Monday, 28 May 2012

Hoegaarden Rosée 0.0%

Nothing. That’s what Hoegaarden Rosée 0.0% promises. And that’s what it delivers.

It’s not a product I would normally buy, let alone drink, but a can came free with one of our online shopping orders, so it sat around for a bit until the right occasion.

That moment came when our friends Alison and Gareth dropped over for the weekend, and we sat on the terrace sun-trap on the hottest day of the year so far. We were all parched after a walk around town to check out the Jazz Marathon, but while the rest of us were spoiled for choice of beers, there was nothing for pregnant Alison.

So, we offered Alison nothing. Or Hoegaarden Rosée 0.0% as it were.

It’s supposed to be a non-alcoholic wheat beer with raspberry essence, but it really falls into the non-beer category, I think. Anyway, it was safe for the bump.

Most Belgian beer labels are very clear about the inappropriateness of their alcohol-laden products for the gravid among us. It takes a moment to decipher the symbol, however -- we initially thought it suggested that beer was not suitable for people with back problems and beer bellies. But no: it means that pregnant women shouldn’t drink beer. Who knew?

And the verdict on Hoegaarden Rosée 0.0% by Alison, now drinking for two?

“It’s not beer”, she said, “but it’s drinkable.”

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Saison Dupont Dry Hop

I've been on sabbatical for about six weeks now, and although I'm keeping busy improving my French, this period is naturally evolving into a time for some reflection on life. Don't worry: I won't bore you with any pseudo-philosophical mid-lifery, and I'm not the kind of person who gets buckety about fleeting experiences I hope to go through before I kick it. I'm not living my life from a tick-list.

But I have thought about what advice I would give anyone who might ask. Not that anyone has asked, mind you, and not that anyone's likely to any time soon. You know, just in case sort of. I mean, well, no one ever asked me to write a beer blog either.

Here's the not-so-big idea:

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Hibernator Oatmeal Stout (Black Isle Organic)

There's so much I don't understand about economics and finance that I really ought to buy a book or something about it. I took some econ courses while doing both my bachelors and my masters, but for the most part, I can only remember things I think I had probably already known: buy low sell high, when more people want what you've got you can probably charge more for it, prices go up faster than they go down... Oh, and I remember one prof explaining the Communist system of a command economy with the very accurate summary: "essentially, it was just pants".

At least I can say to myself that I'm not as dumb about economics and finance as some people. I mean, I never spent billions more than I earned, like some countries. I never lent vast sums to governments that couldn't pay it back, like some of the major European banks. And I didn't lose a couple billion on some inexplicable shell game like one major international bank just did. Amid the on-going collapse of the international financial system, I suppose it may seem rather petty, but I do take some small comfort in realising that there are people out there even more unknowledgeable and inept than I am.

Still, these days, I am regularly reminded of my weaknesses in the economics sphere as I watch the discussion of the euro. I don't even know what to start thinking, because I hear such different messages from the experts. I know, I know: put two EU member states in a room and you have three opinions about economics. But still, I'm confused even more than normal.

Part of my problem is the variety of media I consume. Following the UK press, I see pure organic doom of the darkest form. The euro was a terrible idea from the start, it's all gone pear-shaped, and the only joy within this catastrophe is that we get to say we told you so. But when I read a lot of the continental press, I see doom has a clear limit. Things are bad, and we've been spending money we don't have, but we know what steps are needed to fix things, and once we figure out how we can take those steps and still get re-elected, this whole mess will be sorted out quite quickly.

Which brings me to Hibernator Oatmeal Stout from Black Isle Brewery. If you are mesmerised by pure organic doom of the darkest form like I am, then you are going to love this beer. The flavours of chocolate, coffee, under-ripe blackberries and a hint of old leather will astound you. And it’s organic, so it’s good for you and it promotes a more sustainable future -- which is more than you can say for the international financial system. In short, invest in a few bottles of this.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Reader question: Beer shopping in Brussels

I get quite a few emails from readers, and though I sadly never have time to answer them all, I thought I could at least publish a few of them once in a while, along with my responses.

One question I get asked quite a lot comes from people planning beer-related trips to Belgium who want to know where to buy their favourite brands while here. I’ve written about the best bars in Brussels before (though that list may be a bit dated), but readers are also keen to know about purchasing bottles in the shops here.

Most recently, Mark Peachey got in touch from Australia...

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cuvée De Ranke

After a day that included swimming 2.25 kilometres and walking about 15, we are finally getting a moment to rest out on the terrace sun trap. And we've even got sun for a few minutes, which is nothing short of miraculous given the weather in Brussels over the past six or seven weeks.

Somewhere in our travels, we found a great new cheese shop that also sells De Ranke beers, so we bought some Sainte Meuere and some Brie de Melun fermier along with a bottle of Cuvée de Ranke. Now we're home, and it could just be that we're exhausted, but it all seems a perfect combination.

Cuvée de Ranke pours a copper orange with a very subdued head. The initial aroma is like a lambic: piss and vinegar. The first taste is urine-tart, to be honest, but it's not off-putting, if that makes sense -- and if I haven't lost hold of my senses.

Seriously, the sourness is absolutely lovely, and it scours through the cheese coating your tongue like nothing else I can imagine. No wine has the strength of sharpness to do that.

Add to that notes of dried apricots and pineapple, and you really have something special here.

If you are looking for a straightforward beer that doesn’t challenge your senses, then don’t bother, but for everyone else, find a bottle of this and buy some quality cheese to go with it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Newcastle Flash

I can't really imagine there is anyone reading these lines who hasn't tried Newcastle Brown Ale, so there seems little use in describing its taste. But a Geordie friend's gift of a bottle, flown direct from the source (Thanks, Christine!), does seem a good opportunity for me to share my one and only Newcastle story.

What follows is a disturbing yarn, and it is perhaps a bit NSFW. Though if you’re following a beer blog at work, then reading this story will not bring you any more trouble than you are already in...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Stroppy Vending Inferno

Ghent is a lovely city with some excellent beers, but you do have to get past the beer vending machine in the main train station to try them. Yes, there is a vending machine that sells beer. Or Jupiler as it were...

Still, this will no doubt come as quite a shock to many readers, particularly those living in countries less liberal than Belgium. Or Flanders as it were...

Between visiting friends and occasionally speaking at the university there, I actually get to Ghent reasonably often, and I always try to sample one of the local beers while I’m there. But two Ghent beers came to me recently...

Monday, 7 May 2012

Brodie’s Dalston Black IPA

"This is awesome", I said.

"It doesn't make sense", she said.

"What doesn't make sense?"

"Black IPA. You know, a black pale ale."

"Oh that. Well, yes, we've been through this before: of course it doesn't make sense, but it's awesome anyway."

"It's too dark."

"That's the black part."

"For an IPA, I mean."

"Have you tried it?"

Saturday, 5 May 2012


Here’s one that’s apparently drawing some attention in Antwerp these days, smuggled out to me by a resident of that great city a month or so ago.

Seefbier is a new beer in a sense, given that it was only launched in March, but it’s also an old beer, brewed to an original Antwerp recipe. The marketing plays heavily on this tradition, and the label sports a retro theme: the back-story has been emphasised in videos and elsewhere by founder of the Antwerpese Brouw Compagnie, Johan Van Dyck, formerly the marketing director at Duvel Moortgat, and I suppose one of the brains behind the great resuscitation of the Vedett brand there.

It’s undoubtedly clever from the promotions side, but how does the beer actually taste?

In short, I find it good, but not outstanding. It’s reasonable enough -- wheaty fizz with a citrus edge -- but it’s just a touch too sweet for me. Honey sweetness. Is that really the flavour of old? I was looking for more bitterness to balance out the overall taste.

In any case, I was happy to give it a try. Thanks, Róisín!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Duvel Tripel Hop

This poor blog has been neglected for many months. I’d like to say it was all down to the demands of the day job, but I have to admit there has also been a bit of blog-boredom mixed in. A sense of tedium developed after the very frequent posts and following the rush of fleeting notoriety of last summer, so I thought I’d cut back for a while. Then the Xmas hols came, and though they included some significant tastings, I didn’t feel much urge to write up my notes into proper blog posts. Some work-related travel -- mostly to places not known for great beer -- then dominated my life at the beginning of this year.

For the last month, I’ve been on sabbatical, but before you say that should have freed up some time to work on the blog, think again. I’ve been on an intensive French language course, and there’s been precious little time to discuss beer with all those verbs waiting to be conjugated. I’ve even tried to get some guest contributions from friends, but that’s not quite worked out either. Yet.

Still, all the while I’ve been receiving beers to review from breweries and from friends. About two cases of bottles has thus built up and demands my attention. So, now that I’ve just taken my first French exam, it’s time to celebrate (or sink into depression if it turns out I didn’t pass) with a new beer and some tasting notes.

There is perhaps no better beer to start with than Duvel Tripel Hop,