you can almost see the shoots growing.


Monday, 5 May 2008

La Divine

Another beer from the Silly Brewery, makers of the unloved Double Enghien Brune. This one is called “La Divine”. No expectations raised there really, eh?

It has a lovely dark amber colour. And the taste is excellent. Smooth and low fizz body. Malty without being sticky. Perfectly balanced bitter and sweet, with neither lasting too long in the aftertaste. It’s strong, but the alcohol doesn’t overpower the other tastes. Hints of clover.

Overall, I’m quite impressed. I’m not sure what’s so “Divine” about it, but then, I’m an atheist so even if they claim the 9.5% alcohol content brings the drinker closer to god, I wouldn’t buy it. This beer, however, I would buy again.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

La Trappe Blond (and Alt)

After a long weekend in Münster and Düsseldorf, Germany, where Hefeweizen and Altbier were enjoyed in some significant quantities, we arrived home with a couple hours left on the sun-trap terrace. Just enough time to open a bottle of La Trappe Blond.

In previous tastings, I wasn’t overly impressed with La Trappe Dubbel or La Trappe Quadrupel, and in general, I have to say this brand, La Trappe from the Koningshoeven Brewery, is my least favourite Trappist label. And I’m not just saying that because it’s from the Netherlands while this is a blog about Belgian beer.

The Blond again failed to meet expectations. It pours a lovely clear amber, but I could hardly find anything in the taste to distinguish it. Not that it’s bad by any means -- it does have a creamy sweetness that’s identifiable if not exactly noteworthy. But really, if that’s the best I can say about it, it must be pretty disappointing. 6.5% alcohol, in case you were wondering.

I was much more impressed this weekend by the Altbier, or “Alt”, in Düsseldorf, in particular the brand Schumacher. It’s a very drinkable pale ale, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s passing through North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), which seems to be about the only place you can find it. See, so I do like some non-Belgian beers...

Special thanks to Marcus for introducing me to Alt on Saturday!


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Zinne Bir

Downpour. Bright sun. Downpour. Bright sun. That’s Brussels these days.

We had a couple hours catching up on gardening this morning while it was dry. Then, a full two hours of Monopoly inside while our new plants got soaked. Now, I’m trying to squeeze in a quick beer-tasting on the terrace in the few minutes it remains a sun-trap before that dark cloud comes overhead.

I picked up this bottle of Zinne Bir ages ago, and I have to admit I bought it for its label. It’s brilliant, and actually, it matches this day perfectly. And it's just one of several great beer labels from La Brasserie de la Senne (De Zenne Brouwerij).

This one sat on my shelf looking pretty for months -- no harm, as that’s just given it a bit more time to ferment in the bottle -- and now comes the moment when we will tell whether what’s in the bottle is as good as what’s on it.

It’s a blond beer with an amber colour and thick head. The taste is strongly bitter with a deep current of candied orange peel running through it. The alcohol level of 6% blends in nicely. Very nice overall balance.

OK, that’s all for now. It’s started raining again, and I’ve got to get in before the laptop gets too wet.

No, wait. Now the sun is coming out again. Maybe I've got time for another tasting.