Do We Love The Beer Or Brewer?

Lew has written another segment of his unfolding manifesto on his relationship to craft beer and the craft beer industry and triggered a long discussion. I take this as his key point:

I have to tell you, this kind of “let’s treat craft beer with kid gloves” stuff has been bugging me for years. It’s one of the main reasons I started this blog and my website. I don’t have a lot of patience with people who blast beers from positions of ignorance — “This IPA sucks! I hate hoppy beers!” — but when a beer is not good — poorly packaged, poorly formulated, or just plain insipid — I don’t want to be told by some brewer that it wouldn’t be nice to say so, or that if I felt I had to say so, I should say so nicely.

Hey, we’ve all heard it from mothers and grandmothers (and editors): if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. Well, how am I going to talk about light beer, then? Seriously, if a critic can’t say negative things, he’s gagged. And if I can’t say those negative things in an entertaining, creative way…what the hell am I getting paid for?

He is right but in being right also begs the question of the importance of his rightness. Don’t get me wrong. I like Lew lots. I even make a point of paying for his books and not hitting him up for review copies largely because he was an early adopter or at least supporter of my blogging about beer, what, for the best part of four years now. All I mean is like any voice with audience you have to remember that the subject matter itself is the important thing. Last month I thought out a bit of my mini-manifesto around being a fan. But while I am a fan of the great brewer I am really a fan of the brew more than anything. And I am really only a fan of what the brew does for me…not Lew… not the brewer… and not you out there (however nice you all are – and you are.) As a result, I am quite content not to get Cantillon and other Belgian sour beers, quite content to describe Rodenbach Grand Cru thusly…

That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vinous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this.

…or to say of another of its general ilk: “I cannot hate it. Yet I am sure it hates me.”

If someone does not agree with me I do not understand how that changes the experience I have when those thing-like-fluids are in my mouth. For me, it is only about the fluid just as a pub is only about the actual experience you have or I have – not the hype or the good time a pal’s sister’s friend had 15 months ago. That may mean you have to take yourself seriously, too, and pay attention to what is in the glass and not rely on others anymore, even me, than you would rely on advertising or if the brewer is friendly, starting out or your cousin.

There. Another bit of the manifesto.

Belgium: Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru, Cantillon

cantbrouGold amber ale under large frothier lazy rim and foam that quickly fades then leaves town. The smell is beyond brett. The unripe Annapolis Valley Gravenstein green apple of my Nova Scotian youth gone mad with aspirations of manure pile. Quite plainly watery at the outset then acid and more acid…then one note of poo. Not refreshing to slightly sub-Cromwellian stridency. Annoying. Then at the end a hint of apple cider. Foul. I wonder if this is an example of mass reputation piercing the veil of reality – mob craftism.

I cannot hate it. Yet I am sure it hates me.

Assorted Low Country Fruit Beers

fourbelgians

What better way to see in Canada Day weekend than sampling Belgian and northern French fruit beers. There is no rhyme or reason to the selection other than they are from within a couple of hundred kilometres of each other. Should this breaks rules it is because no one sent me the pamphlet with the rules.

Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic: On the nose there is fresh cow poo or another barnyard note, vinegar and unsweetened under-ripe gravenstein apple. Cloudy naturalized cloudy pink with white rim and foam. Stomach souringly strong acid, cheesey tang, dry pin cherry in the mouth. Vineous if your wine has gone off. Hard to say likeable but one is told this is a classic. MADD could use this as their centerpiece of a temperance campaign if they could get it to the teens soon enough. 97% of BAers say very nice things. Nicer things. Here is the brewery’s website and what it says about this beer.

La Choulette Framboise: beer the colour of wild strawberry jam, blush and straw, with white foam and rim. A note of the La Choulette’s tell tale potato peel under true if dry raspberry from the vine…if they grew on vines. Some sub-astringent drying hop and warming as would be expected at 7%. Less sour than the kriek above but still there, on the dry side. BAers who love dry fruit beer are all over this one. Here, too, is the brewery’s website.

Darbyste: From Brasserie de Blaugies. Cloudy caramel ale under white foam. Quite a tangy fig aroma. Still dry but not nearly so dry as the desiccating fluids above. Acidic, juicy, lightly astingent, green fruit and round richness. But dry though without vineousness. Some light butter biscuitiness. 5.8%. Not offensive, not a wowser. BAers say this. Here, again, is the brewery’s home page.

Lindeman Pomme Lambic: compared to the above, this is fluid Altoid. Green apple sweet and that is about it. Rich and quite accurate apple and not at all unpleasant but that is about it. BAers frown with 14% saying no. After the above three, however, it is something of a welcome break from all that austerity. Here is something approximating the brewery’s website.

More as I pour if the guests stick around as I open more of these sour things.…OK, so I am not the guy to tell you why you should try some of these stark traditional ales. But man these are dry and acidic. I need a Rolaid and I am sure glad I picked up some saisons to try so I can get my love back for the brewers of this region.

Knut Goes To Italy

…L’ultima creazione di Renzo…
 

The city of Parma is quite sleepy on this spring afternoon. Actually, so am I, I got up at half past in the morning to get there, but that is not the point. The bus stop in front of the train station is largely deserted, too, but a young man from Ghana helps me to find the right platform. The 02:12 bus is not appearing, and not the 02:20, either. I give up and walk across to the taxi stand, and a taxi driver quotes a rate that is quite acceptable for a 20 minute ride, so I get in.

My destination is the Panil Brewery, located in the countryside to the south of Parma, where the flat landscape of the Po plain gives way to small hills. It is a pleasant drive. The poppies are already in bloom at the roadside, and the leaves are a dozen shades of green. The fields smells of manure from the cows and sheep that produce the Parmesan and Parma ham. It turns out that this is a holiday, so that is the reason for the bus not turning up. On Liberation day most things shut down (and a fair portion of the population had turned out to heckle the mayor, according to reports). And I will not go into who they were liberated from. The Italians?

The brewery is in the countryside within view of the picturesque castle of Torrechiara. It sits in an idyllic setting with a few tables outside the shop, a dozen hens of various colours walking feely around the premises. The place is quite deserted when I arrive, although the doors are open. In addition to the brewing, they also make wine from grapes from the area, which I take note of trying out another time.

After some time spent walking around calling out for assistance, I get help from Aba, a lady fluent in English. She tells me that the brewery is run by her sister and her husband, but that they are not around at the moment. She presents the range of beers they have – very much inspired by Belgian styles. There is a pilsener, a blonde ale and a brown ale, and there is a stout in the making which is not bottled yet. The most interesting beers in the range, however, are two ales aged in oak barrels and then again fermented in the bottle – triple fermented. One of them is a sour version of their Barriquée ale, which I have tasted before, the other is the September ale, which is brewed with grape juice blended in – a sort of beer/wine hybrid. She tells me that these beers are mainly for export and sale directly from the brewery, the locals tend to find them too extreme!

I buy as many bottles I manage to carry with me, and I really look forward to trying them out. While I wait for my transport back to town I notice a small restaurant around the corner. The next time I will probably make a day trip out of it and make some time to see the castle, too!

[Ed.: Check here for the Beer Advocate’s take on these brews. Check here for more of Knut’s travels. Click here for Knut’s own blog.]

Belgium: Goudenband, Brouwerij Liefmans, Oudenaarde

goudenLight tan foam over fairly lively chestnut ale, this Flemish oud bruin has a tangy vinegary sweet aroma. This beer is far less sharp than my previous Flemish experiences of this sort from Rodenbach Grand Cru yet bigger than the other Flem I have known Petrus Oud Bruin. There is a creaminess with all the acidity that is really surprising. “Vineous” may work with other examples of this style but this one is clearly ale, even if quite tart. If you go with it, it is also quaffable…maybe if you transpose from fruit juice as it is somewhere between granny smith apple and pineapple juice just in terms of tartness. But, with all that, there is also cherry and oak and vanilla and maybe the best Pepsi you have ever had as well as even dried fruit like prune and fig and molasses. Yes, as complex and balanced as a fine wine if you need to compare.

This is perhaps the best chance you will have to taste what a medieval ale was like. $4.95 for a 330 ml at the LCBO. Try one and a half in a hefeweizen glass if you can. BAers generally on board.

Belgium: Six Lambics


lambics3

There are a few times my good wife is very pleased with this hobby. One is when there is Guinness in the house and one is when there are lambics. These historic vestiges of a Belgian need to capture summer fruit are made without added yeast…because the valley of the Senne is loaded with airborn natural yeasts. In the winter when these beers can be made, the windows at fairly musty unsanitary breweries are opened to expose open wort vats of straight gueuze (or geuze) or fruited lambics in traditional flavours like cherry kreik or black current cassis and the beers undergo spontaneous fermentation after which they are casked. This handy web page will likely tell you more than you need to know about the process.

One difficult thing about them, particularly the fruit beers like the raspberry – or framboise – by Mort Subite that I reviewed last March is that they really can come across as only an incredibly concentrated take on the fruit. One friend recently exclaimed when trying her first cassis: “the children would drink this for God’s sake!” Well, it is sort of the fruit juice the Lord made. The other difficult thing is buying something that calls itself lambic, is a wee bit cheaper only to find out that it is a syrup based brew and not the real deal with fruit gurgling in the ale through fermentation. I try to stay away from those. But let’s see how these work out:

  • lambics21Lindemans Kriek: This pours a bright red with brown tones with a whipped mousse head of pink. There is lots of cherry flavour but also a rustic hoppiness cutting through. It is a sweet cherry flavour but, as it to be expected from the style, a vineous sour tang to the beer.Lindemans lambics always seem to have more to them for me than others, something twiggy or a veracity to the fruit like you get when it is your hand that does the picking. This is especially the case when you drink them at room temperature. This 375 ml bottle from Vlezenbeek, Belgium probably cost 5.99$ USD so it is pricy but when you think about the real costs that go into production, it is not unreasonable.  BAers rave.
  • lambics5Chapeau Exotic: Pineapple beer. Not this
    sort of pineapple beer but still pineapple beer. By Brouwerij De Troch in Wambeek, Belgium. As still a beer as ever I have had. It smells like a jube-jube of a slightly overripe pineapple husk. There is fairly true pineapple flavour…truer than the aroma…but do you want that in a beer? Sharp acidic effect in the mouth like the real fruit. You know…I don’t think this is a syrup based lambic. I think some Belgians actually import pineapple to make this. What a weird world it is. 1.5% alcohol, too. Really weird. Advocates are rightly unkind. Thankfully only a 250 ml bottle. Hey…they make banana beer!Update: Having noted that the label on my bottle is not the label I see elsewhere on the web and noting the 1.5% alcohol content which would not sustain shelf life…I am wondering if the LCBO has been fobbed old stock? Look at the advocates comments. The ones who rate high say the head was huge or at least it was highly carbonated. Those that do not found it flat. Hmmmm….
  • Belgian Pêches: By the Lefebvre brewery at Quenast, Belgium.At 3.5%, a whopping 133% stronger than the last one. A lightly pinked straw brew with a little cloud to it sits under white foam. The smell is pure ripe fruit. As with both of the previous beers, there is a orchard reality to the fruit, the flavour is textured and maybe a bit over ripe compared to grocery store stickered facsimile. The one advocate calls this syruped but, for me…ok…I dunno. The body is light otherwise and no real hoppy flavour. Hey – there is actually an ingredients list: water, malt, wheat, hops, yeast, peach juice (20%), sugar, flavour…FLAVOUR!?!? What the heck is that supposed to be? Ok – it’s got to be a phoney. Yet I have been offended by other lambic phoneys more.
  • Lindemans Gueuze: From Vlezenbeek, Belgium. I yapped about gueuze earlier this summer but only found this example a few weeks ago in Ithaca at the Finger Lakes Beverage Center. A fine white foamy rim over deep straw brew. This is a drier version of the style than the other two, juicy and maybe a bit cider-ish. More pear juice than apple in the fruit – maybe passion fruity, too, but have I had a real passion fruit? Have you? I’ve had a kid’s juicebox with the words “passion fruit” on it…and is it passion fruit or passionfruit? But not like added flavour. It is all coaxed out of the pale malt. Brightly acidic as well. Just 4% so the kind of beer your mother may like…ok, the kind of beer my mother likes. Plucky Belgians. But BAers seem to want more. More acid. More barnyard funk from the wild yeasts. Is there anything the advocates won’t demand?
  • Mort Subite Gueuze: By Brouwerij De Keersmaeker in Kobbegem, Belgium. This is one of the ones I yapped about last time. By the way, I have instituted a policy hereabout of benchmarking which is a fancy way of saying I get to repeat myself to figure out if any of this makes any sense. If you are going to be paranoid, I say you better do the checking up on yourself by yourself. It is sweeter and a bit richer or rounder in body than the Lindemans with a bit sour under it all. Less like cider, less brightly acidic, more barnyard perhaps. Still only 4.5% but that is three times that somewhat insanely odd pineapple thing above. The head was a nice off white and quite a rocky mousse of it all, the beer ever so slightly lighter in colour. There must be some quite beefy gueuzes out there as, again, many advocates find this comes up short.
  • Lindemans Cassis: This is the best of the bunch. Very fruit forward true black current flavour. Not sweetened like black current juice but full of the twiggy real berry flavour. I used to have 20 old bushes behind a barn I owned and this is the essence of a clear summer evening’s picking at the height of the season. There is a huge pink/purple lace-leaving mousse head over purple ale. Really lovely. Underneath, creamy yeast and French bready wheat framing the black current. Aged green hops accentualte the fruit. The finish is astringent. Wonderful.

A good introduction to the style. I am going to make a point of learning more and more.

Two of the Gueuze

 

gueuzeHappy was the lad, then, who came across these two examples of the Belgian style gueuze, which has been described as follows:

Gueuze – a word derived from gueux, or begger – is a blend of lambics of different ages, bottled with a champaign-type cork to undergo a second fermentation. It ages well.

“Beers of the World” by G. Delos (pub: CLB, 1994) at page 82

Miachael Jackson in the first edition of his World Guide to Beer describes lambics as follows:

These spontaneously fermenting beers are produced by traditional methods in only a very limited area…called Payottenland, and its atmosphere is held to contain micro-organisms which promote the fermentation of beer without the assistance of the brewer. (at p.117)

So they are rightly called “wild beers”. I have never had a gueuze before though I have had a fair number of the fruit lambics like the little raspberry number I reviewed a couple of weeks ago as well as the cherry version called kriek… including one instance with the brew 19 years ago leading one Parisian barkeep to suggest that we Nova Scotians and the lads from Gascony ought to take out discussions out into the street. But I digress.

So a little pitter-patter of excitement welled up when I saw there on the LCBO shelf not one but two examples of gueuze. Apparently not as much excitement as the guy ahead of me who I was told bought 30 or 40 – which, pushing 4 bucks per 375 ml, was a sure sign of dedication. I was familiar with the line Mort Subite by Brouwerij De Keersmaeker to the west of Brussels so I popped it first. It smelled like a late harvest Riesling or Gewurztraminer white wine as I poured. Fresh, light and only 4.5%. It is brightly acidic but not tannic. I expected more of a sparkling beer but it still effervescent. It is like fruit juce without all aspects of the fruitiness – or perhaps sort of a cross between apple juice and orange juice but not in any forefront manner. Despite this fruity zing, the water is quite soft leaving a very moreish mouthfeel. There is a light bit of the oak cask in the finish, some green antiqued hops as well as the barley, wheat and corn. It is incredibily tasty stuff and quite unlike an ale or a lager. Beyond lovery. Beer advocates have trouble with this one but I think you have to consider that Belgians do challenge. Recently, commenting on someone who gave obvious offence taking the defence that they were merely being “ironic” – despite the implication of cynicism that word connotes – I suggested that such a use of irony was not unlike the defence of a brewer of a bad batch claiming “it’s not off…it’s Belgian!” You have to expect the new and strange from the Belgians and when you do it is wonderful.

So on to the St. Louis by Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck N.V. – the maker of Kasteel quadruple reviewed here last year. It is slightly cloudy and a little bit of an orange tint to the light butterscotch hue. In the mouth it is also fresh but bigger, perhaps sweeter with a drier oaker finish. I could not do better than to repeat the words of Naerhu, a contributor at the beer advocate’s reviews on this beer from Osaka Japan:

White fluffy head on any amazing amber body. Light aroma of red fruit, maybe rasberries. Very lightly sour and pretty sweet. I can hardly imagine this to be a gueuze as sweet and friendly as this is. Where as gueuze normally tastes like how a unclean barnyard smells, this is bright and cheerful, zesty and clean. Very enjoyable.

That being the case, perhaps these two examples of gueuze do not exemplify the style at all. Any input on this point would be very useful for its own sake as well as comment on the LCBO itself. Have they picked only two easy beers rather than great examples or the ur-gueuze? Are they treating us like gueuze mooks or possible future connoisseurs? Neither had any sediment which does raise questions when it comes to Belgian brews.

Gueuze. We can add more examples as the days turn to months and the months to years.

Belgium: Thinking About Four Sorts Of Brown

belrod2

Continuing in the style of Four Belgian Blondes and Four Wittes, I am going to try to work through the Belgians I have squirrelled away over the last few months style by style. I also want to avoid one problem that arises doing a side-by-side, especially when you are looking at triples and strong ales. Four of those at 8 to 11%, especially when one or two only come in a quart, can frankly blow the top off yer heed. So, to ensure some benefit of the colour and head comparison, while at the same time avoiding a public display of the ever famous liquid lobotomy, I have decided upon a handy-dandy chart format for these posts. As I open each brew within the set, I will add it to the table with a photo of its label and one of the pour along with some notes. Click on the photos for a bigger view.

The trouble with this first set, however, is that they are not a style all. They are just a grab bag of styles all of which fall under the word “brown” more or less. The Petrus is a tangy Oud Bruin, while the Leffe Brown is something more familiar, a rich brown. The Kasteel is more of a barleywine while Rodenbach Grand Cru is a sour beer gone mad – the best malt vinegar you will ever find. All, however, are forms of browns from Belgium.

 

Belgian Browns Bottle and Pour Notes
belpet1

Petrus Oud BruinFlemish Brown




translucent mahogany
petrus1

Lambic-like, sour cherry aroma, refreshing but also, at its core woodsy. Tart orange and spicy but in a good Christmas cake way. The body is not heavy. Slight carbonation – very light for a Belgian. 5.5% in a 250 ml bottle. BAs speak.

belkas1

Kasteel IngelmunsterQuadruple or Barleywine

 



Demarrara
belkas2

This is a dandy big beer – brown sugar plumy or red grape malty goodness at 11%. Without a trace of orange peel or spice so no hint of a dubble. No sour at all so nothing oud about it. This is surprisingly fresh for its bulk…like me. Rummy. Very subdued hops, only enough to keep the sweetness from being cloying. Here is the brewery’s take on it. A juicy swallow ending in a hot port finish. 330 ml bottle. Advocates comment.

belrod1

Rodenbach
Grand CruFlemish Red





cherry wood patina

I said that this was the best malt vinegar you will ever taste and I am not kidding. This is pure soured, oak aged Belgian brew. Michael Jackson is kinder speaking of a vanilla-like oakiness, passion-fruit flavours, a clean sharp acidity like sour cream. That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vineous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this. That acid lingers the palate with the yeast with some deference to richness. It is nice. Try it but prepare to wish for a nice light double IPA as a cleansing light chaser. 6% in a 330 ml bottle.Beertonians blown away.

 

bellef1

Leffe Brown Belgian Dark Ale

 

 

 

 

 

Chestnut

bellef2

Hard label this one. It has some rich round brown like the Kesteel and also some tang like the Flemish Browns. Another calls it an almost double and another a dark ale. But labels have a limit. A lively head which leaves a rich foam ring. Medium to strong body. Cream and chocolate with a strong hop edge cutting the sweet. 6.5% in a 330 ml. Great on tap.Beersters consider.