Monday, 31 January 2011

Spanish Tops Smoke

If I told you, dear reader, that I sampled a Spanish beer and German beer the other day, you would hardly be surprised, given my oft-mentioned proclivities. But if I told you that I preferred the former to the latter, you would no doubt send your eyebrows skyward.

Yet it’s true. A couple of quick tap tastings at Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas the other day gave this surprising result.

Iberian in origin, Pura Pale is a lovely ale with a very strong hop element, bitterly refreshing. At 5%, this would be a great session beer.

Affumicator is a German smoke beer, and really, I should learn my lesson with these. I appreciate the novelty, but it’s not really something I can drink much beyond a few sips, which is just as well with this one being 9%. It’s smokier than the Bamberg favourite Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, but again, for me, that’s not selling it.

If you like smoke beers, you’ll love Affumicator, I’m sure. I’ll stick with Pura Pale.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Fisherman’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout

During an Alpine retreat in December, I met with an old friend who brought over two lovely bottles from the US for me. Do I have great friends, or what?

Tonight seemed a good night to open up one of them, Fisherman’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout from the Cape Ann Brewing Company in Massachusetts, because Fiona has baked a pumpkin pie. Do I have a great wife, or what?

This stuff takes stout to extremes. I didn’t so much pour it out of the bottle as coax and convince it out, like ketchup. It’s the colour of old motor oil, and it’s going to take a while to drink it. Maybe a week or so.

But it’s time well spent. The taste is excellent, with a milkshake mouthfeel, and on top of the burnt malts, notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Bitter dark chocolate also plays a leading role.

Now, I’ve absolutely no idea what pumpkin is doing in this beer, but I can honestly say this drink goes well with pumpkin pie.

Dark Island

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m on a serious learning curve with British beers, and this evening, I’m trying my first ever Orcadian ale. Dark Island comes from the Orkney Brewery. It’s dark. And it’s from an island. So far, so good.

The taste is quite interesting. It pours like a stout, gorgeous blacker-than-black with an espresso-crema-like head. A warm tar smell hits you first thing. I mean that as a compliment: as someone who used to work on traditional wooden schooners, this is very welcoming and comforting aroma.

The taste has a certain obvious stoutishness to it, but there’s something more, as well. The bitter chocolate notes are more obvious, and it has something herbal in there (lavender?), with maybe even cumin making its presence felt as it washes down. The label says figs, hmmm... perhaps. Something of stewed fruit for sure.

So, yet another very good ale from the UK. To think what I’ve been missing all these years...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Proper Job IPA

India Pale Ale season continues here on the old blog. Well, if two can be called a series, three is surely a season.

This time, I’ve got a Proper Job in front of me, which comes from the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall. As my delayed education in British bottle conditioned ales continues, I seem to have picked, quite by chance, another winner.

It pours a lovely copper, and the aroma is sharply floral. That continues naturally into the taste, which is first and foremost hop with hop on top. A familiar grapefruit pith note makes it way into the overall mix, as you’d expect. It easily passes the Fiona bitterness test.

I think I’m right in saying that the mouthfeel of this one is slightly creamier than some of the other IPAs I’ve tried, but I’m not sure I’d swear by that. Just seems somewhat thicker for some reason. 5.5%, if you’re asking.

Whatever, it’s lovely

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Kernel IPA Citra

Continuing this week’s series of India Pale Ale tastings (a series of two, so far), I decided to try Kernel IPA Citra this evening. It’s from The Kernel Brewery in London and is yet another treasure I picked up at the Sourced Market shop at St Pancras.

The label is simple and impressive, which drew me to it on the shelf, I admit. Nice work, design team. It pours honey brown with a lot of silt -- once you swish around the bottom for it, as I tend to do with bottle mung.

The taste starts fruity, but quickly runs to super hoppy, super citrusy, super pithy. Fiona, lover of all things hoppy, says, “hmmm, yummy”. For me, the flavours are so full-on that it takes a minute to work through them all. In the end, I figure it’s like a smoothie of ripe passion fruit and chicory. Yummy indeed.

I’ve got to find this one again...

Monday, 17 January 2011

St Peter’s India Pale Ale

Well, after reading Pete Brown’s wonderful book, Hops and Glory, about his travels in the footsteps of India Pale Ale, and after a couple weeks in India, I suppose it was only natural for me to develop a thirst for another IPA.

Luckily, I picked up a few bottles at the Sourced Market shop at St Pancras before the holidays. I wouldn’t say I recreated this beer’s traditional journey like Pete did for his book, but I’m sure the motion of the Eurostar trip to Brussels helped mature the product in its own way.

St Peter’s India Pale Ale pours from its gorgeous, well-travelled bottle a beautiful copper colour, with quite a lasting head on it. The taste is well bitter, with some serious herbal notes. There’s something like baked florals about it as well, if that makes sense -- warm and perfumy, I mean. It seems a tiny bit syrupy, and while in this case that quality is not totally unpleasant, it does seem to detract from the crispness somewhat. 5.5% alcohol.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A somewhat disappointing tasting

Sunday afternoon’s three new beers were mostly disappointments in one way or another. Let’s take them one by one...

First was Witte Vrouwen. Now, how a beer can be named, “White Women”, and get away with it, I really don’t know. I really cannot imagine it in the English-speaking world, anyway. I guess things are a bit different in the Netherlands, where Witte Vrouwen comes from.

But more important than the disturbing non-PC name is the taste. Unfortunately, it’s not very encouraging. For a Belgian-style witbier, there’s not enough spiciness, not enough florals. It’s a bit bland. There’s just not enough going on here, and then the aftertaste is annoyingly sour. Too bad.

Next up was Malheur Bière Brut, a beer I’d been wanting to try for ages, expecting it to be rather like Deus, as it’s also aiming for a spot in that rare champagne-like class of beers. Sadly, Malheur is too syrupy, sticky and heavy to merit much praise. It has none of those tiny bubbles like Deus, nor does it have those outstanding florals I love so much. It’s quite a let-down, particularly as the bottle wasn’t cheap.

Finally, we tried Gageleer. This is one of those unusual beers that follows a traditional method of production, making use of an herbal concoction, or gruit, of bog myrtle. Before hops became the big thing, bog myrtle was used as a flavouring. Apparently that means from the Middle Ages to the 16th century.

The taste here was interesting. Fiona says there’s something of Deus in this one, and yes, I can sense that herbal combination too. But only just. After a faint promise, it goes too bitter and woody. It is, I would say, “over-herbed”. It’s not impossible to drink, but I wouldn’t go for it again. I’ve had one other beer with bog myrtle, Dupont’s Cervesia, and I’d choose that one before this.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The 300th tasting

First, yesterday evening in numbers: I turned 43, the 40b40 blog marked its 3rd anniversary, and we chalked up our 300th tasting. All of this could only happen in one place, the best bar in Brussels, Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas.

Beer number 300 was Hopruiter from the Schelde Brewery (Scheldebrouwerij). It’s a fitting way to complete my third century, given that, of the last 100 beers, some of the most impressive have come from Schelde, which I discovered at the Belgian Beer Weekend last September.

Hopruiter has a thick mouthfeel and a taste with something notably grape about it. In fact, it hits you like a (not particularly sweet) Muscat at first, though the initial fruitiness evolves into hoppy aftertaste. The menu says it’s 8% alcohol, but Bob says no way, seems lower.

It was at about this moment that we tried to find a video on YouTube (Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas has WiFi), but we got rickrolled, which was hugely humiliating, especially on my birthday.

To recover from the embarrassment, we moved on to Mc Vertus. This, beer number 301, hails from the Brasserie Millevertus. It’s stout-ish, though a bit thinner. The dark, burnt malt shines through at first, but then, oddly, the flavour seems to drop off quite quickly. There’s little aftertaste, really. Overall, there’s not as much going on here as we initially expected. Fiona, who thought it had a funny smell, and Bob were both unimpressed. I thought it was good, but not outstanding.

We then sampled Hetzelsdorfer Weihnachts Festbier, a German brew produced by Brauerei Beck near Bamberg, and offered on tap at Moeder Lambic as a guest beer. It’s deeper and richer than what you might expect from looking at it. This Christmas beer is a bit creamy with a light spiciness and a solid hoppiness. 5.5% alcohol and a little flat. Bob notes, quite rightly, that it’s a bit like Palm, though it’s surely less sweet. In all, it’s undemanding but moreish. Yum.

We wrapped up the evening with a bottle Hop Flower Power, from De Ranke. Beer number 303, if you’re still counting. “It’s only been brewed once”, we are assured, hence the “Harvest 2009” on the label, which is, um, not really the best I’ve ever seen. “With De Ranke, the uglier the label, the better the beer”, someone said, “and this is the best.”

This beer is dry hopped, and the taste is tumbling waterfalls of hop on hop, which is quite welcome in the current hop-hungry phase I seem to be going through. It’s got a comfortable mouthfeel, too. 6%. Quite lovely.

All in all, a great birthday evening. Ah, Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas, I can truly say, I’m never gonna give you up.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Herkenrode Tripel

You know, sometimes when I’m writing this blog, I just stop and think: ho-leeeee, this country has a lot of beers I’ve never heard of. After writing tasting notes for some 298 beers so far -- now 299 -- that’s saying something.

But not only are there a lot of beers I’ve never heard of. There are a lot of high-quality beers I’ve never heard of. Take tonight’s offering, the abbey beer Herkenrode Tripel, for example.

It pours a wonderful golden blonde, and the taste is something special. It’s unusual, with the traditional elements of a typical Belgian tripel, sure -- grapefruit pith, in particular -- but also a riot of herbs and a bit of pine. More than a bit, maybe.

This one deserves more attention and another taste. Now, if I could only remember where I bought this bottle...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Two Beers, One Country

Belgium continues to uphold its reputation as the world’s most livable failed state. More than six months after the national elections, the country still hasn’t got a new government.

The political leaders of French speakers and Flemish speakers can’t seem to agree on anything that might bring back a sense of normality here, and a popular movement has emerged to protest their fecklessness and highlight the absurdity of it all, with men agreeing not to shave until a new cabinet is decided.

This seems a perfect moment, therefore, to remind everyone of at least one thing that brings the Walloons and Flemish together: beer. So, I’ll taste one from each side of the divide today. In fact, these beers come from opposite ends of the country, with Mont Saint Aubert Blonde Triple being produced right up against the French border in Wallonia and Scheldebrouwerij Mug Dryhop Special coming from the far reaches of Flanders, just a step or two away from the Netherlands.

Of course, deciding which one to have first could have caused a problem. But rather than getting bogged down in months of negotiations, I just flipped a coin. (There may be a lesson in there for some people...)

Mont Saint Aubert Blonde Triple won the toss, and we shared it with a dear friend, alongside whom we've travelled many miles and enjoyed many beers over the years. This 750ml bottle has been another one sitting in my "to-taste case" for several months. It hails from the Brasserie de Brunehaut, makers of such fine beers as St Martin Blonde.

The taste was smooth and creamy, with a hint of orange peel and marzipan. Fiona found it slightly too sour, but I think it’s quite good. I’d easily go for another bottle.

But in the spirit of unity and reconciliation, I move on to a Flemish beer, Mug Dryhop Special from the Scheldebrouwerij, makers of Wildebok and some other excellent beers I became a fan of at the Belgian Beer Weekend in September, back when the country had only been without a government for a mere two or three months.

As for taste, there’s no hiding the “hop” part of “Dryhop Special” here. Mug is bitter florals all over. The mouthfeel is somewhat thin and watery rather than creamy. Alcohol level is a low 5%. It’s all very refreshing and moreish.

So, two solid beers, one Walloon and one Flemish, about which everyone can agree.

TV beer reruns

I just learned that, while we were off on holiday sampling Indian beer, TV Brussels featured the package they did with me back in September as part of a year-end round up of their favourite stories of 2010: Brussels International Jaaroverzicht. It's about six minutes in.

To view the original segment in its entirety, have a look here.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Brasserie de Bellevaux Blonde

I've been creeping up on two magic numbers this week: 43 and 300. Friday is my 43rd birthday and, with any luck, the 300th beer tasting on this blog. But since I'm only at 295 at the moment, I'd better get cracking. On then to Brasserie de Bellevaux Blonde...

Brasserie de Bellevaux produces an excellent Brune and an outstanding Black, so I've been keen to try their Blonde, a bottle of which has been waiting patiently in my inbox for a month or two.

The taste lives up to my high expectations of this small brewery in the Ardennes town of Malmedy. The overall mouthfeel is smooth, with fine carbonation. It’s got a firm but not overwhelming bitterness, offset by notes of orange peel, a pinch of white pepper, and a very gentle kiss of honey.

Overall, Brasserie de Bellevaux Blonde gets solid marks from me.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Travelling in India is overwhelming in nearly every possible way. The religions, the languages, the ethnic groups, the regional variety, the wealth differentials, the colours, the noises, the smells, the spices, the street life, the wildlife... everything competes for the visitor’s attention in one constant, all-engulfing, head-on rush of sensory overload.

Everything, that is, apart from the beer.

“How would you describe it?”, I ask Fiona after we crack open the first Kingfisher Gold of our holiday in south India.

“I’d describe it as the only beer available.”

She ain’t kidding either. Beer is not exactly easy to find in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It’s about the only thing not growing on trees in this area of rich soils and lush vegetation. When you do find a beer, it’s Kingfisher or, um, well, Kingfisher, though, the bird is far more common than the bottle.

To add to the bizarre aspect of it all, in some restaurants beer will only be served in teapots and coffee mugs. This has something to do with the complexity of alcohol licensing laws in India and its individual states. If I had felt like doing intensive research instead of having a holiday, I might have figured it out, I guess. But in the end, we found it easy enough to acclimatise to “more tea, vicar” when we had to for a couple weeks.

Getting back to the taste, there is not much to report, really. It’s one of those beers that’s passable in hot weather -- what I call a warm-climate lager -- but it has to be served icy cold or it tastes syrupy.

About the only question remaining is whether “Kingfisher Gold” is different enough from “Kingfisher Super Strong” or “Kingfisher Blue” to merit separate tasting notes. The latter two labels we came across once or twice, and both are 6%, as opposed to the 5% of “Gold”, and they are also a bit maltier. They are all equally unchallenging, however.

But, really, so what? All three are suitable to accompany spicy curries, of which we had more than a few. New Year’s Eve was particularly memorable, when we celebrated at a friend’s place in a remote part of Tamil Nadu. With a tandoori oven pumping out the tikka and naan bread, a Kingfisher or two go down very nicely, thank you.

As long as you can find it.

A real one, seen in the Backwaters of Kerala