Thursday 19 May 2011

Two IPAs, Two Attitudes

"Passion fruit and pink grapefruit yogurt", says Fiona, and indeed, both flavours are unmistakable from the very first whiff of BrewDog Punk IPA. Its taste follows suit, and maybe adds a bit of candy cane.

The mouthfeel is a bit airy, with fizz powering into puff at first sip. That passion fruit aftertaste isn't going to go away in a hurry.

This Scottish beer's label warns, "This is an assertive beer. We don't care if you don't like it". Same about the branding, I see. But in any case, I do like it. Whether they care or not.

The label on the second beer is immediately more welcoming: "We're sure you'll love this product." And they even offer a refund if I don't. I'm wrinkling my nose a bit as I read on...

"Don't be snob", Fiona says, handing me the bottle of Sainsbury's IPA, "it's made in Burton."

It's not bad. A fair bit of hop on top of a slightly too obvious layer of caramel malt, but then some very interesting little notes of cinnamon and cola nut kick in.

I'm not sure how well it fits the style, but it's a drinkable enough beer. I won't be calling the toll-free number on the label to complain, let's put it that way.

So, I'm stuck between a beer that I adore but that hates me, and a beer that pleads for my love that I can take or leave. Tricky...

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Bioloo Amber

Sometimes, the marketing department gets it wrong.

Very wrong.

“Bioloo” sounds more like a composting toilet than a beer.

And having Googled it just now, I see that’s not even a joke. Check this out:

Luckily, Bioloo Amber tastes better than its name, and I’m very glad a reader recommended it the other day in a comment. Yes, I actually read those and take them onboard.

I even tried it where he suggested: L’Ultime Atome, one of my top ten bars, pubs and cafés for beer in Brussels.

From the makers of the decent Belgoo Magus, Bioloo Amber is an organic beer made from spelt. It’s a very good amber, not too sweet, with a clean finish. It has a faint note of cooked carrots, oddly, but that’s not a bad thing here. 7.8% alcohol.

Overall, I’d rate Bioloo Amber quite highly. It’s probably the best spelt beer I’ve had, I think, and I’ve had a fair few now.

They do need to work on the name, however...

Sunday 15 May 2011

Mr Badger

Badger may start off with a gruff and suspicious voice, but he does offer a fantastic welcome to his friends, old and new.
When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to the table, where he had been busy laying a repast. They had felt pretty hungry before, but when they actually saw at last the supper that was spread for them, really it seemed only a question of what they should attack first where all was so attractive, and whether the other things would obligingly wait for them till they had time to give them attention.
Although the original text is not specific on the matter -- and in fact it is only Mole who we know for sure is cellaring beer (Old Burton, to be precise) -- I feel quite confident Badger would have also set out on that snowy evening when Mole and Ratty arrive, a few bottles of the Dorset ale, Badger.

It’s a good session beer that goes down easy without any fuss, which we know Badger abhors, and it would have encouraged the convivial atmosphere such a dutiful host would desire to create. It’s also only 4%, so appropriate for a children’s book.

The ale’s copper colour would have matched well with Badger’s well-worn red brick floor. Both mustelid and rodent alike would have appreciated its light mouthfeel, gentle hint of sweetness and hazelnut notes. The drink’s bitterness is pronounced, to be sure, but it’s nothing a sensible animal can’t handle.

Den Twaalf

This one comes from t´Gaverhopke brewery out by Kortrijk, another one of those small producers this country can boast of that makes me realise that, even after trying nearly 350 Belgian beers, I’ll never know about them all, let alone taste them. Still, it’s worth a try...

Den Twaalf pours a burnt-butter brown and is intensely fizzy at first. The taste initially comes at you like a Belgian red beer -- vinegary and aggressive -- though since I was introduced to Rodenbach Vintage 2008, the style has been growing on me.

Still, that’s a bit simplistic a description of Den Twaalf, because this one evolves quite a bit in the glass. You soon pick up its sweet malt underbelly and blackberry notes. Strangely, if it weren’t for the name and the label, I’d never have guessed this beer had 12% alcohol. It doesn’t overpower the other tastes.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Bousval and Bersalis

I thought that I’d cleared out most of my old tasting notes and finally got them posted on this blog in my big spring cleaning a couple weeks ago. Wrong: I keep finding bits and pieces in various places.

Months back, we tried two new beers with Bob at L’Ultime Atome, one of my favourite places to have a beer in Brussels: Bousval and Bersalis Triple. According to my old notes, they were quite good, too.

Bousval poured the colour of a copper brewing tun, with fine carbonation and a thick, puffy head. The aroma was fruity, and that developed in the mouth as a raspberry note. It wasn’t sweet. I’d say, and certainly not syrupy, but it seemed to leave a strange hint of honey on the roof of the mouth. Not bad at all.

The second beer that day was Bersalis Triple. This one had light carbonation and a pleasantly thick mouthfeel. There were hints of coriander, and Bob even thought it was bordering on white beer.

It is somewhat spooky that I rediscovered my notes on Bersalis on the same day I tried Oud Beersel Gueuze and Kriek, which hail from the same brewery.

Oud Beersel Gueuze and Kriek

Having been inspired to get back into lambics again by a recent tasting of Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait 2008, and yet another trip to Cantillon, I decided to crack open two bottles of Beersel’s finest I’ve had lying around for a little while. Both the gueuze and the kriek were impressive, made in the traditional way and delivering the classic tastes for these styles.

Beersel Oude Gueuze is similar to Cantillon Gueuze -- with that proper tartness -- but it seems a bit fizzier. On top of that, there are floral and herbal notes. Maybe something like rosemary.

Beersel Oude Kriek has a wonderful pink foam, and the taste seems softer after the gueuze. The kriek is not as tart as I’d expected. There’s a faint hint of sweetness -- just barely -- and the cherries are strong in the aftertaste, which finishes it off very nicely.

Photos from Cantillon

I don’t really have anything new to say about Cantillon Brewery, one of my favourite places in Brussels. But we brought the in-laws down there today, and I took a few photos, so I thought I’d share them here.

We all had a great time and sampled a wonderful glass of Cantillon gueuze, which is still, very rightfully, on my list of top ten Belgian beers.
Cantillon Gueuze

Friday 13 May 2011

Down and out in Oslo

Nøgne Ø IPA
The basic outline of this tale is pretty simple: I went to Oslo, I had three great beers (and one dull one), and now I’m broke. You can read further if you’re into good beer, but if you’re not, you won’t get much more from the story, I’m afraid.

I’d been to the Norwegian capital a number of times before. Actually, it’s where Fiona and I first celebrated our engagement after hitchhiking around Scandinavia with no money for three weeks and figuring that if we could survive that, we might as well buy some rings.

Still, I always forget just how expensive it is. I mean, rationally I know it’s dear, and I mentally brace myself for high prices. But then I get there and freak out when I see what things cost.

I do, however, have a duty to you, gentle readers, to describe the beers of far off lands, so even though I had to sell one kidney and half a spleen to fund the research, here are the tasting notes from my trip...

Saturday 7 May 2011

Five more beers not to try

I’m not really sure what it is about the Ecaussinnes Brewery, but they can’t seem to make a beer I like. In fact, I’ve yet to try a beer from them that I even wanted to finish.

It all started badly with the now infamous Cookie Beer Debacle of November 2010, but my tasting of their Ultra délice, Ultra blonde and Ultra ambrée was not much better.

And today, I tasted the final five bottles from Ecaussinnes, which have been sitting in my to-do case for too long simply due to my dread of even opening them. And believe me when I say “tasted” -- I didn’t have more than a mouthful of any of these. This was purely a scientific effort to make the notes and clear a bit of space in the waiting collection. Truly nothing enjoyable.

Friday 6 May 2011

Barnstormer and Gem (Bath Ales)

We went to a wedding in England recently.

No, not that one. A much nicer one in the West Country. And -- surprise, surprise -- we tried a couple beers while we were in the region over the long weekend.

I’d never been to a Formula-One-themed wedding at a stately home in the Somerset countryside before, and I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity again. But before you start thinking it all sounds a bit odd, let me say that it worked perfectly.

Hallerndorfer Winterweizen

Another one from Germany now. This hefeweizen comes from the Rittmayer Brewery in the village of Hallerndorf south of Bamberg.

It pours a cloudy, dark honey colour, and the aroma is heavily floral. The taste is mostly what you’d expect from a hefeweizen, where those florals take off from a wheaty base, evolving in the mouth to a slightly sour tone, which then stands out in the aftertaste.

Hallerndorfer Winterweizen also has a clear banana note to it, I think.

The only thing I can’t figure out is what makes a winterweizen different from a normal hefeweizen. Maybe it's just the wrong season, but I don’t really see what’s unusual or special here. I guess it’s a bit heavier in body... Is that what I’m supposed to be noticing?

Thursday 5 May 2011

Mmmm... Alts

Düsseldorf has given the world many fine things, I am sure, but for me these days, what it is best known for is Altbier, the local, top-fermented speciality. I was lucky to be introduced to two brands recently by Mike: Uerige Alt and Schlüssel Alt

Uerige Alt pours a lovely copper colour, with fine bubbles. The mouthfeel is warm but thin, and it has that classic, fantastically refreshing bitter thread running right through it.

It’s crisp, and there was no hint of coating on the tongue at all -- no sense of syrupiness, even as it warmed up, though, admittedly, I didn’t give it much time to do so.

I’ve had some other alts before, including Uerige, and I would have said this one was on the far end of the alt bitterness spectrum.

Then I tried Schlüssel Alt at Mike’s Easter Day dinner, and I realised I would have to extend the spectrum a bit. Very impressive. It goes great with asparagus, by the way...

Still, I don’t think I’ve had enough experience to rate all the alts against each other properly. I think we’ll need a weekend in Düsseldorf soon...

White Shield

William Worthington’s White Shield is, I've read, an IPA classic, but then I’ve just seen a handful of reviews that pan its taste, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect as I approach this one.

“Ooh, ugly bottle”, offers Fiona.

Beyond the label and the pop-top, the beer itself is burnt orange, and its bottle conditioning leaves an appetising munginess in the final drops of the pour.

The taste is... good. Not outstanding, but good. It offers solid hop-bitterness front and centre, scraping the tongue with something dry, almost tannic, and leaving a clean finish. Although it has a slightly unwelcome syrupiness, it’s not impossible to live with. Unless you’re Fiona.

“Ooh, too syrupy.”

Maybe I would say it comes across a tiny bit creamy at first, and then that evolves into the hoppy dryness. Not bad at all. I would have it again.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait 2008

Our friends, Nell and Benoit, gave us a bottle of Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait, vintage 2008, and they were careful to explain its rarity: apparently, Boon only makes it in small batches every other year. Exceptional indeed. It has a drink-by date of 2030, and I’m wondering if I should have put it down in the cellar for a few years first...

But the cork pops faster than I can reconsider.

The normal Boon Kriek has between 10 and 25% cherries. This pushes that to 40%. And it seems to be evident in the colour, which is a super-deep-yet-vibrant red, slipping toward maroon but without a hint of brown.

The taste is excellent. It’s not overly sweet like some “krieks”, but it’s not quite hyper-tart in the way that puts some people off Cantillon either. I wouldn’t say it’s a Goldilocks middle-ground, exactly, because Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait is certainly more tart than sweet, thankfully. Still, it seems exactly the right balance to me. 8% alcohol, if you’re counting.

I would say this is my favourite kriek now. I wonder what it would have tasted like if I’d left it till 2030... I need to find another bottle and hide it away...

Twelve Days

Our exploration of British beers continues with Twelve Days from the Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire.

This is one of those absurdly dark brews that I am a sucker for, so the tasting notes come easy: dark, deep and rich, tar, creosote, coffee grounds, a bar of 80% dark chocolate, a river of pitch, well roasted hazelnuts, burnt pizza crust...

You get the idea.

It’s not quite as sticky as some, to be honest, but all the right notes are there. Very lovely. More please.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Samuel Smith’s India Ale

Back to the UK for a moment... And for a beer...

Samuel Smith’s India Ale pours a beautiful reddish orange with a lasting head. The taste is slightly more caramelly than I’d expect from an IPA, but the bitterness shines through. Screams and shouts through, really. So, the crispness is there. Really there.

The label says it’s “fermented in slate Yorkshire ‘squares’”, and while I’m not entirely sure what that does for the taste, I see the ingredients also include “seaweed finings”, and... well, I’m not really sure what that adds either.

Still, the point is, it tastes good. Quite solid indeed.

And after that last disaster, I need it.

This is not a beer tasting

After more than seven and a half years of living in Belgium, I occasionally get the feeling I may be getting close to understanding this country’s politics. Then I have a conversation with someone who actually does...

Sure, I can more or less explain that Belgium hasn’t been able to form a government for 300-and-however-many days since the last elections, and I can sort of outline what each party’s position has been over the last ten months. Add to that various books on the country’s history that I’ve read to be informed about how we ended up in this world-record-breaking situation. I should know what I’m talking about.

But, in truth, I know nothing.

Sunday 1 May 2011

A skip and a hop

We started training for our big family hike this summer, and after the first ten kilometres we somehow managed to end up at Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas, where Fiona and I tried two of the hoppier guest beers in the late afternoon sun.

The first was Mikkeller Willamette Single Hop IPA. Now, after just saying yesterday that I’ve never had a Mikkeller I didn’t adore, this one was, well, not outstanding. The bitterness you’d expect was there, sure, but the overall impression was creamy rather than crisp. A slight hint of cinnamon kept it interesting for a moment, and it did develop in the glass a bit. Still, this beer is too syrupy and sweet. It’s somehow comforting to know that not even Mikkeller gets it perfect 100 per cent of the time.

The second was Saison Dupont Dryhopping, which unquestioningly outshone the earlier IPA in hoppy loveliness: crisper, sharper, with strong lemony bolts shooting through it. There was something of a boiled sweet about it, too, and in this case, that’s a compliment. (It usually isn’t.) Altogether, it was excellent. Normal Saison Dupont is a very good beer, so this one wasn’t much of a surprise, really.