Sunday 26 May 2013

Natural light and darkness

We’ve spent a good deal of time this weekend trying to keep a nest of baby black birds safe from marauding magpies. The parents are doing the best they can, and we come out to help when we hear their alarm call. Still, it’s been pretty brutal: two chicks gone already, one cowering in the honeysuckle. Nature can be pretty ugly.

I am thus not instantly impressed by products that proclaim their “all natural” or “organic” ingredients. Magpies are completely natural. So is cyanide. Doesn’t make it right.

When Brasserie de la Lesse announces their beers are mostly organic, therefore, I remain to be convinced. We put two of their offerings -- a blonde and a brune -- to the taste test.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Excuse me, there’s chicory in my beer

I understand that people get bored. It happens to us all from time to time. And I get it that brewers will occasionally want to try something different just to spice things up.

But putting chicory in beer? I think there may be a line drawn there. Or a good ways before you get to there in fact.

Recalling previous tastings of some historical experimental brews, I think the problem starts whenever you get away from using hops. Beers like Gageleer or Dupont’s Cervesia, which rely on bog myrtle instead of hops, may be interesting, but they’re not anything I’d buy again. The same is true for other pre-hop era remakes like Dogfish Head Theobroma or Dogfish Head Midas Touch: after the novelty wears off, you just have to ask yourself if this is really anything that people want to drink.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind as I approached Hof ten Dormaal Wit Goud, a beer made by replacing some hops with chicory.

Sunday 19 May 2013

Four new Belgian blondes

As spring continues to evade Belgium, and the family has run off to Scotland in search of warmer weather -- yes, that’s how bad it’s been here -- I carved out some time to catch up on a bit of important paperwork. But since tax forms are infinitely dull and these ones aren’t due for some time yet, I figure it would be far more interesting to write up some tasting notes that I’ve also been neglecting for a while.

Let’s start with a few blonde Belgian ales. I’ve run into a few new ones in recent months, all worth mentioning. Well, actually, they’re more worth drinking than mentioning, but you know what I mean.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Five British darks

For sweet dark beers, Belgium is king. The rich velvety gingerbread of Achel Brune Extra, the deep porty notes of an aged Chimay, the bubbly berries of Rochefort... They all have a special place in our hearts. But for the bitter darks -- with the exception of the apparently one-off Black in Japan or the sadly hard-to-find Scheldebrouwerij Oesterstout -- we usually need to look further afield.

Britain is a good place to start, and over the past few months, we’ve been able to sample five super stouts and black IPAs from the UK, all very much worth trying if you can get your hands on them.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Hof ten Dormaal Blond

My father-in-law is a keen gardener, but for years he’s been unable to get his wisteria to bloom. I’ve long shared the same frustration: the viney thing in our yard climbs the railings at a furious pace, but it churns out only leaves spring after spring, with not a purple petal in sight.

Until this year...

My wisteria is currently covered in buds, and it looks set to be a fantastic horticultural explosion. Even better, my father-in-law is coming for a visit.

To prepare for the coming gardener’s gloat-fest, I opened a Hof ten Dormaal Blond. I had a feeling it would be good, because its sister beer, Hof ten Dormaal Donker, is excellent.

The blond initially does what you’d expect from a strong Belgian ale, though it is perhaps slightly thinner and less creamy than others. Pine and honey notes then emerge, which create a very moreish character.

It’s very good: ideal for a lazy weekend watching the flowers bloom.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Brooklyn Black Ops

Wandering around southwest Florida a few months ago, I came across a bottle of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops 2012 and put it in my shopping cart without giving it much thought. I’d never heard of it before, but I just knew it was going to be good, so why waste time deliberating?

Little did I understand, however, just how lucky I was to find it. Apparently, they only make about a thousand bottles of Black Ops a year, and even friends in Brooklyn couldn’t get their hands on one. How it landed in Fort Myers is beyond me -- some top secret logistics, no doubt. But whatever, I’m not complaining.

We brought it back home to Brussels and let it sit for a few weeks before sharing it with some guests one evening. Everyone was hugely impressed.

Black Ops is a stout that’s aged in bourbon barrels, and the taste is precisely that, and much more. Beurre noisette fades into caramel and cuberdons, a raspberry-flavoured Belgian candy that’s rarely found outside this country, with hints of liquorice. It’s thick and bitter and just painfully good.

Painful, because I now know I’ll probably never find another bottle of it...

Sunday 14 April 2013

Spring arrives with 3 Fonteinen

Spring. It finally showed up today. Or we at least finally got our first decent day in Brussels this year.

Everyone here has been moaning about the weather for weeks, and with good reason. It’s been crap on a stick without even the benefit of a stick. It really should not take until the middle of April to get a day where you can spend the afternoon outside.

But enough whinging. It’s time for celebration: at last, we can start opening some of these warm-weather beers we’ve been waiting an age to try.

The first is 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze “Golden Blend”, which is an awesomely tart sensation, with a lingering raspiness on the sides of the tongue like thin ribbons of wet sandpaper. Honey, but not at all sweet. Tree bark, but palatable. If this doesn’t quench your thirst on a hot day, then quite simply, you’re not thirsty.

The second, 3 Fonteinen Oude Kriek, pours a rich ruby red, and there’s a hint of musty leaf on the nose. The taste is a bit different from other traditional krieks I’ve had. There’s almost a suggestion of cherry cough syrup here, not in sweetness, of course, as this is as tart as the gueuze. But there’s a striking seam of something that lands like dried black cherries on the aftertaste -- and generally heartier, with a greater depth of flavour than other krieks.

Both are strongly recommended. Let’s hope the warm weather holds so you have an excuse to drink them.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Last beer of a long winter: Black in Japan

A few months ago, in anticipation of sunnier days, I bought a cellar-load of lambics and other warm-weather beers. By doing so, I somehow jinxed the seasonal shift, and spring has been a long-time coming to Brussels.

There was very little sign of it in March, as we’d hoped, and April hasn’t started well, with snow falling two days out of the first five.

This has all been pretty annoying for a seasonal beer enthusiast like myself, who tends towards the rich dark beers in the colder months and favours the tart thirst-quenchers when it heats up.

To have cases of traditional gueuzes and krieks and whatnot just aching to be opened with the daffodils and tulips, but seeing only a few frightened and frost-bitten buds in the garden... well, it’s heart-breaking.

And knowing it’s all my fault makes it even worse. Yes, I did this. I caused the long winter by buying summer beer too early.