Thursday, 19 November 2009

Kilimanjaro at Mercury's in Zanzibar

I don't believe in god(s), but if I did, I would right now be under pressure to think that the supreme being(s) was/were sending me a very clear message via radio ga ga: listen to more Queen. By some inexplicable twist I find myself -- can anybody find me? -- in Zanzibar, Freddie Mercury's birthplace, just a few weeks after visiting Montreux, Switzerland, where he spent the later years of his all-too-short life.

Both trips had to do with work and really weren't down to my decision: Montreux was a conference where I spoke, and I went to Zanzibar after a work-related meeting in Dar es Salaam. But the fates have moved me along the Freddie trail, and there must be a reason for it. I'm sure I'll get an invitation to a seminar in Barcelona any day now. And after so many years in Bohemia(n Rhapsody), I had to expect this.

Anyway, the show must go on, so, sitting here in a Freddie Mercury tribute bar for lunch, I've decided to celebrate the fates by reviewing the Tanzanian beer, Kilimanjaro. Here in Mercury's -- a dead ringer for a bar I know in Ft Myers, Florida, if you can believe it -- they serve it crazy cold, which is exactly how you want it. Like Gazelle in Senegal or Tusker in Kenya and a hundred other African beers, Kilimanjaro is one of those "hot climate lagers" that work perfectly well under the circumstances. Emphasis is on refreshing, not structure or depth of taste, and Kilimanjaro delivers as expected.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Leffe Brune

After an hour or so at the somewhat small but wonderfully educational Brussels Public Aquarium (Centre d'aquariologie), the young one and I went for a walk around the area looking for a café. 45 minutes later, we’d found only one or two smoky bars and nothing else open. It just didn’t seem to be a part of Brussels that did decent eateries or upbeat bistros.

So, we gave up and walked over to the basilique for a bit of sightseeing instead. Its foundation stone laid by the “thoroughly bad” King Leopold II in 1905, the National Basilica of the Sacred-Heart of Koekelberg was completed in 1969. It is the world’s largest Art Deco building, but for me it’s too massive and chunky to love, both inside and out.

But the first thing we noticed on our way in was a restaurant in the basement, where live music was echoing. It wasn’t church hymns but rather hits from the 40s and 50s, sung by a couple of guys who have clearly been doing the lounge circuit since at least then. We walked in, realised it was smoke-free and sat down.

It was a staggeringly Belgian moment, with songs in Flemish and French, and both languages could be heard coming from the tables around us. This older crowd were clearly Belgians of the era before the deteriorating linguistic divide of the past few decades. Not that such people are impossible to find these days, of course, but when you look at the media and schools and so on, the two groups seem as different as any two European nations. The audience here predated that.

The second singer in particular was quite good. He must have been in his late 70s at least, but he still sang some new material. Not a bad role model.

The mix of beers around the place was all-Belgian as well. I went for a classic, Leffe Brune. It’s lightly roasted malt and not high in alcohol, but a bit too sweet for my taste, perhaps appropriately matching some of the sentimentality in the room. Still, it’s much better than Leffe Blonde, which is too syrupy. I think I like Leffe 9 best of the lot, though.

In any case, the event was about far more than the beer. It was easily the best afternoon of lounge singing I’ve ever experienced in a consecrated location.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Betchard Blonde

It was someone’s tenth birthday today, and she wanted to go to Le Balmoral Milk Bar the local American 50s diner to celebrate her reaching double digits. Much fun was had by all, particularly when they brought out the cake with a sparking firework spitting out of it.

I saw Betchard blonde on the menu, and decided to go for that with a salade au chèvre chaud. Not exactly diner fare, but it was a good combination.

This bière de terroir hails from Tubize, a small town south of Brussels, and it’s lovely. A very straightforward 5.5% ABV bottle fermented ale, Betchard blonde is crisp on the palate and just a little sweet, but not unpleasantly so. Easy to drink and not demanding, yet full of flavour. I would write more, but it wasn’t a time for making tasting notes. It was a time to celebrate! Hard to believe it’s been a decade.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Four Beers of Lebanon

A Phoenician passed by our place at the weekend. Having just arrived from the homeland, he came bearing some tasty gifts, including a few kilos of fantastic fish kebbeh (not the deep-fried ball style, but the flat, baked loaf variety -- extremely rare, I’m told) and four Beirut beers. It seemed an ideal opportunity to invite some other friends over to sample them.

The first two we tried came from the 961 brewery, born during the July 2006 siege of Lebanon, which says a lot about local resourcefulness and entrepreneurial drive, if not an admirable craziness. (961 is the telephone country code for Lebanon, by the way.)

The first was 961 Witbier, which is “inspired by Belgian Witbier”, but I’m afraid it didn’t quite meet that high standard. Comments on this 5.3% brew included, “Hoegaarden gone bad” (Bie), “very bland” (JC), “no taste” (Kostas) and “is this a beer?” (The Phoenician).

“Well, it’s not Nesquick”, said Fi, referring to his regular tipple.

To me, it was over sour, with notes of waterlogged sticks and wet cardboard. To be fair to the beer and the brewery, I honestly think Bie called it right: this beer was probably damaged in transport somehow, either by radical temperature changes or something else.

I had the same thought with the evening’s second offering, 961 Traditional Lager. Like the first, it comes in a lovely bottle with a smart label, but something was off with the taste. The initial aroma was peanut oil -- flashback to the nutty French La Choulette Blonde. Though it had some worthwhile bitter notes and good colour, it tasted mouldy and was suspiciously flat. To me anyway...

Others had different ideas about this one, ranging from, “like Sam Adams, yummy” (Fiona), to, “ugh, sewage and cauliflower” (JC). Bie thought it “smells like pils”. The Beirut taster said it was, “sweeter”, but the one headed to Beirut to join him felt its aftertaste lasted too long. (Happy Anniversary, by the way, you two!)

Beer number three, Almaza Pure Malt, was much more impressive, easily my favourite of the evening. This dark 6% beer showed good fizz, with a simple maltiness and light caramel, gently burnt. Some cola nut notes. I think it strongly resembles Ciney brune. Katka called it, “dark and light at the same time”, which seemed a good description. Everyone agreed it was tasty, the best of the night without question. We're now working on getting some more over here, which may not be as hard as it sounds...

The fourth and final beer of the tasting evening was Almaza Pilsner. I think it is the first canned beer to appear in the 40b40, but I have had it in a bottle many time at a Lebanese restaurant near the office, where I occasionally go for lunch. (OK, maybe a bit more than occasionally...) It’s what I’d call a standard hot-country pilsner. Nothing special. Maybe a bit more yeasty than you’d expect, but in any case, it’s one of those beers that tastes just fine drunk from the bottle on a hot sunny day, like they frequently get in Lebanon.



Tuesday, 22 September 2009


And so we come to the third of three official tastings of northern French bières de garde, which we enjoyed with some friends a few days ago here at 40b40 headquarters in Brussels. Hellemus Blonde des Flandres -- like the brilliant 3 Monts, the acceptable La Goudale, and the nutty La Choulette Blonde -- is a strong blonde ale, this time of 8% ABV.

The comments, not altogether coherent, burst out with the cork:

“It’s like Kwak with big hops.”

“Very fruity. It has an aroma of citrus and pineapple.”

“No, wait. Grilled pineapple.”

“Like Orval.”


“It smells like a piece of fruit. Or a Brooklyn lager.”


Oh, Hellemus.

La Choulette Blonde

Continuing with Northern France season here at 40b40 -- after the outstanding 3 Monts and the passable La Goudale -- we move to our third beer in the series, La Choulette Blonde. It’s another strong blonde ale, a bière de garde brewed in the small town of Hordain. For those counting, it weighs in at 7.5% ABV.

The first aroma you get when you pop the cork is peanut butter or peanut brittle -- deep, earthy, oily, warm and sweet. “Fantastic”, said the expert, followed by, “ah, cashew”.


“Very clear in the bottle and sour to the taste”, said the blond. (Not the beer, obviously, though a few of these, and you might believe the bottle was talking to you.)

To me, it was like peanut oil in the mouth, and almost overpoweringly so. Almost. Not a crazy drink. Just nuts.

La Goudale

The other evening, we had some friends over, and together we sampled a few beers Fiona and I had picked up while in Lille the weekend before. Despite being a bunch of New Yorkers, these guys know a lot about European beers, so we wanted to get their opinions on what northern France has to offer.

After whetting our pallets with 3 Monts, which was very well received, we opened up a 750ml bottle of La Goudale, la bière blonde à l'ancienne. It’s a top-fermented strong blonde ale with 7.2% ABV from Les Brasseurs de Gayant in Douai, France.

The taste is immediately bitter, then slightly syrupy sweet. A bit longer in the mouth and I got a whiff of citrus, and when I mentioned this to the others, the groupthink landed on, “lemon -- the peel or zest, not the acidic part of the lemon, more the long-lasting lemony”.

Still, for me the carbonation level seemed somehow a bit low, and the aroma had not entirely pleasing elements of empty pasta box or a sack of grain. Maybe even burlap or wood glue.

My friend scribbled out “spacious writing” on the common scrap-of-paper tasting notes, a curious thought the depth of which I am only now beginning to consider. He assured me at the time that it actually reads, “spiciness - nutmeg”, which could be, I suppose. They write differently in the big city, after all.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Chotěboř beer

This is not a tasting entry, sadly, but a short bit of simple news. And good news at that.

Chotěboř, the small town in eastern Bohemia where I lived for a few years and where I met my wife among many other friends, has finally opened up a brewery again. It’s hard to imagine a town in Bohemia without a brewery, and Chotěboř had one from the 13th to, I think, the 20th century, but either the war or the Communists or something forced its closure well before I arrived there in 1992.

But now, the Chotěboř Brewery has opened, producing a variety of beers, and not a bad website either. I am told by my old friends and beer experts in the town that their beer is excellent, and now I am trying to figure out a way to get back there on a tasting weekend.

I see Evan Rail has mentioned it in July post about a newly published beer map for the Czech Republic. Maybe it’s one we can try together when I get out there.

UPDATE: Finally got to taste Chotěboř beer.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

3 Monts

Just returned from a fantastic weekend in Lille, France, where -- among other things -- we explored the local bières de Garde. These are traditional beers of northern France, and you can easily see the overlap with Belgian beer. It’s part of a cultural continuum of brewing that has been disregarding formal frontiers since long before Schengen.

I bought a number of various brands, all in 750ml bottles as seems to be the custom, but the first one we tried was 3 Monts. It’s brewed just up the road at Saint Sylvestre Cappel, also in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, of which Lille is the capital. I was feeling pretty ill in the afternoon, but a good beer and some starch at the baked potato restaurant near our hotel seemed to do the trick.

3 Monts is an outstanding beer. It is basically a strong ale, but it’s drier than average. There’s no syrupy taste like you get with some ales. Instead, it is sharp and clean, with a nice bitter hop finish. Tiny bubble carbonation with some lavender notes that remind me of Deus. But at two or three euros a bottle at the hypermarket, 3 Monts trumps it. 8.5% alcohol, by the way.

And, 3 Monts gets the thumbs up from Fiona as well. 750ml between two rounds off a day nicely.

I’d add 3 Monts to my top ten list, but my list is for Belgian beers. Dare I include it?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Gouyasse Blonde

This is a beer from a town in Belgium called Ath, and it has a legend attached to it involving witches and giants and so on. More on that at the “Brewery of Legends” website.

I like the brewery’s webpage itself, too, which describes the beer-making process with some nice photos, demonstrating this stuff is lovingly made on a fairly small scale. I’d like to get out to Ath someday and have a look. It’s not too far from Brussels either.

But for those who can’t really be athed with all that, on to the tasting...

It’s an interesting mix of sweet and sour -- just when it seems to be going down a candy-floss route, it turns and hits you with a sharp, citrusy acid on the tongue. Thin and not overly demanding, it’s cool and refreshing on a warm evening like this one. 6%, for those who are counting.

Overall, this beer is not exactly a giant, but it seems able to cast a small spell of its own. Just right for watching our fantastic red sunflowers grow...

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Watou Tripel

Sitting out on the terrace on what has been the longest day of the year in more ways than one. Pouring rain this morning made us think the cinema was a good idea. But “Night at the Museum 2” did not make grumpy girls any less grumpy. Final rays of the sun across the park now with the girls gone to bed... Some peace and beer, at last.

Watou Tripel comes from the same brewery as the great St Bernardus beers. An abbey beer, this one is mostly standard as tripels go -- a strong blonde Belgian ale, though it is slightly weaker than many at only 7.5%, which is refreshing. One distinguishing feature is a slight honey taste in the finish, a sweetish floral richness.

North Korean beer

A colleague sent me this great article on a brewery in Pyongyang: "North Korean beer: great taste, low proliferation risk". Worth a read, if perhaps not a taste...


Sunday, 7 June 2009

Return to Tongerlo Bruin

I’ve had Tongerlo Bruin before, but Bob’s over and wanted to try it -- and it was on special offer at the supermarket -- so, here’s an updated set of tasting notes...

It pours dark and rich, and you expect it to be a bit thicker in the mouth. It turns out it’s a bit metallic, highly carbonated with an aftertaste faintly spicy. “There’s a bite in the back of the throat”, says Bob. Nona says it’s, “warm at the back of the throat”. Bob notes a “hint of chocolate”, which we’d picked up in last year’s tasting.

It’s better than the ultra-thin darks like Grimbergen Dubbel, but still, it doesn’t have any of the depth and richness I expect in a dark beer. Bob summarises it as: “Not a bad beer, but not great. Though, for 1.91 euro for a four-pack (with the coupon), you can’t beat it.”

Strangely, it gets a bit better -- richer, more flavourful with more aromatics -- as it sits for a bit. Wait about tem minutes for a better beer. Actually, I’ve noticed this phenomenon with other beers: they improve with a bit of sitting before drinking. No idea why that is.


A quick Belgian beer primer for award-winning Indonesian journalists

A few weekends ago, we had some friends over for a Belgian beer tasting. Journalists from Indonesia, they were in town here for a few days to collect an important award for their work. The King Baudouin International Development Prize this year went to their KBR68H radio news agency. I met some of these guys back in Jakarta, and I was immediately impressed with KBR68H. They deserved the recognition.

But now, they were on my turf, and I had a duty to take them through a few Belgian beer basics. Time was short, because they had a very tight schedule, including an audience with the King of Belgium. But we managed to sample three.

First came Hoegaarden, then we had Orval, and finally, we had St Bernardus Prior 8. That’s a pretty short introduction to Belgian beer, I know, but not bad... And it gave them something to talk about with King Albert II a couple days after.

I wonder what his favourite Belgian beers are...


Monday, 13 April 2009

Cramer Kellerbier

From French beer to German... Cramer Kellerbier is the third beer in the set of three Michael gave me a while back. This one is a “bio” beer, so the eco-friendly buttons are well pushed.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite push any others. It’s an unfiltered, yeasty lager-ish brew. 4.8% and, to me, a bit watery. It’s not bad, mind you, but not nearly as good as the last two in the German collection: Duckstein Original and König Ludwig Dunkel, both just excellent.

Still, it’s a great day out in the evening sun here on the terrace. Last day of holiday before going back to work tomorrow morning. The tulips have been out, adding some welcome colour to the garden after a pretty brutal winter.

Sologne Blonde

We just returned from a week’s holiday in and around the Loire Valley in France, where the evenings were all about wine, not beer. And cheese... I love French wines, as difficult as it is for me to remember all the details and complexities, but French cheese... especially the goaty ones... oh my... I think I should start a new blog on French cheeses.

With cheese and wine, the French have little to learn, but what about beer?

At the château in La Ferté St Aubin -- a grand pile that kids are allowed to rummage through with few restrictions -- we picked up two 75cl bottles of Sologne, one blond and one ambrée, both local brews.

Sologne Blonde is quite thick, slightly syrupy, with strong grain and yeast flavours. It’s a hearty, dried grass taste that predominates. This bière artisanale is unfiltered and bottle fermented, so it would sit well in a Belgian collection. Particularly as the sun has now come out here on a fantastic spring evening in Brussels...

In short, it’s tasty and worth looking for again. It would also go well with a mimolette (AOC).

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Duckstein Original

Venturing again into the non-Belgian universe, I now pick up the third German beer given to me by Michael on his visit to Brussels the other day. The first one, König Ludwig Dunkel, set a very high standard so is going to be a hard act to follow, that at least is clear from the start...

I am slightly nervous about the “Rotblondes” tag on the label of Duckstein Original. “Red blonde” is not something that draws me in given all the problems I’ve had with red beers. “Auf Buchenholz gereift” -- matured in beechwood -- is somewhat more comforting.

The pour reveals a clear, dark amber colour, little head, not cloudy -- nothing living in this bottle, obviously. What would the Belgians say?

The taste is immediately smooth with thin mouthfeel. A hint of caramel and powerful and lasting hop finish. There is something of a baked cracker in this, too, like a melba toast. 4.9% alcohol, well balanced with other flavours. If I had to compare it to a Belgian beer, I might say Affligem Dubbel, actually. Yum, in any case.

It seems the Hamburg-based brewery also sponsors a series of music festivals in various northern German cities in summer. Hmmm... more holiday ideas...

Belgoo Magus

Stopped off at the Roxi this afternoon and tried a Belgoo Magus.

On the marketing side, Belgoo is a pretty slick mix of new and old. The logo is modern, but at the same time, they’re really pushing the “all natural” angle of wholesome and traditional brewing.

From Binche in Walonia, Belgoo Magus is a four-grain beer, using barley malt, wheat malt, oats and spelt, as well as Saaz hops. Like many Belgian ales, it’s alive in the bottle, with the yeast working on the product even after it leaves the brewery.

Taste-wise, it seems to me a pretty standard Belgian strong blonde ale. Cloudy and creamy, with powerful hop and yeast flavours, some citrus for sure. 6.6% alcohol by volume. Belgoo Magus is a good representative of the genre but nothing exceptional -- apart from the nifty logo, of course.

St Bernardus Abt 12 Special Edition

François was in from Kenya this week, so we had him and some others over for dinner and a few Belgian beers. Living in Africa, François was after some decent beer and good cheese, and I think we hit the nail on the head: to get started, we sampled Rochefort 8, Rochefort 10 and Chimay Blue, and after the main course, we had a cheese board including Chimay cheese.

But the real star of the evening was a couple bottles of St Bernardus Abt 12 Special Edition. Yes, one of these bottles was my birthday present, and I had intended to age it for a few years. However, the shop around the corner just got another shipment of the same batch, so cellar supplies have already been refreshed.

“Cloudy”, was François’s first comment, followed by “tasty”. I found it much like St Bernardus Abt 12, but with some liquorice notes. Fiona agreed, saying it was, “like the liquorice in a sherbet fountain”. In other words, light rather than strong.

François also found peppermint, as well as plum, cherry and gingerbread. Fiona, “old plums, maybe, peppermint and fruit, dried apricot”. Nico wrote down that it was “softer than Chimay Blue, a bit sweet and creamy”. I was sensing nutmeg.

The regular St Bernardus Abt 12, which is also sold around the corner, has become a fairly regular beer for me. Our original tasting notes had “banana” down as a component, but over the last two or three months of drinking it fairly often, I have to say I haven’t noticed banana at all. It’s time for a new blog entry on that one.

But returning to this St Bernardus Abt 12 Special Edition: this is an excellent beer. Aging is likely to make it legendary. If I can just have enough patience...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Rodenbach Grand Cru

I have not really explored Belgian red beers very much here. I guess I am really not excited about them much as a genre. I found Bourgogne des Flandres rather uninspiring, and my review of Rodenbach was pretty neutral: it seemed metallic when I’d first tried it, and not inspiringly better the second time.

Still, we all live in hope, so when I sampled Rodenbach Grand Cru the other day, I did try to approach it with an open mind. The brewery certainly put a lot of work into this beer: it's a mix of one third young, fresh brew and two thirds beer that's been aged for two years in oak barrels. Sadly, though, it didn’t live up even to my meagre expectations.

“Vinegar times ten”, was my first tasting note, though I then imagined a fleeting whiff of cranberry.

“Smells like cough medicine”, was Fiona’s initial comment. “Can you honestly drink that? The sink needs descaling: why don’t you pour it down there?”

Sadly, I couldn’t even finish this one, so yes, some basin descaling did occur.

Will I never find a red beer I really like?

Saving the evening, however, my nephew just sent me his drawing of the car he’s been refurbishing. If he gets it looking that good, it would be pretty cool. Perhaps he can use Belgian red beer as paint stripper...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Ciney blonde

It seems strange I haven’t reviewed Ciney blonde before. It’s a very common beer here in Brussels, and I’ve certainly had it many times. I wrote up some tasting notes for Ciney brune over a year ago as well, so I’ve no idea why it’s taken me so long to get to Ciney blonde.

The taste is very slightly syrupy, but not annoyingly so like Leffe blond, and “ferrous” says Fiona. Indeed, it’s got a clear iron or blood note to it. “Blood” might scare you off as a taste element, but it shouldn’t. The ferrous aspect really makes Ciney blonde interesting. This is a decent brew -- not outstanding, but decent.

“Not sure it’s worth the calories”, says the dieting wife. Oh well, can’t please everyone.

But we both certainly deserve a beer this afternoon, after spending a few hours in the shops and lugging home a new food processor and kettle. I hate shopping, and looking forward to a beer at the end of it is about the only thing that can get me through a high street ordeal. Much more pleasant at home, where the early spring flowers are out in the garden.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

König Ludwig Dunkel

“König Ludwig, König Ludwig...” I searched my mind aloud while reaching for the beer bottle. “Which one was he again?”

“Ludwig?” Fiona answered through a sore throat she’s been struggling with the past couple days. “He’s the one who built Neuschwanstein. He was insane.”

“Ah, right.”

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Ludvig II of Bavaria did build the crazy 19th-century Disney-before-Disney castle in southern Bavaria, the most photographed tourist attraction in Germany apparently. But “Mad” King Ludwig was actually removed from power on the grounds of mental incapacity even though no medical examination took place. And then he died the very next day, which you have to admit looks pretty suspicious.

This is not some random diversion from the subject of this evening’s beer. König Ludwig Dunkel does indeed have a connection to the Bavarian royal line. It’s got the coat of arms of the House of Wittelsbach on the label, and Luitpold Prinz von Bayern welcomes you to the beer’s website. After a rousing fanfare intro segment. (be sure your speakers are on)

Geography buffs will have noticed that Bavaria is not in Belgium, so yes, this German beer is a bit off-topic for this blog. But at Monday’s tasting of Chimay Grande Réserve 2005, Michael gave me a bottle of this, so a connection to Belgium exists. And it is beer, so, that’s good enough really.

Onward to the pouring... And tasting... This dark brew tastes gorgeously burnt and malty, but it’s not too thick or syrupy. It’s not sweet but has a strong hoppy bitterness. It has good depth, bordering on stout even. You can tell it’s not a Belgian dark ale right away, of course -- no dates, raisins, black cherries, cream, nutmeg, etc. and no high alcohol content either, only 5.1%. But who cares? König Ludwig Dunkel is a lovely beer, a serious contribution to my continuing zymurgological studies. You’d be mad to pass one up. Thanks, Michael!

And since I should be in Bavaria with a few old drinking partners a bit later this year, I think I’ll be seeing this beer again quite soon.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Three-course beer menu at La Rose Blanche

Following quickly on the tasting of Chimay Grande Réserve 2005 at Delirium Café, the action moved a few blocks away to Grand Place and the restaurant La Rose Blanche, where we had a fantastic feast. It was three courses, each one made with -- and served with -- a different Belgian beer. The menu speaks for itself...

Warm Goat cheese with a Brug’s White beer syrup
(served with a glass of Brug’s White beer)

Main course
Baked Salmon with Grimbergen brune, Wild rice
(served with a glass of Grimbergen brune beer)

[the other main course option was Breast of Duck with Ciney blonde beer and
potatoes Gratin, served with a glass of Ciney blonde beer]

Brussels Waffle with La Chouffe blonde beer
(served with a glass La Chouffe blonde beer)

Just in case you’d prefer the French:

Gratinée de chèvre au sirop de Blanche de Bruges
(accompagnée d’un verre de Blanche de Bruges)

Magret de Canard à la Ciney, gratin dauphinois
(accompagné d’un verre de Ciney)
Saumon rôti à la Grimbergen, riz sauvage
(accompagné d’un verre de Grimbergen)

La Gaufre Bruxelloise à la Chouffe
(Accompagnée d’une Chouffe)

Chimay Grande Réserve 2005

After more than a year of writing about Belgian beer, I finally managed to get my sorry self over to the Delirium Café yesterday. Pretty poor performance on the part of your Brussels-based correspondent here, given that this old town bar holds the world’s record for having the largest number of beers on sale, including about seven million Belgian ones. OK, a few hundred Belgian ones, but who’s really counting when there are so many on offer? Actually, the Guinness Book people did just that a few years back and found over 2000 types at Delirium.

I went there with Michael, a friend who was in town for a conference we were both attending. He’d just come in from Germany and brought me three bottles of German beer to test -- more on those later, however, because this evening, we were tasting Chimay Grande Réserve 2005.

As you’ll see from the photo, the bottle had quite a different label from the other Chimay GRs I’ve tried -- most notably, not blue. I think the bottle was produced for some kind of exhibition, because a small “LOT: EXPO2005” was painted on the bottle, and the label itself was painted, where usually they are simply paper labels stuck on. Anyway, it made a very convincing pop when the barman opened it for us.

The initial taste was black cherry, smoky oak, and full cream. It seemed to me not as rich as Chimay Grande Réserve 2001, and it surely had none of those “slurry” notes of the Chimay Grande Réserve 1999. Still, you could tell age had done some work here, as there was much more going on than the Chimay Grande Réserve 2007. Few surprises, then -- older beer, more complex taste -- but well worth drinking all the same.

Initially, I wasn’t sure if I would manage to convince Michael, slightly wary of variations from the Reinheitsgebot, of the beauty and variety of Belgian beer. But the Chimay Grande Réserve 2005 did seem to move him in the right direction.

What finally persuaded Michael though, was the dinner that came after. The conference organisers invited us to La Rose Blanche on Grand Place, where everyone was treated to a three-course beer-based menu. That deserves its own blog entry however...

Westvleteren 8 plus one year

Unknown to anyone, I have been keeping four bottles of Westvleteren 8 in a secret location ever since we visited the abbey last year. Of course, I tasted Westvleteren 8 at that time, but I wanted to save a few to see what a little age would do.

The fruity tastes we noticed a year ago were indeed gone. Twelve months had taken away sweetness and added liquorice. It seemed more bitter, even slightly astringent. Interestingly, however, that over-sharp aspect dies away after the beer sits for a bit. My conclusion: one year in the bottle adds some interesting flavours if, once poured, you let the beer breathe in the glass for 15 or 20 minutes.

I had this beer on Sunday via video link with Brian, who will be here in Brussels in a few weeks. We’ll try two of those remaining three bottles, and I’ll report back...

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor

After Gouden Carolus Classic, and Gouden Carolus Tripel, the third and final beer in our trilogy of tastings at Het Anker brewery in Mechelen today -- now yesterday -- was Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor.

The strange name has a convoluted history. There is a statue on the main square of Mechelen that shows a small man apparently falling onto an uneven surface. This represents the city’s mascot, a wooden doll that would be thrown in the air by a blanket. Now, it seems someone from the rival city of Antwerp tried to make off with the dummy in the late 18th century, and the good people of Mechelen didn’t take kindly to that and roughed him up. This in turn angered the people of Antwerp, and in the nasty back and forth, which seems to have included some rioting, Mecheleners renamed their mascot after the nickname for people from Antwerp, “sinjoors”.

If you are still following all this and are now wondering why Antwerpers get this moniker, then you are more patient and curious than most, so I’ll tell you: Antwerp enjoyed favoured status under Spanish rule (late 16th to early 18th century), and it’s leaders were Spanish noblemen, hence the word “señor”. Calling people from Antwerp “sijnoor” doesn’t bother them in the slightest; in fact, it’s a mark of pride. But running around and tossing their effigy into the air may have been a bit more offensive.

Anyway, the statue on Mechelen’s grand market square is called, “Op Sinjoorke”, and the beer, Hopsinjoor, is a reference to all this and a bit of a play on words, because this is a very hoppy brew. Actually, it’s got four types of hops in it, and the resulting blend of bitters is worth repeating (unlike that story). If you like Orval -- and I do -- then you are going to love this -- ditto. With that refreshingly dry finish, I think it would make a great summer beer in particular.

Leaving you with photos of a very nifty building we came across after leaving Het Anker. Obviously a former pub of some sort, but great sign...