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...