Saturday, 19 June 2010

St Idesbald Dubbel

After wandering around in the rain and cold for an hour or two this afternoon, wondering when summer might restart, we dropped into Les Brassins to warm up. It’s one of my favourite pubs in Brussels these days. Good beer selection, nice atmosphere, non-smoking -- which is all I ever ask.

Fiona opted for her favourite tipple, Carolus Tripel, while I went for something new: St Idesbald Dubbel. It’s a dark abbey beer associated with the Abbey of Ten Duinen in the seaside hamlet of Sint-Idesbald.

The aroma and initial taste was green apple, interestingly. That’s not a common flavour. But it’s fleeting. A sharp liquorice quickly kicks in, which itself is then taken over by rich malt. That sweetness evolves into good bitter finish. Quite a lot of fine bubbles. 8%.

Overall, very good: St Idesbald Dubbel is one I’d have again.

De Leckere Willibrord Amber Speciaal

Back to last weekend’s Dutch beer bonanza... I am still writing up the tasting notes.

Another organic beer, like so many top beers in the Netherlands it seems, De Leckere Willibrord Amber Speciaal was Bob’s next suggestion. The taste was malty caramel and hop -- well bitter after a moment in the mouth.

“Full-bodied with a certain spiciness”, said Bob.

Erm, not sure he was talking about the beer there. I can't make much sense of my notes a week after the event. Maybe he was talking about the Hollandse Nieuwe we had? There’s nothing like a soused herring...

Monday, 14 June 2010

Fantastic five from Brouwerij 't IJ

Here it is: beer tasting number 200 on the 40b40. And 201-204 as well.

I’ve decided to smash through the double centennial with a five-beer set of tasting notes, a deep examination of offerings from Brouwerij 't IJ, a microbrewery in Amsterdam. I’d never heard of the place before, but apparently it’s the oldest microbrewery in that city, having been established in ye olden days, that is, 1985. Old or not, after these tastings, I am certainly going to seek out the brew-pub next time I’m in Amsterdam.

First up was Natte, described on the bottle as an “Amsterdamse bio-dubbel”. Deconstruct that phrase, and you understand, after the city designation, that this is an organic top-fermented ale brewed in the Belgian dubbel style. All the beers from Brouwerij 't IJ are organic, unfiltered and unpasteurised -- in that mud-in-the-bottle, ferment-until-drinking way we love.

Fiona was the first to praise Natte, saying it was somewhat like Gouden Carolus Classic from Het Anker in Mechelen. She said it tasted like brown bread toast. I found it deliciously woody. 6.5%. It’s very complex, and I need to try another to explore it more.

Second in our tasting of beers from Brouwerij 't IJ was IJwit, or “Scharral IJwit” perhaps. Yes, I think it does mean “egg white”, though the IJ is also a river in Amsterdam, so I’m guessing it’s a word game. All of the beers from this brewery play on the egg theme, and since this is a white beer... well, you get the idea.

This white is an outstanding version on the traditional Belgian style wheat beer. It’s got lovely perfume florals in it, with notes of kumquats or starfruit. It’s a rich fruit bowl. As different from the standard bearer of this class, Hoegaarden, as it’s possible to be. At 7%, it’s significantly stronger too.

There’s another taste in both of these beers, which I couldn’t place until I had my third offering from Brouwerij 't IJ, Zatte...

Zatte is a tripel, a strong blond ale. It pours a rusty orange and has a stiff head. Like other Belgian-style tripels, it is dominated by citrus tastes. But while others tend toward grapefruit, Zatte leads with lemon. It’s cooked lemon or grilled lemon, deep and rich in caramelised fruit flavour, yet retaining its tang. It follows with some notes of rosemary, or maybe lavender, and it finishes with a bitter aftertaste.

And then there’s that mystery taste, common to all Brouwerij 't IJ beers tasted here, which only now do I recognise: Marseille soap (Savon de Marseille). It’s a traditional soap made from olive oil, which was “yellow soap” when I was growing up, despite it not being yellow. It was always the thing my mother would say when I came in from any particularly muddy playtime experience. “Yellow soap!”, meant go down to the laundry room and clean yourself with the heavy-duty stuff.

And “yellow soap!” it what all of these beers from Brouwerij 't IJ say to me. Now, don’t take that the wrong way: there is nothing soapy about these delicious brews. I am only talking about the aroma. Don’t ask me why they’ve got that perfume about them, but to me, they do.

Fourth beer in the set was Columbus, a “turbobiobier” according to the label. “Bio” I get. “Bier”, duh. As for “turbo”, I’ve no idea. Maybe the 9% explains that?

In any case, Columbus was another good one from Brouwerij 't IJ. Bob called it “assertive”. It’s very bitter, and maybe slightly more syrupy than Zatte. But it’s got great notes of pine needles and, of course, Marseille soap.

Finally, the fifth beer from the Amsterdam microbrewery is Struis, which means ostrich, if I’m not mistaken. The label describes it as a, “Buitengewoon superbiobier”, and calling it “extraordinary” seems fair. It’s got super amounts of fudge and grime (aka, yeast) in the bottle and glass, which is, remember, a good thing.

The taste is caramel, warm, sweet dark and rich. As it reaches room temperature up, you get strong notes of black cherry, peach and nutmeg. 9%. Excellent.

Altogether, these five beers from Brouwerij 't IJ are a great find. For those who thought Belgium had the Low Countries monopoly on great bottle-fermented ales, it’s time to think again.

Gulpener Limburgs Land Premium Pilsner

After Alfa Edel Pils, beer number two in the weekend’s Dutch beer fest was another pilsner, Gulpener Limburgs Land. Like the Alfa, this one was an excellent recommendation from “nearly Dutch” Uncle Bob.

The taste is a bit candy hop, a bit bubble gum and a bit green apple. It’s more syrupy than Alfa Edel Pils. Quite good overall, though I think the Alfa edged it out just by a tiny bit, only because I shy away from anything syrupy.

(This is tasting number 199, by the way...)

Alfa Edel Pils

Uncle Bob says most of the best Dutch beers come from the south of the country, and so naturally enough, the first beer in our marathon tasting at the weekend was from the Alfa Brewery in Limburg.

Alfa Edel Pils is a good pilsner. It’s slightly yeasty and creamy -- reminding me of Almaza Pilsner, strangely -- but there’s a lot going on here besides. It’s hoppier and even a bit herby. Lavender?

Bob finds fruity notes in the throat after swallowing. “Not an aftertaste on the tongue”, he says, “but something farther back.”

It’s a good start.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Uncle Bob’s Guide to Drinkable Dutch Beers

This weekend was dedicated to Dutch beer. OK, Dutch beer and a bit of international football.

We were in The Hague with old friends Bob and Nona, and as they prepare to move, it may be one of the last times we spend in the Netherlands in the company of such impressive beer expertise.

We sampled eleven of the country’s finest brews, for which I will be writing up tasting notes over the next few days. We tried: Alfa Edel Pils, Alfa Super Dortmunder, Gulpener Limburgs Land Premium Pilsner, Gulpener Korenwolf Witbier, De Leckere Willibrord Amber Speciaal and Paulus Cuvée Spéciale, also from De Leckere. In addition, we had five fantastic offerings from a microbrewery in Amsterdam, Brouwerij 't IJ: Natte, Scharrel IJwit, Zatte, Columbus and Struis.

And there were two more: we had a Trio Extra Stout, an impressive beer from Suriname, which was a Dutch colony until 1975; and, by chance, we sampled Wieckse Witte from Heineken Nederland.

Stand by for tasting notes...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

De Koninck

The 197th tasting here on the 40b40 is yet another beer I should have written up ages ago. De Koninck is not exactly hard to find.

The taste of this amber is in the neighbourhood of Palm Royale, though it's perhaps a little thinner than that. There's not a huge amount going on here, to be honest. It's somewhat flat, it's got a very mild maltiness, and then a pinch of bitterness in the aftertaste. I pick up no special notes beyond that. 5% alcohol doesn't overpower anything.

Overall, it's certainly drinkable. Just maybe not too memorable.

With only three beers to go until 200, I am now looking for suggestions as to which beer ought to be the one to mark the occasion. Ideas on a postcard, please...