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?