Sunday, 31 August 2008

Canal party in Gent

SUN! HEAT! Saturday was like no other day in Belgium this summer. It was actually a summer day. And we joined a few friends who’d rented a canal boat in Gent, enjoying a great cruise through the city and out into the lush and leafy suburbs, loaded with houses of the loaded -- the most amazing canal-side mansions...

And, of course, there was beer.

We started with Hoegaarden, the standaard summer refresher. Moving on, we had Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus, another perfect hot-weather drink. We finished off with Deus, celebrating our friend's birthday and the glorious weather with that most exceptional of beers.

Once we were dockside again, we walked into town for dinner at the restaurant in the old opera house. Lovely place and wonderful food: I will remember those scallops for a while.

I also sampled a new beer: Gentse tripel. It’s brewed by Van Steenberge, who also make the smooth Augustijn, the silly Piraat, the excellent Gulden Draak and the somewhat disappointing Bornem Dubbel

Gentse tripel seemed closest to Chimay tripel, though it’s not as grapefruit pithy. That’s quite a compliment for Gentse tripel, so another one on the plus side of the Van Steenberge tally sheet.

Between the beers and the scallops, well, obviously the diet took a holiday on Saturday. Just had to celebrate the weather though...


Friday, 29 August 2008

Bière Darbyste

At the risk of offending some generous soul here, I have to say I can’t honestly remember who gave me this bottle of Bière Darbyste that’s been sitting on the beer shelf for who knows how long. And since I didn’t know much about it, I consulted Jackson, who told me something amazing...

First, it seems this beer is named after a temperance-preaching minister, John Darby, who inspired a low-alcohol beer for Belgian miners. Second, fig juice is added to the beer to provide additional fermentable sugars.

Bière Darbyste is also a “saison” beer, and I don’t think I’ve had one of those before -- nor do I know much about the style, apart from it’s a kind of seasonal beer, thought not what I’ve called “seasonal beer” in this blog before. I’ve used the term “seasonal beer” to denote Christmas and Easter beers. The “saison” beer is a special summer beer. Good thing I’m drinking this now, then -- not much summer left to enjoy it.

Enough with the mystery and introduction. How does it taste?

Tangy and yeasty, are my first impressions. Crisp. Seems to me something between a blond ale and a gueuze, and more the latter than the former. 5.8% alcohol. No hint of those figs.

Overall, this beer from the Brasserie de Blaugies gets a strong pass. I could imagine it going well with seafood dishes, or for just lazing about on a warm evening.

Sadly, we didn’t get many warm evenings in Belgium this summer. Actually, the weather for the past few weeks has been crap. Well, at least you can’t complain about the beer in this country...

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Saving the world one beer at a time

As someone who studiously separates his world-saving activities from his beer-tasting efforts, I was amazed to find Chris O'Brien's Beer Activist blog. It's got entries on organic hops, organic beer, climate change and beer, and beer packaging. By day, Chris works on similarly green issues at the Responsible Purchasing Network.

Surely, this is a man who has found a more harmonious work/beer balance. I'm going to have to get Chris's book, "Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World" and figure out career-change options...

Friday, 22 August 2008

Witkap-Pater Stimulo

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a beer here -- more than a month. But a combination of overwork, holidays and dieting have kept me away from Belgian beer for a bit. Now, after a ridiculously full week back at work, I’m ready to break the dry spell with a bottle of Witkap-Pater Stimulo.

It comes from the Slaghmuylder Brewery, which also produces a delightful Paasbier

This live brew seems a bit thinner than a standard Belgian ale, with more bubbles and less of that over-the-top yeastiness that, to be honest, can get a bit oppressive sometimes. It has a hint of pine, which somehow transforms into bubblegum in the aftertaste. It’s good. Better than good, in fact. 6%, which is exactly what I need right now.

I know, I know, it’s been so long since I’ve had a Belgian beer that I’d go for anything, but seriously -- no, honestly, you really must believe me -- this is tasty stuff. Stimulo is stimulating.

And it’s disappearing too fast. After the liquid drains from this glass, I’m back on the diet. Groan.

I notice Chipper Dave of the “Fermentedly Challenged” blog has started a “Great American Beer Diet Challenge”, in which he and other beer bloggers race to lose the greatest percentage of body weight in eight weeks while still drinking one beer per day. I thought about joining them, but when it comes down to it, I just find it too difficult to go through the whole “one beer a day” thing again, as I did with the original 40b40 challenge.

Plus, I just cannot diet and drink Belgian beer at the same time. It’s not only the relatively high alcohol content of beers here (and alcohol means calories), but beer quite simply reduces my resistance to snackophilia. I’ll try one a week for a while instead...