Sour Studies: Timmermans Oude Gueuze 2013, Belgium

image232Session beer. 5.5% and sufficiently sour that a personal sized 750 ml gives at least two hours – or four laundry loads – worth of sips. It pours a slightly clouded golden straw. Plenty of must and funky tang when the nose is rammed into the nonic. Still, a bit of fruit in there. Maybe lingonberry. Just a hint. Much more going on in the swally. Sour, yes, certainly sour with a light summer apple, lemon, creamy wheat, nutmeg heart. “Rotten lemon, more like it!” says the lad after he sticks a finger in the glass. Which pretty much sums it up.

What is my relationship to this sort of brutal beer after all these years of study? I certainly have an appetite for any I get a chance to lay my hands on but they come along so few and far between for Ontarians given out mediocre retail options that I wonder if the scarcity makes them more interesting. I bought this in Albany a few months ago and do like to have a few bottles of panic gueuze… but wonder if I would be quite so excited if I could buy one of these any old day down the street? Or should I just be happy that one of these every three or four months is just what keeps me happy. You really can’t measure the relative value of the exotic.

BAers give it solid respect.

Ontario: Uber, Nickel Brook Brewing, Burlington

uberWhat a minefield this beer presents me. Not only do I know and like the brewer but his mother lives nearby and his auntie works where I do. How could I possible give an opinion unbouyed by positive thoughts? Then again, it’s not like I am all Jimjunkety or anything. No need to stop using the bathroom mirror. Then, besides that, there is the question of what others might think of me – which can be odd and disconcerting – not to mention likely wrong. How dare I try something not conservative? But more importantly, what does it mean about this style? What does this beer in this place and time mean?

You will recall the the best expression of what style is was Jackson’s first go at it, before he went bad Aristotelian creating the mess we live with today. Originally, a style of beer was stylized after an example, a great beer. I think it is fair to say that practically speaking that example is the Weihenstephen Berliner Weiss I wrote about for Session 19 – if for no other reason that for a long while this was the only example you were going to lay your hands on in North America. That is until micro went craft. So, is this homage or dommage to the style? Should I care?

The beer pours an effervescent clear light gold. No head at all. On the snort, you get apple cider and cow poo of the nicest kind. In the mouth, a light and lightly astringent texture holds flavours of apple, meadow grass, minerals like a good Mosel, fresh lemon juice, a little cream of wheat like a good gueuze and a little little something vegetative like fresh cabbage or cauliflower. A really lovely sipper and at 3.8% a beer you can sip for a good long time.

What a relief! No ethical qualms!! Priced at $7.95 for 750ml, this is about twice as much as the brewers hefty IPA Headstock, one of the best values in beer in Canada. The BAers give it lots of positivitay… which is good.

Can You Make Wild Beer In A Vineous Mono-culture?


Like most things, Canadians are about half a decade behind so it is no surprise that a group of Ontario brewers have decided to take a kick at wild beer or that some in the Canadian media reacted to the invitation as if they had no idea what was going on in the wider world of good beer. Which is nothing against those directly involved. It’s a great idea. Hope it is yummy and not sold for twenty bucks a glass. Experiment on your own dime, brewers.

Wild indigenous wine yeasts are one of the current things. Like Citra hops. Craze that might be a fad. Here today and gone tomorrow. Yet the yeast is itself. From the photo up top from the Macleans magazine article, you can see the brewing is done in a vineyard, an agricultural monoculture. But is it a monoculture of yeast even if the plants are all clones? Apparently not. We learn that our mutual friend Saccharomyces cerevisiae is certainly on the grapes but only on about 1 in 1,000 berries. What else is in there? The beer will tell. Could be tasty. Hopefully.

PS: get a coolship, wouldja? Wild inoculation via narrow topped vessels might be less than optimum if the history of beer before a hundred or so years ago is anything to go by.

Do Olde Geuze And Oysters Go Together?

oysgeu1-1I was out hunting for some Caribbean stout to go with the PEI oysters I picked up and the incredibly jambi Mike Mundell’s shop this afternoon. Without success. What to do?

I love oysters. I used to live in view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on PEI’s north shore and heading over to Carr’s at Stanley Bridge for a half dozen Malpeques to suck back with my home brew. Despite the trade’s odd view of what makes for a benefit, the oysters know not what is done in their name. Quietly in their rocky shells they ignore such things, preferring to be pretty damn tasty and – at a buck and change – a great value.

So, instead of a strong sweet stout, I thought I would try them with a geuze, in the case a half bottle of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, the beer I had last New Year’s Eve. This one was bottled back on Friday, February 1, 2008 when I was having an Old Guardian for the twelfth edition of The Session. Let’s see what happens in mid-summer two and a half years later..

Wow. That is quite a combination. The barnyard funk of the geuze hits the oyster’s wharfy skank head on in your mouth. One of my more intense taste experiences when I think of it – which is all I can do given it is happening in my mouth right now. All that is missing is an overly aged chunk of blue cheese to make this as overwhelming an experience as it could be. But the aftertaste is creamy, like two waves counteracting each other leading to calm. The oyster brings out the apple notes and places the acidity in context. I am happily reaching for the next meaty oyster.

Success. Each assisted through the difficulties the other can pose. A vital combination.

Grill, Shed, Steak, Rain, Bieres de Garde And Saisons

The trouble with charcoal grilling is that when the rain comes you can’t turn it off. Propane, on the other hand, has a nice dial that has a “0” setting. But there is the garden shed and, when it rains and you have visitors, it can turn out to be a delightful place to while away a late afternoon hour reading last week’s newspapers in the recycling bin, listening to AM radio and comparing a few examples of bieres de garde and saisons.

We opened the Ch’ti Blonde from Brasserie Castelain à Bénifontaine first, a gold ale called a saison (though French not Belgian) by the BAers but a biere de garde by Phil Markowski in his book Farmhouse Ales under a white mouse head that resolved to a froth and rim. It was the favorite of the set with cream malted milk, pear juice and nutty grain. Very soft water. I actually wrote “limpid cream of what graininess” but I am a little embarrassed by that pencil scribble. It gets a fairly poor rating from the BAers but maybe that is because they were not in a shed when they tried it. Castelain’s Blond (no “e”) Biere de Garde was drier but still creamy fruity, not far off the greatest example of a Canadian export ale. Light sultana rather than pear. Also dry in the sense of bread crusty rather than astringency. Lighter gold than the Ch’ti but, again, the rich firm egg white mousse head and far more BAers approve. By this time the shed dwellers had decided that steak could in fact be finger food and also that these ales were an excellent pairing with chunks of rib and New York strip. The Jenlain Ambree by Brasserie Duyck was another level of richness altogether, the colour of a chunk of deep smoked Baltic amber, the richest lacing I have ever seen left on a glass. Hazelnut and raisin, brown sugar and black current with a hint of tobacco. Lately I have been thinking that amber ales are the one style that could quietly slip away and never be missed. Placing this in the glass in the hand in the shed as the rain thumped on the roof and steak was eaten was an instructive treat as to what ambers can be, though 6% of BAers hesitate to be so enthusiastic.

I think this is the worst photo I have ever posted so I will keep it tiny unless you choose to click on it for the full effect. Apparently there is a limit to the beery photographic arts and I have made it my own. The 3 Monts to the left was picked up at Marche Jovi in nearby Quebec for a stunningly low price of under six bucks. Plenty of malteser and pale malt graininess with yellow plum and apple fruitiness, straw gold with more of the thick rich head, cream in the yeast. The water was not as soft was either beer from Castelain but all BAers love it. By Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre who also made this biere nouvelle. To the right, the Fantome Winter was one of the stranger beers I have ever had and, frankly, a disappointment. All I could taste was radish, sharp and vegetative, over and all around the insufficient malt. In my ignorance, I didn’t realize that was likely quite an aged beer as the happy BAers explain. Neither the cork or even label, with its unmarked best before portion, give a hint as to the year but that is all right as I suspect I will consider this just a lesson learned even though I generally love Fantome.

By this time there were stars and a breeze as the cold front finished moving through.

Belgium: Pannepot GR ’05, De Struise / Deca, W’ Vleteren

I must have been very good today as this is the bottle I decided to open. I mowed the half the lawn. And I held the fort at my desk with a certain style. I’ll likely even keep the empty as it even has the mark of importers Roland + Russell, the kind folks who forwarded this sample.

But, you know, it would be bad enough keeping things straight if it were just the fact that Brouwerij ‘t IJ in Amsterdam has a beer called Struis. But these guys of De Struise don’t even have a brewery. Celebrator explained the deal last December. Well, they are adults so that is up to them but it’s no way to run a railroad, I can tell you that. Professor Unger tells us that the accumulation of capital was the path to brewing dynasties…at least as far as medieval low country brewing went – why is it that just because we are in the next millennium we throw all that wisdom right out the window? Kids. Go figure.

Anyway, this brew is a bomb at 10%. The label includes “candy” as an ingredient. I really hope that means candi sugar and not a Mars bar or Bubbalicious. That would be a real let down. It pours nutty mahogany under a thick beige head. Oloroso gently meets balsamic on the nose. In the mouth, it is a cross between Duchesse De Bourgogne and…um…Newkie Broon. Just a first impression but that’s what it was. Then – much to your relief – there is more: a sort of a black cherry thing, vanilla, balsamic, molasses and herbal/medicinals like maybe those in Orval hop profile. All in all, lightly soured and oaked brown ale of great complexity that shows no sign of its massive strength whatsoever.

Greg has more. The BAers go all gushy and blush.

Belgium: Canaster, De Glazen Toren, Erpe-Mere

can1Here is a hint when you are traveling. If, after a tiring 600 km drive (to be followed the next day by another 600 km drive) you notice contract street sweeping equipment in the parking lot, get a new hotel. Street sweepers come and go in the night, you see. After idling their massive engines for fifteen minutes or so. It was like sleeping in a public works depot.

My only consolation was the bottle of Canaster I had brought. Labeled as a winterscotch-style ale I had brought it along as a reward for being me. It’s by the same good folk at KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren who made that saison I had last Thanksgiving. The beer is basically a Belgian brown with plenty of round brown maltiness, burlappy nutmegged yeast and some black tea and perhaps black malt astringency. It pours a thick sheeting cream head over chestnut ale. In the malt there is date and maybe dark raisin with a bit of a tobacco effect. It could have done with another something something but it was a very pleasant 9.5% brew that came across nothing as big as that. Plenty of BAer approval.

Not needing anything was the bottle of The Lactese Falcon Flanders Sour Brown Ale I picked up at Church-Key on the way home – you know, as a reward for being me. Yum – but I like the tastes of Parmesan cheese and Flemish sour beer and here they are in one brew. Plenty of roasted beef broth notes, vanilla, pear juice, balsamic, Worcestershire and Parmesan. Herself gets only molasses on schnozzal analysis. Somewhat controversial when it first appeared, here is a beer that intends to be itself – and one that may sort the style huggers from the brave and the free. I have another put away for a long sleep. I want to make sauces with it, soak meat in it – make welsh rarebit with it.

Sour Beer Studies: Gueuze, Girardin, Sint-Ulkis-Kapelle, BE

gira1The 2006 edition of Great Beers of Belgium showed up today and I thought that I had better pop a cork in its honour. A Girardin Gueuze seemed just the thing. The “1882” on the label is the date when the current family took over the brewery and they brew comprehensively, perhaps still with no other staff. Jackson noted:

They grow their own wheat, brew Lambic in winter and produce a Pils in summer. The Girardins use 40 per cent wheat in their Lanic, and still have a mill that grinds the grain between stones, as well as a more modern one with metal cylinders. “We continue to use the stones for some of the grist,” Lousi told me, “in case it contributes to the character of the beer.”

I like that “in case” a fine expression of traditional conservatism. Jackson called it one of the most complex beers he had ever tasted. The black label (or in Flemish Zwart etiket) appears to indicate unfiltered [Ed.: ie fond] while a white label (or Wit etiket) would not [Ed.: ie filtré]…though neither Ed nor I quite know why “etiket” in Flemish means “label” in English. I bet Ron knows.

On the pour, the funk jumps out of the madly growing off white head that soon fall back at a leisure pace. Barnyard. Very evocative of poo and stall of a former neighbour’s beef cattle barn. Plus rice wine vinegar as well as Gravenstein apple. But it is all wrapped around a small core of sweet. Once in the mouth, the barnyard knows and takes its place letting other flavours come forward. Overall, this is a far less austere Lambic experience compared to the stridency of Cantillon, even their gueuze. Relatively (by which I mean relatively) soft as well as acidic – an odd combination to describe but think mandarine orange juice without any orange flavour and a good slug of rice wine vinegar. Plenty of grain, a little lemon and a lot white grapefruit citrus, a little wheat cream even. Grassiness in the middle which morphs a little into something that is like a hint of licorice. Dry and acid and moreish in the finish. Fabulous. Love it. I am going to buy this beer whenever I see it. I promise me so.

Plenty of BAer love. $7.99 for 37.5 cl from Bello Vino in Ann Arbor Michigan.

Photos From My Visit To Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter, Michigan

jp1Click any picture for a bigger view.
It was a Ron-a-thon last Friday at Jolly Pumpkin. After leaving London, Ontario, Canada at about 1 pm and we hit Dexter, Michigan at about 5 pm just as Ron Jeffries was finishing up a days work. He gave me an hour of his time and by the end of it I was thinking this had been one of the most intense hours of beer I have had without taking a drink. Being the doe-eyed schoolgirl that I was, perhaps a bit like Ron in Bamburg, in awe of the moment of course I did not take notes until I got to our hotel in Ann Arbor. But I did get a brain full.








Barrels everywhere. Everything is aged in oak. Barrels from bourbon and brandy distillers. Barrels from Firestone and other brewers seeking vanilla where Ron seeks tang. A 2000 litre barrel newly in from France. Being in a room full of barrels of beer is an interesting experience. The feeling was much more like cheese making than other brewers with their steel conical fermenters and bright tanks. These was life around me and it was asleep, seeking slow funkiness. Lame? Deal with it.








I got an education. While Michigan has twice the brewers of Ohio, it has only 1% of the state’s market, compared to 6% nationwide. This means brewers have to seek markets out of state. I was happy to do my bit and introduce Ontario importers Roland and Russell to Jolly Pumpkin as was announced on Monday. Ron apologized when he explained the price would be high but I had to assure him that ten bucks for a 750 ml of some of the most thoughtful ale made on the continent was quite reasonable given what else we have to put up with.








Ron makes beers unlike others. Beers that have the dryness of oak with less of the vanilla than others impart. There is a lambic, the only true one in North America, that has been three years in the wood soon to be released on a six month cycle. When I asked about the source of the wild yeast strains, Ron said the make of Cantillon told him you can make lambic anywhere. I have particularly liked the Bam and Bam Noire which I think are up for the CAMWA beers of the year award for 2007. I did, by the way, share the concept of CAMWA and think it is now Jolly Pumpkin approved. They have done well with 50% expansion in each of the first two years and 30% for both 2006 and 2007.








The hour flew by and the generosity shared was quite the thing. We took a case of large format beers for just around 75 bucks and others to spare as well. Likely the best value in beverage that I can think of. A couple of hints. Ron recommends, as they age, chilling the beers before opening as they create be quite the fountain. I recommend leaving them to get to that age to get to this state as time enhances their complexity to a degree I have not experienced before with beer.

Sour Beer Studies: Sweet, Sour And… The Brewmaster’s Table

I have been a bad beer blogger. I just got a copy of Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table. One baaad beer blogger. And not bad like ManRam says either. The fact is, I thought it was really more like The Brewmaster’s “Kitchen” and had expected it was more like a recipe book. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Lucy Saunders obviously does a great job at telling us how to cook with beer. But I didn’t feel drawn to another similar one.

How wrong I was. How shallow the uninquisitive mind. This is a great and valuable text. No wonder everyone recommends it. Let me be a guest late to this party. It is well laid out with sections of the traditions of the great brewing nations, a discussion of the major styles found in each, examples and their properties as well as a description of the foods that go with each. It is the table because it is what a craft brewer would (and does) place place before himself in terms of food and drink. Good. Handy.

For present purposes, though, the book provides me with one thing that no one else in my meager span of attention had mention. Many traditional sour beers – and especially the sourest – were not intended to be consumed without sweetening. See, this is what has always bugged me about lambics and gueuze. We do the medievals and thems that followed a disservice when we say that the pure raw lip puckering drink is what they would have consumed. First of all, most of them would have consumed mostly unhopped ales bittered with gruit made and swallowed within a few days. Then, few would have had access to the resources required to buy aged ale, including any which might have been aged for souring. Additionally, those that were aged were likely aged within the annual cycle as is most every other agricultural product. These general observations seem both logical and consistent with the histories by Cornell, Haydon, Hornsey and Unger. Plus I have another pet theory – no one drinks extremely sour things without a certain purpose and sour in beer has long standing recognition as a failing in brewing.

But I have gone over that before in these sour beer studies. What is new is the mention made of one tradition of Belgian lambic drinkers – as opposed to its brewers – described in The Brewmaster’s Table. At page 71, comparing dry lambics to their sweet siblings, Oliver states:

Lambic afficiandos are given to frothing at the mouth when the latter versions are mentioned, but I feel both types have their place. Don’t forget that some people always sweetened their beers, when they could afford it – sugar was once a luxury.

Sadly, I can not longer wallow in vindication dancing the merry jig as these studies have given me both respect and a taste for the sour beers of Belgium. I still find Cantillon too stark but that is like saying Guinness is too dark. It simply is. And sour for me now holds an interesting and worthy place in the beery pantheon.

But, still, there is comfort knowing that now and likely in the past people did not suffer austere acidity except as a mild fetish or a consequence of poverty. Two traditional styles, neither of which I have tried as they are quite localized, confirm how sweetening may have been undertaken, Berliner weisse and faro. Berliner weisse is a German sour brew uniformly taken with a sweet fruity syrup and preserving sweets is entirely reasonable as a form of storage though the centuries. I would expect that facing another pitcher of dry lambic before him on the table, your average 16th centurian may well have had a spoon in the jelly or honey jar next to it. In addition to Berliner weisse, Belgian faro is described as a “low-alcohol, slightly sweet table beer made from lambic to which brown sugar has been added” – taken on draft, again, it is a reasonable approach to making a rather restrictive brew more approachable for the many.

Point? I am relieved to find this confirmation from somewhere that lambics were sweetened by drinkers in much the same way as the old guys shook the salt over their draft in the Nova Scotian taverns of my youth. People, as we learned from Depeche Mode, are people. Other point? Buy The Brewmaster’s Table.