Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Buckwheat and pixies

My opinion of beer labels showing pixies, sprites, gnomes, fairies and trolls is well-known among readers of this blog, I assume. Still, allow me to summarise my general thesis on the matter here for the uninitiated: they are stupid.

The makers of tonight’s beer, Sara, have unfortunately never received these sage words of wisdom, by the look of it. Nor, for that matter, has the Brasserie de Silenrieux thought much about their online presence, which has the catchy web address:

Of course, marketing doesn’t really matter if the taste is there -- a maxim of many small Belgian brewers, I suppose, given the often alarming disparity between comical efforts outside the bottle and exceptional product within.

Though the aforementioned website shows it to be dark in the glass, Sara actually pours straw blonde. The mouthfeel is somewhat thin and fizzy, and overall it is quite light and refreshing. Most intriguingly, it offers some pleasant and gentle fruity notes: grape, strawberry and Galia melon.

The name “Sara” apparently comes from sarrasin, the French word for buckwheat, from which this beer is made. Silenrieux also makes a beer from spelt called Joseph, which tasted more like the liquid leavings from a wrung sock. Sara is thankfully different, and despite bad labelling and an ugly URL, the beer itself is worth having again.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Today's beer, OWA, is a bit of a mystery. The label says it’s, “brewed in Belgium by Japanese brewer”, but the website offered,, doesn’t reveal much more.

Some additional online research unearths a site that has a bit more information, but it’s still not a whole lot to go on. The bottle before me may have been brewed at Brasserie de la Senne. Or perhaps De Ranke.

The brewer, it seems, is Leo Imai, who may actually have a recording contract with EMI. Or maybe not.

But enough mystery. Let’s move on to the taste. An amber beer, OWA has a thin yet fizzy mouthfeel, and the base is a good mix of sweet and bitter. It has notes of Tootsie Roll, somewhat oddly... 5.5% alcohol. Overall, it’s OK, though not spectacular.

The brewer says OWA is especially good in combination with sushi and sweet soy sauce. Thinking about it for a bit, that’s probably quite right. I bet they would all work pretty well together...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Dulle Griet

Scheldebrouwerij, some readers may recall, was the Belgian beer find of 2010, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve had five or six of the beers from this small producer north of Antwerp, and every single one has been outstanding. The names of their excellent brews -- such as Hopruiter, Oesterstout and Wildebok -- are now etched in my mind as labels to look out for when on a bottle hunt.

Tonight’s beer, Dulle Griet, is no exception to the rule and looks set to join them on the mental shopping list.

Dulle Griet pours a murky brown, and its flavour is dominated by dark caramels. It’s not at all sweet, however. Delightful black cherry notes peek in oh so briefly through the chocolaty, earthy mist. Overall, it’s somewhat similar to last night’s Hof ten Dormaal Donker, but Dulle Griet is a bit creamier in mouthfeel. Excellent stuff.

It confirms everything I know about Scheldebrouwerij: if you see any of their products anywhere, buy them. You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

First trans-Atlantic beer podcast

Well, Bob and I finally managed the technology, and we at long last synchronised our beer purchases, so that this evening we sat down and made our first trans-Atlantic beer tasting podcast.

We tried Hof ten Dormaal Donker, an excellent farmhouse dark ale. Opening the bottles proved a bit messy, but the experience was well worth it, with rewardingly complex layers of flavours, including chocolate and brandy.

I leave you with the podcast...

Beerly Coherent 10: Hof ten Dormaal Donker (mp3)

Halal beer: La Sultane Kriek

Once again, Fiona has come home from shopping with an amazing find. This time it’s La Sultane Kriek, a halal beer. Following on our tasting of the kosher beer, He’brew, a few weeks ago, it somehow seems only right to give this one a try too.

Belgium’s Caulier Brewery is clearly trying to reach out to a new market here, but whether they are on to something is hard to say. This drink is properly certified halal, and that may draw interest from some practicing Muslims here in Belgium. Perhaps it has export potential as well. This blog on (mostly) Belgian beer receives plenty of hits from predominantly Muslim countries, including some where alcohol is completely illegal, and maybe some of those readers would prefer a non-alcoholic product with a bit more style than the average “near beer” you tend to get in the Near East.

In taste, La Sultane Kriek is like a super sweet cherry soda, much more similar to Belle-Vue Kriek than a traditionally made kriek where tartness predominates, like Cantillon Kriek or, my favourite now, Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait. The absence of alcohol probably does remove some balance from the overall flavour, but it’s hard to discern much of anything beyond sugar.

If La Sultane Kriek helps Caulier access new markets, that’s great. But for me, I’ll stick with tart krieks over sweet.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

June madness

About a thousand things happen all at once every June. The kids go into exam mode, and Fiona struggles through countless end-of-year reports and various meetings concerning her students. That makes for a stressed family, and it only gets worse when downtown shopping is on the Saturday agenda, adding my annoyance to the mix and making it a four-out-of-four grumpy bear picnic.

About the only thing that can get me into Central Brussels on a Saturday is the promise that, when the shopping is over, we can duck in somewhere for a good beer. So it was today, when, after being battered by wave after wave of shoppers, we washed up on the familiar shores of Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas.

I went for a guest beer, Montegioco Open Mind. Having tried the outstanding Zona Cesarini a few days ago, I was optimistic about another Italian ale. Open Mind starts out a bit sweet, but a late bitterness kicks in eventually. It has a very notable green apple flavour, if not the tartness that might imply. There are loads of layers besides: florals, fruits, herbs... Complex and fascinating.

Fiona chose a Mikkeller Bravo Single Hop IPA, which was simply gorgeous. Super hoppy and floral-citrus. Excellent in every way.

Not sure either could ever fully alleviate the stress of a hunter-gatherer foray into downtown in June, but it helps, that’s for sure.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Beer in the age of austerity

These are tough times here in Europe. With the Greek crisis threatening the collapse of the euro, member states are facing austerity measures in an attempt to bring finances under control. It is in a spirit of solidarity, that we embrace tonight’s beer.

Delhaize 365 Pils Bière, a supermarket own-brand lager, costs exactly 14 euro-cents per bottle. It cannot get any more austere than this, dear readers.

Somewhat shockingly considering the price, it’s actually not awful. It pours out with a decent head, and the flavour has a sturdy crisp, hoppiness. For a bargain pils, it’s OK. In fact, penny for penny, Delhaize 365 Pils Bière probably cannot be beat. Served cold, it’s even better than Jupiler and others in the "premium pils" group.

Shall we ship some to Athens?

[UPDATE: More on the European crisis and beer...]

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Léon 1893

Chez Léon is something of an institution in Brussels. By many accounts, it is this city’s best friture -- a word that might translate as “chippie” if you didn’t understand the Belgian adoration of the deep fried potato. After all, how many chip shops do you know of that have a tri-lingual website and take reservations for dinner?

Elevating its status higher still, Chez Léon also has its own beer.

Produced for the restaurant by St Feuillien brewery, Léon 1893 is a fairly tasty blonde ale, which also comes in live bottles sometimes available at the supermarket, which is how we’re drinking it this evening.

It pours dark golden and has a stiff head. The flavour starts off much as you’d expect for the style, but it includes an odd vegetable note -- steamed celery? They’ve added orange peel apparently, and it is just about noticeable.

I imagine it would go very well with moules-frites. I’ll have to phone and make a reservation at the chippie soon.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Beer blog impact...

It’s been a busy and exciting week on the proper job side of things, with some wonderfully spirit-boosting signs of success. I was selected as one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “FP Twitterati 100”, a sort of who’s who of 140-character commentators on international affairs. And just a few days before that, one of my blog posts got over 20,000 pageviews in a single day, which for me is a record.

When it comes to this humble beer blog, however, evidence of impact is a bit harder to come by. Rewards and recognition are rare, and daily readership tends to be in the hundreds of pageviews rather than tens of thousands. Still, something happened today that gave me some encouragement.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

La Trappe Puur

Brooklyn Bob and I are currently in complex negotiations over a trans-Atlantic tasting event, and the issue of which beer to feature is causing us some headaches. When I suggested La Trappe Puur, he scoffed, saying we’d tried it before, and it didn’t deserve a write-up, let alone an international podcast.

But I can’t remember ever having tried it, and I have no notes on it in my master list, so I decided to test Bob’s theory and open a bottle of it tonight.

I haven’t been a great fan of the La Trappe products, and I’ve tried most of the beers from this Dutch Trappist brewery: La Trappe Blond, La Trappe Dubbel, La Trappe Quadrupel, and La Trappe Witte. But none of them impressed me hugely.

Organic La Trappe Puur, however, is quite good. Sorry, Bob.

It’s got a thinnish mouthfeel, and it’s very sharp and wonderfully hoppy. Refreshing. The relatively low alcohol level (4.7%) makes it go down easy, and I can imagine it as a very solid session beer. Overall, La Trappe Puur is much like the fantastic Westmalle Extra, though it is missing that spiciness.

I wish Puur were easier to find. I’ve never seen it before today. Honest, Bob, I’m sure I haven’t...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Guilt-free Beer: Bolivar

Today’s new beer is Bolivar, a Fairtrade beer from Oxfam, which we bought at one of their charity shops here in Brussels a while back. And before you ask: no, it’s not a second-hand beer.

It is produced for Oxfam by the Huyghe Brewery, makers of the various Delerium beers, including the delightful, Delerium Christmas. The label bills Bolivar as, “the best of both worlds”, with the traditional brewing methods of the global north (read: Belgium), and ingredients from the global south, specifically: cane sugar from Costa Rica, quinoa from Bolivia and rice from Thailand.

So, drinking this beer is a do-gooder act -- if you don’t think too much about your carbon footprint perhaps...

But how does it taste? Well, it starts off looking and smelling like a fairly typical Belgian strong blonde ale, but the mouthfeel is thin, rather than fizzy or fluffy. It has something of a clay note about it, which is not very welcome, but the bitterness kicks in to help the drink along somewhat. The alcohol level is 7.5%, but it seems more noticeable than it should be.

Overall, I’d say the warm feeling of the concept tops the flavour of the actual product.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


I’ve seen a number of reviews of this beer, but I don’t just want to parrot what I’ve read elsewhere, so here’s mine.

Papegaei is from the Verstraete brewery in Diksmuide, West Flanders. It’s a strong blonde ale and fairly honest to that Belgian style, though it is perhaps a fizzier and foamier in mouthfeel. The taste includes notes of herbs and boiled sweet. Fiona picked up violet on the nose as well.

We would say it’s solid enough for the style, but not particularly outstanding or unusual.

As for food pairing, it would probably go well with, um, a cracker?

Saturday, 18 June 2011


About ten years ago, we spent the Christmas break on Sardinia. It was a famous family learning experience.

We learned that the Mediterranean is not a warm get-away in winter. The entire island was cold, grey and wet for the whole week, and no place we stayed had any heating.

We learned not to give our children dairy products before travelling. Our daughter covered the inside of the car in vomit within about five minutes of our renting it.

And we learned not to buy flights just because they’re cheap.

All these memories of Sardinia came rushing back when Fiona came home the other day with a bottle of Ichnusa, a beer from that ill-fated isle. Where she finds these things in Brussels, I don’t know.

The taste is nothing special. It’s a typical mass-market lager with nothing much to distinguish it from hundreds of others. Still, it’s not bad. I can still find a way to enjoy it.

That’s how it was with the holiday, too, really. Things like freezing rain and a chunder-mobile made no difference -- Sardinia is still very beautiful. Any holiday is still a holiday, and any beer is still a beer.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel

The phone rings in the middle of the day: an emergency call from the wife.

“Hi, what’s up? Everything OK?”

“I’m in the supermarket. You’ll never guess what I’ve found!”


“Chouffe IPA.”


“Yeah”, says Fiona. “How many bottles should I get?”

It’s wonderful how, after 19 years of living side by side, two minds become one...

“How many can you carry?”

We had no idea Chouffe made an IPA. Actually, we didn’t know that any Belgian brewer was really concentrating on this style. And with our recent IPA proclivities, this is big news.

So, not wishing to waste any time at all, we tried it this evening.

It pours a gorgeous cloudy gold, with loads of fizz and a robust head. The taste is immediately hop-rich, for sure, in that way of all IPA goodness, with strong floral and citrus notes. We think it’s creamier and more buttery than other IPAs -- that's the tripel part, the Belgian shining through -- and it’s also quite strong at 9%. And very bitter.

“It’s almost too bitter,” says Fiona, “almost too harsh.”

Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel is very good. An excellent find, though it’s powerful and almost intimidating stuff. For a hoppy Belgian session beer, we’d still prefer Taras Boulba. But for special occasions and dedicated tasting sessions, Chouffe IPA is very much worth picking up if you ever see it in your supermarket.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Caulier Bon Secours Blonde

Here’s another bottle that’s been patiently sitting in my “to taste” case for rather a long time: Caulier Bon Secours Blonde. I wasn’t overly impressed with its sibling, Bon Secours Brune, but we should always keep our minds open...

The taste is unbalanced: strongly alcoholic with artificial fruit -- like vodka jelly (jello) -- and a fairly unpleasant clay note that leaves a dusty aftertaste on the tongue. Nope, sorry. Not good.

Yes, we should always keep an open mind, but at times, it may be better not to open our mouths.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Waterloo Triple 7

I acquired this one a long time ago, and it has been sitting in my “to taste” crate for ages. But tonight, I couldn’t escape if I wanted to: I am finally facing my Waterloo.

I think when I first saw this beer from Brasserie du Bocq, I figured it was a bit of a gimmick, but actually it delivers on taste.

Typical for a strong blonde Belgian ale, it’s got a subtle, creamy mouthfeel, with a bitterness that leads toward grapefruit pith, though in this case doesn’t quite get there. It has some lovely candy lemon drop notes too. It’s not hugely complex, perhaps, but it’s very decent and respectable.

In all, an enjoyable beer. Waterloo, I’m not sure I’ll promise to love you for ever more, but if offered another, how could I ever refuse?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Spéciale Op-Ale

Say you’re on a mission deep behind enemy lines. The black helicopters bring you to the designated rendezvous point on a moonless night, from where you hike over two mountain passes to sneak up on the adversary’s redoubt under the cover of darkness. You overpower the sentries at the gate using only a paperclip and an old gym sock so as to remain undetected.

Then, you nearly reach the inner sanctum of the enemy commander... But something goes wrong: you trip over your untied shoelaces and stumble into a Ming dynasty vase, sending it flying across the room and shattering into a million pieces at the leader’s feet. The alarm is raised, guards appear as if from nowhere, and you find yourself in their custody and facing a grisly death faster than you can say “shark-filled tank”.

When given your last request, what beer would you ask for? What brew could possibly match your extreme lifestyle and quench your extraordinary thirst for adventure?

Only “Special Ops Ale” would do, of course. Nine out of ten Navy SEALs swear by it.

If that’s not available, however, you could try “Spéciale Op-Ale” from Affligem, because, hey, getting a Navy SEAL to swear is probably not that hard anyway.

Spéciale Op-Ale is a bottle-fermented amber that pours gummy bear orange. In taste, it’s got a thin mouthfeel, and it has something of a boiled sweet about it -- cherry cough drops emerge, particularly in the aftertaste. Still, it has a good underlying bitterness that keeps it interesting, if not exactly adventurous.

Monday, 13 June 2011

’t IJ IJbok

Now that two months of hot, dry summer here in Brussels have turned into wet and windy spring, it seems a good moment to try something dark. Hunting through the “to taste” crates, we spot a bottle of ’t IJ IJbok that Bob must have donated to the cause at some point.

We’ve had a number of very good beers from Brouwerij ’t IJ in Amsterdam in the past but never their IJbok. Surely this is a safe bet.

’t IJ IJbok pours a deep amber with a creamy head. The taste is slightly sweet caramel with notes of roasted tomato and burnt paprika. It evolves in the mouth into a very prominent burnt malt aftertaste, which leaves a lasting bitterness.

It’s certainly complex and interesting. I’m not sure I’d rush out to find another bottle, but I’d order it again when I needed a bit of warmth on a gloomy, overcast day.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A blonde and a stout

After Friday’s aborted night out at L’Imprimerie due to a minor medical emergency, Fiona and I decided to make up for lost tasting time last night by going to Chez Moeder Lambic (St Gilles), where we tried two new beers on tap: La Grognarde and Troubador Obscura. Both were excellent.

La Grognarde is produced by the Brasserie Sainte Hélène in the village of Ethe, which is about as far south as you can get in Belgium. “It has an ugly name”, says Fiona, “but the beer is good”. It’s more than good, in fact. This blonde has citrus notes rising from a prominent hop base around a thinnish mouthfeel, leading up to a surprisingly tart aftertaste. 5.5% alcohol doesn’t get in the way of anything. Overall: highly recommended.

Troubador Obscura, from the Brouwerij De Musketiers in the village Ursel, located between Gent and Bruges, is stout-ish: beautifully burnt and bittersweet, with notes of dark chocolate, cork, liquorice, and espresso. 8.2% is fairly high, but it blends in well. Wowzers. it’s great.

Once again, Chez Moeder Lambic has chosen some excellent guest beers. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with any of their selections. I guess that’s why it’s on my list of top ten places for beer in Brussels.

Corsendonk Agnus Tripel

After a spell of shopping this afternoon, we stopped off at L’Ultime Atome, one of my ten favourite places for beer in Brussels, and settled in for a glass. Saturdays around there are pretty noisy, with loads of frantic and frustrated shoppers and honking cars, not to mention the bells of St Boniface going off. Sitting outside is not the most relaxing, but at least there’s lots of free entertainment.

I ordered a Corsendonk Agnus Tripel so I could finally end a long-running controversy. Back in the days leading up to the original 40b40 challenge, the whole enterprise nearly failed to get off the ground because of what became known as “the Corsendonk Crisis”.

It started with a simple argument, but it set off a wave of conflicts that spread bitterness among all parties concerned. Though a way forward was found in the weeks of negotiations that followed, the resulting agreement meant that during the official 40 days, we only had Corsendonk Pater Dubbel and no other Corsendonk offering.

Now, three and a half years later, I think the scars have healed to a significant extent, and in the interests of true reconciliation, it’s finally time to write up Corsendonk Agnus Tripel.

After so much time and trouble, the tasting notes are perhaps surprisingly simple. Agnus pours radiantly fizzy, and the taste is crisp with a refreshing bitterness. There’s no need to argue after all: it is uncontroversially, an excellent Belgian tripel.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ekla Pils at L’Imprimerie

We had a unexpectedly short tasting last night, having to leave L’Imprimerie restaurant and microbrewery about ten minutes after sitting down due to a bit of an emergency: our daughter sprained her ankle at the school disco. But before we got the urgent call, we managed to at least sample L’Imprimerie’s Ekla Pils.

I’m not sure I understand exactly how the current location and brand ownership are related to the former Vandenheuvel Brewery, which used to produce Ekla. However, there must be some sort of arrangement, because the restaurant plays on the connection strongly, with old “Vandenheuvel” and “Vandenheuvel Ekla” signs on display everywhere.

L’Imprimerie, just off Place St Job in Uccle, is a somewhat strange place, being a restaurant in the evening, a nightclub in the early hours and a microbrewery throughout. It doesn’t look like they emphasise the brewing aspect too much. Rather it seems to be just one very small part of their overall business. I’m not sure they take it that seriously either: while they have three beers on the menu and offer a “tasting platter” of four, in fact, the only one they were actually pouring was the pils.

Also, I’m not sure how well informed the staff is about beer. Fiona and I watched in horror as the bartender used a straw to stir up a bit of head on some beers she had poured earlier -- to make them appear fresh, one supposes. Ew...

Still, the beer itself didn’t taste so bad. Ekla Pils is a bit cloudier in looks and thicker in mouthfeel than you might expect. It’s got some sort of herby note to it as well. Not bad.

But sadly, we didn’t have much time to really ponder its virtues extensively. We had to move to the call of the disco.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

May tasting evening

Yes, yes, I’m still catching up on old notes... So, here are a few lines about a tasting evening we organised last month.

The menu included four beers I’ve written up before: the floral Gulpener Korenwolf, the sublime V Cense, the strange Liefmans Goudenband, and the darkly rich Floreffe Prima Melior. We also had two beers new to the 40b40: Brunehaut Bio Blonde and Oude Geuze Boon.

Brunehaut Bio Blonde is a decent blonde and a solid representative of its class, though somewhat surprisingly low in alcohol for this style of beer at 6.5%. It’s “bio”, so that means it’s organic and healthy.

Oude Geuze Boon is a Belgian classic that I’ve strangely never tried before, despite many personal recommendations and three and a half years of writing about this country’s beers. Of course, at the tasting evening, I gave everyone the spiel about the tradition of spontaneous fermentation and how Louis Pasteur came along and changed everything -- the Cantillon lecture, as it’s becoming known to those who have had to endure me delivering it more than once.

The Boon Brewery, located in a small town just outside Brussels, has, like the Cantillon Brewery, maintained the old ways, and their geuze is wonderful. I got the impression I liked it maybe even more than Cantillon Gueuze, but I think without a side-by-side test, that’s unfair. An all lambic and gueuze tasting evening is needed...

Jazzy Estaminet

Another Brussels Jazz Marathon came and went a couple weekends ago, once again leaving me with some fond memories -- and some tasting notes to catch up on. This time, it was Estaminet Premium Pils from the Palm Brewery, makers of Palm Royale among others, and one of the sponsors of the festival.

Every year, we try to catch a couple of acts over the weekend of musical merriment, but there’s so much packed into such a short time span that no matter how much you get to see, you never hear more than a small fraction of the bands on offer.

One thing we always manage to do, however, is the kids’ event on Saturday afternoon. It’s on Grand Sablon, where the middle of the square is turned into a stage for various acts, with tables set up in the audience, all surrounded by activities for the children and a small café serving, among other things, Palm beers. When the weather’s decent, as it was this year, it’s a great place to spend the day with the family.

With the kids off at various drumming lessons in tents, Fiona and I tried Estaminet Premium Pils. It was served in a plastic cup, so we didn’t hope for much, and indeed, it lived up to our expectations. It was standard stuff and nothing outstanding in the taste apart from an unfortunate hint of cardboard.

But hey, it was cool and carbonated, the music was good, and we were all well entertained. If I have it again next year, I won’t complain too much.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


When Bob was over a few weeks ago, it was absurdly hot. So, together with Fiona, we got the barbeque going and shared a few new India Pale Ales. Regular readers of this blog will know that the 40b40 has been going through something of an IPA phase lately, but the weekend did continue, and we did try a few beers of other styles as well.

With the sun high in the sky and the coals roasting my face as I turned the veggie sausages, Bob arrived with a notebook and a bottle of Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest. It’s one of that brewery’s “Special Release” beers, apparently, and it was excellent.

Just how excellent is hard to tell now, writing this some time later, because on this rare occasion Bob was scribbling the tasting notes, and I can barely read a word on the paper.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A few Sarajevo beers

I just returned from yet another work trip -- hopefully the last one until the summer holidays -- and yes, there was time for a few beers...

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not known as a major brewing powerhouse, but because the country’s mix of historic ties includes a strong Central European element, you’d at least expect to find some decent local beers. Indeed, the Sarajevo Brewery (Sarajevska Pivara) has an impressive brewing tradition stretching back to 1864 and, at times since then, has been a major regional producer.

I tried three of their beers: Sarajevsko pivo normal lager, their “Premium” lager, and their dark beer. None of them are spectacular, to be honest, but I enjoyed them all anyway. Circumstances played a part, I suppose.