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.