Monday, 29 March 2010

St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël

“Smells like fresh pineapple”, says Bob.

“No way”, says I.

Belgian Christmas beers rarely disappoint, but they are a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes you find an exceptional one, like the Goulden Carolus Christmas, which we had a few weeks ago. Other times, you get a worthwhile beer but one that doesn’t distinguish itself much from the crowd. St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël is the latter: not great, but good.

It has reasonable maltiness and caramely notes, for sure, and a light accent of old lemon. After that, though, I didn’t get much from it. That’s unfortunate. I thought St Feuillien Bruin was passable, and St Feuillien Blond I rather liked. With the St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël, we have yet another example of a beer I really want to praise but just can’t bring myself to do more than give a passing grade to. Again, nothing bad here, but I expect more from a Christmas beer.

In any case, there’s nothing pineapple about it, Bob. So there.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Tongerlo Prior

This is another one we bought in Leuven yesterday, where we enjoyed three beers from the Domus Brasserie and where we picked up a bottle of Omer.

Tongerlo Prior is classed as a triple, and its taste is sweet and syrupy. “Not bad, but dat is niet super lekker”, says Bob. True, it’s not hugely distinctive.

Strange thing is, I remember saying that about Tongerlo Christmas Blond 6.5° as well. It doesn’t stand out hugely, but it’s not bad by any means.

But then, something emerges after it sits for a bit: grassiness. Pleasant.


We picked up a few bottles in Leuven while we were there yesterday -- just a few things we hadn’t seen before. The first one up for tasting when we returned last night was Omer.

At first, I thought it was St Omer, a beer from French Flanders that I had back in October -- and still haven’t written up, sadly. I have to get to that one eventually. Still so many tasting notes behind...

Omer is from the Bockor Brewery in Bellegem, a village near the city of Kortrijk. So, not a million miles from St Omer then.

But it is pretty far in taste. Omer, a blond ale, is puffy, super bitter, yet buttery. It’s taste is long-lasting but perhaps too long. 8%. Overall, it’s not outstanding.

UPDATE, 3 December 2010: I think I gave this beer too negative a review first time around. It's not wildly outstanding, perhaps, but it is a solid enough contender as a strong blonde ale. It is now one of the beers I keep handy for everyday occasions, and I serve it to guests with no embarrassment whatsoever.

Three from Domus

Despite a sudden cold or flu or whatever knocking me back a bit, we decided to take our visiting friends on a day trip to Leuven yesterday. We walked around the old university town for a while, but then, when I could take the tourist trail no longer, we came across the Domus Brasserie. It’s an amazing brew-pub -- tasty offerings and non-smoking -- so we were lured in, finding a table just under the pipeline running beer from the brewery to the bar.

Bob and I ordered the proefbedje, a selection of their three beers, in three mugs nestled in a wooden frame. “I don’t like the bed the mugs are sitting in”, said Fiona. Right. On to the beers...

Domus Ochtendkriek: This is a reasonable kriek. It’s more in the modern style, so you can taste sweetness -- that is, not all the sugar is used up in fermentation as it would be in a traditionally made sour kriek, such as Cantillon Kriek. Still, it’s not as sweet as some of the ridiculous so-called krieks that are so popular these days. Domus Ochtendkriek tries to strike a balance, I think, between convention and current tastes, and it doesn’t do too bad a job of it. The cough syrupy aspect is good for sore throat, too. But Bob is unimpressed: “It’s a kid beer”, he says. 4 per cent alcohol.

Con Domus “het studentenbier”: This is an unfiltered pils. It’s hoppy, cloudy and very yummy. “There’s a strange herbiness to it, like the end of a Becherovka”, says Bob, referring to the Czech herbal liquor. I’m thinking woody lavender or rosemary. It reminds me a bit of the great German beer, Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, though this one doesn’t have the fine bubbles. Still, of the three today, this one was everybody’s favourite -- though for me, the next one was also excellent. 5 per cent.

Nostra Domus: This amber offering has a wild mix of tastes. “Vanilla and caramel”, notes Fiona right away, to nods all around. Tinned peaches, too, I think, and some agree. “Walnuts”, says Nona. True. “It’s got a light texture”, says Bob, “but in a nice way.” We all feel there is something of a German Weissbier about this one. Slight burnt honey taste, too. 5.8 per cent.

So, to summarise, yesterday was the story of a long walk leading to exhaustion, then finding a warm house for a rest, and within, three brews: one too sweet and simple, one too complex, and one just right. In short, Goldie Bob and the Three Beers.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Stella Artois 4%

Coming home on the Eurostar, I walked up to the bar car to see what might be on offer. Of course, I didn't expect much. And I wasn't disappointed.

Stella Artois 4%. From a can. In a plastic cup.

Now, I have no idea why putting the alcohol level in the very name of the beer is considered a great marketing technique. Normal Stella is 5%, so not really much difference anyway. Does the big "4%" on the thing really hold any significance to anyone?

Truth is, I don't understand this beer. I don't want to understand this beer. It's not huge in flavour. Don't bother.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Lindemans Cuvée René Grand Cru 2005

Today was given over to spring cleaning. After a few hours of toil, the score was four yellow bags and two white bags -- that's paper recycling and trash in the Brussels waste colour scheme -- not a bad result. But ever better was a bottle of Lindemans Cuvée René Grand Cru I found hiding in amongst some old books and bottles. It's been sitting there for more than two years, I guess, but the bottling date was 2005, so it's five years old now.

Now, I had thought that, unlike other bottle-fermented Belgian beers, a gueuze like this wouldn't stand much aging: OK for a year or two, but five would be pushing it. We've even had a few bad experiences with some other old bottles of gueuze and lambic before -- opening them up only to find something closer to vinegar than beer. The enormous thunder-crack of the cork on this 750ml bottle to me was only a threatening confirmation that something had gone very wrong over time.

So, I was happily surprised to find this Lindemans Cuvée René Grand Cru very much worth drinking at the ripe old age of five. The sharp sourness of gueze is dominant, of course, but it also has an underlying nuttiness. Well, the back label does say, "improves in bottle with age"...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Vedett Extra White

Spring has sprung, so time for apero out on the terrace and a new Belgian beer review. Yes, it's finally nice enough to sit outside -- first time this year. After a bit of gardening, we're trying Vedett Extra White.

It's a blanche or witbier, much like the universally known Hoegaarden, but unlike the orange and coriander of that one, Vedett's offering goes in a different direction: pine, rosemary and lavender. Very nice, and yes, better than Hoegaarden.

And like its brother, Vedett Extra Blond, it's got a very hip label. It goes well with the new flowers popping their heads up in the garden.

Märkischer Landmann

This is one we tried in Berlin a few weeks ago. We were in a suburb of the city called Neukölln, part of which is a major immigrant area and part of which is a village square, Richardsplatz, that looks like it hasn't changed for 150 years. Enjoying a few beers with friends by candlelight at the Villa Rixdorf Restaurant, I got the feeling I'd walk out of the place and get on a horse to take me home.

The beer of choice in this time-machine was Märkischer Landmann, a Schwarzbier much like Köstritzer and others from eastern areas of Germany. Deep and rich, I think I may have liked it even better than Köstritzer. It has more robust burnt notes to it, and as it warms up -- these things are usually served too cold, I think -- some dried black cherry and raisiny flavours emerge.

A lovely location and a lovely beer with old friends.