Archive for the ‘Belgian Ale’ Category

12 Beers of X-Mas: Delirium Noël

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

This evening I’m having Delirium Noël, the Christmas offering from Brouwerij Huyghe, based in Melle, Belgium. The delirium line (originating with Delirium Tremens) features delightful pink elephants as the logo, in this case they’re skiing and driving Santa’s sleigh.

Delirium NoëlNoël is a relatively clear ruby red, with a thick, creamy and lasting tan head. A delicate caramel malty sweetness leads the nose, followed by a spicy, peppery character. Coriander, cinnamon and white pepper combine with dried fruit to produce an amazingly intriguing complexity.

A rich spiciness dominates the flavor. Strong alcohol warming melds well with the cinnamon and allspice, an almost overbearing spice character that is somewhat balanced by a rich caramel sweetness. After the depth of the aroma this hammering flavor is a little frustrating, but I suppose in a way it’s the Belgian version of an American IPA. The full body, the alcohol bite and the bright carbonation produce a lively body that makes this beer remarkably drinkable for how sharp it is.

This is almost the definition of a winter warmer: the spiciness, the full body, the high alcohol content (ten percent!). I wish there were a bit more depth to the flavor, but otherwise a very satisfying beer to share on a cold night like tonight.

+Delirium Noël

4.1 (4-9-7-5-16)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Wittekerke Winter White

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Happy new year! Tonight I’m celebrating with the Wittekerke Winter White Ale, brewed by Brouwerij De Brabandere in Bavikhove, Belgium.Wittekerke Winter White Ale This winter seasonal is the double version of the regular Wittekerke witbier.

Tonight’s Winter White is pleasantly hazy, a pale gold color with a creamy bright white head. The aroma is richly malty with biscuits, almonds and a bit of honey. Light tropical fruit and a clove spiciness hint at the yeast strain, while a little grassy hop character rounds out the nose.

The flavor is alternately sweet and spicy. Bready malt leads but is quickly met by coriander and allspice. The malt sweetness grows and is joined by an herbal hop bitterness. The rich effervescence brings out the clove spice once again. As the flavors begin to fade the alcohol warming intensifies, so despite the malt-forward nature the finish is light and dry.

The spice character of this beer is elusive, hiding behind a luscious malt and wheat flavor. Cloves, coriander, cinnamon and bitter orange dance with the significant alcohol character to create a serious complexity, yet it remains quite drinkable. I wish the head left a bit more of a lacing on the glass.

+Wittekerke Winter White Ale

4.1 (4-8-8-4-17)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Dupont Avec les Bons Vœux

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

With good wishes from Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium, comes the classic holiday saison Avec les Bons Vœux. Originally brewed as a new year’s gift for select clients, this dry-hopped farmhouse ale is now widely available. Each winter I consider it Dupont’s personal gift to me.

Avec les bons VœuxThe head on the Bons Vœux is so lively and thick that it’s a challenge to pour. The quite creamy and long-lasting head sits atop an unfiltered, opalescent beer the color of gold. A dry hoppy aroma greets you at first, with a bit of barnyard mustiness as well. Biscuity malt character follows, balancing the herbal hop nose. This is one of those delicate and complex aromas you can easily get lost in.

The flavor walks the knife’s edge between dry hoppy and sweet malty. An herbal bitterness is balanced by bready sweetness. The clean malt character grows into a strong alcohol warming, betraying the almost ten percent alcohol. A strong effervescence keeps the heat from growing too biting and brings out the piney and herbal hop flavor.

The Bons Vœux is a pinnacle of understated complexity.

++Avec les Bons Vœux de la Brasserie Dupont

4.2 (5-9-7-4-17)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Chimay Grande Réserve

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The blue cap Chimay was first brewed as a Christmas beer, but due to popular demand it is now available year-round. The Grande Réserve is a fine example of an abbey quad, one of few brewed by actual monks.Chimay Blue Before my recent move to New York I had a beautiful Chimay glass, tuned to ring at the pitch of the Scourmont Abbey bells (see it here and here).

The Grande Réserve pours a hazy deep chestnut brown. The straw-colored head is creamy and thick, but doesn’t last long enough. The nose is round, sweet, and almost vinous. Dark fruit like prunes and brandy compliment the caramel and chocolate notes. There is a faint hint of hazelnut.

The flavor is rich. Alcoholic warming supports caramel, dates, prunes, and walnuts. A bit of a spiciness, probably also from the alcohol, might be described as pepper halfway to anise. The body is significant, but remains dry, and the lively carbonation and alcohol keep this beer remarkably drinkable. Have it today, or cellar it for years.

+Chimay Grande Réserve

4.2 (4-8-8-4-18)

12 Beers of X-Mas: St. Bernardus Wit

Friday, December 30th, 2011

St. Bernardus WitFrom the brewers’ town of Watou, Belgium comes a witbier made by Brouwerij St. Bernardus.

The Wit looks much like cider with very hazy straw color. The bone-white head is somewhat thin. The aroma is light but complex. A spicy wheat berry character is supported by citrus, perhaps grapefruit. Bread and cloves round out the nose.

The flavor is likewise spicy, featuring cloves and black pepper. A serious acidic citrus flavor follows with orange, grapefruit, and maybe even lime. Some white bread flavor, and yet more spiciness. The palate is strongly effervescent, with just enough body to keep it from being sharp.

+St. Bernardus Wit

3.8 (4-8-7-3-16)

Thanksgiving Sour Ales

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

The Huffington Post has an article with Thanksgiving beer suggestions by Justin Philips from Beer Table. Three of the six are sour ales: Rodenbach Grand Cru, BFM‘s Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien, and the Leipziger Gose from Bayerischer Bahnhoff.

My family had Thanksgiving early this year, and it occurred to me that sour ales are particularly suitable for Thanksgiving. In many ways a sour ale is much like a fine wine, seeming to balance the food in a way that a lot of beer doesn’t. Also it’s a really good chance to challenge your family and friends’ expectations about beer. The large (wine-sized) bottles it’s sold in encourage sharing.

Here are several sour beers I think would make a good addition to a Thanksgiving table. Mariage Parfait, the oude geuze from Brouwerij Boon in Lembeek, Belgium, compares favorably with champagne. I’ve written about the rich aroma, which seems light but draws you in, and the bold yet approachable flavor.

Another good choice to match a Thanksgiving meal is Duchesse de Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium. This is a richer beer, with a strong flavor reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. It also has dark fruit and port character. This is one of my favorites; you can read more about it in one of my two reviews.

My last suggestion isn’t actually sour, but it is brewed with Brettanomyces wild yeast. It’s Alive from Mikkeller, the gypsy brewer, also has a bright champagne-like quality. But It’s Alive is a little stronger and has a healthy infusion of hops to boot. The balance between the hop bitterness and the earthy character from the brett is masterful.

Two Red Beers

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I picked up a bottle based purely on the style indication “French red ale”. I am hoping that this one is similar to Flemish red ales, one of my favorite kinds of beer. Red beers from Flanders are sour, aged in oak barrels which are infused with a cocktail of bacteria and yeast. The end result is a beer with a heck of a lot of character.

The French offering is called Gavroche, brewed by Brasserie St. Sylvestre in Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel. This hamlet, with just over a thousand residents, is in the far north of France, well within the sphere of influence of Flanders. The bottle has easily the most interesting closure system I have seen in a while: it is corked with a mushrooming cork, like many Belgians, but instead of a thin wire cage to keep it in, there is one hefty wire bar across the top.

I can tell from the nose that this beer isn’t sour, so I’m glad I’m trying it first. The Gavroche pours a beautiful orange-red, somewhere between copper and rust, clear enough to be brilliant, but with a satisfactory haze. The buff head is lusciously thick and creamy. The aroma is mild, dry and somewhat dusty. There is some toast and chestnut from the malt and a fair herbal and earthy hop character.

The flavor is much more assertive than the aroma would indicate, largely due to the alcohol. A rich nuttiness from the malt blends well with an alcohol flavor suited to a port wine. Both of these are supported by a solid body, which the beer’s strong effervescence keeps refreshing. Caramel and toast malt flavors come through on the back, along with a strong herbal hop character. None of it lingers very long, or even long enough.

The other red I will have tonight is brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge for the Monk’s Café in Philadelphia. This one is a sour, though Van Steenberge isn’t traditionally a sour beer house.

The Monk’s Café is a wonderful ruby red, lightly hazy, with a little bit of an off-white head. The nose is definitely that of a Flemish red: strongly woody, with a significant balsamic vinegar aspect. A rich nuttiness and some sweetness linger in the background.

The residual sugar is actually a bit more prominent than the organic acid. Caramel malt and some bread are followed by a balsamic vinegar flavor. Rather than evolving, like many examples, the depth of flavor somewhat falls away, leaving just a mouth puckering accompanied by residual sweetness. The mouth puckering doesn’t last long either, and the sweetness turns cloying.


3.9 (5-6-8-4-16)

+/-Monk’s Café

3.3 (4-7-6-2-14)

Strubbes Chocolat

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

This is yet another entry I wrote notes for while in Germany that I am just now getting around to posting. Enjoy.

In the giftshop of the Chocolate Museum in Köln I picked up a bottle of Strubbes Chocolat, a beer brewed with cocoa. It’s made by Brouwerij Strubbe, who also produce Ichtegem’s Flemish beers and a few others.

The Chocolat pours a deep golden color bordering on amber, brilliantly clear. The white head is thick, creamy, and dense. The aroma is sweetly malty, with caramel and bread notes. The hints of cocoa and wheat have the sense of a breakfast cereal.

The flavor continues the cereal theme, lightly chocolatey and wheaty. It is a bit sweet with caramel and malt. The carbonation is a bit flat, making the sweetness more prominent and the body seem fuller than it would be otherwise. The Chocolat would be much better if it were livelier.

+/-Strubbes Chocolat

3.3 (3-7-6-3-14)

Spotlight Week: Brasserie Dupont

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

2010-01-16-dupontThe beer style saison was originally brewed each winter in Belgian and French barns and farmhouses for the consumption the following summer by migrant farmhands. The Tourpes, Belgium farm on which Brasserie Dupont is located was one such place. They have brewed saison there continuously since 1844. In 1920 Alfred Dupont bought the farm-brewery for his son Louis. The brewery is now run by Olivier Dedeycker, great-grandnephew of Louis Dupont. They were among the first to brew organic beer, starting way back in 1990. Besides making several varieties of saison and bier de miel (beer with honey), they produce the Moinette line of Belgian ales.

Their website has some great pictures and plenty of details about their brewing procedures. If you can read French or stand bad Babelfish translations check it out. They also describe their baking and cheesemaking operations, if those tickle your fancy.

Since saison is the beer Dupont is known for, tonight I will try three varieties. I’ll kick things off with two vintages of their flagship Saison Dupont, a 2007 and a 2009. I have a bottle of their organic saison called Forêt (Moinette Biologique in Europe). I will also taste a bottle of their holiday brew, Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie Dupont (“with good wishes from the Dupont brewery”), usually shortened to just Bons Vœux.

2010-01-16-saisonsSaison Dupont pours an old gold color with a thick haze as well as a homogeneous distribution of tiny yeast particles. The off-white head is thick and moussey, and for the cellared version has a bit more stability. The change in the nose is intriguing. The fresh saison has a very light fruity nose of lemon and pear. Some malt and dry grass or hay come with it. The 2007 has a much darker fruit aroma. Raisins, cranberries, and figs stand out. There is just a bit of a malty sweetness before a funk sets in. I wouldn’t describe it as quite barnyard, but that might be only because I drink gueuze. There is just a bit of cider and some stinky cheese on the nose that remain too mild to be unpleasant.

The fresh beer has a light flavor reminiscent of champagne. Clean malt flavor is paired with some dust and an assertive bitterness. Bread and some grassiness add complexity. A bit of fruit is there as well. The taste of the 2007 follows from the nose. The dried fruit and cider are prominent. Some malty sweetness and a bit of meaty (yeast autolysis) character. The fresh version has a light, refreshing body that stays dry. The bitterness and the lively palate make this beer drinkable but keep the character. The 2007 is somehow thicker and sweeter, with a lingering palate fullness. Two years is too long for this beer; I wish I had a 2008 to try.

2010-01-16-foretI decided to blend the last few sips of each vintage. They compliment each other quite well, with the 2007 providing a robust character and the 2009 making it sprightly.

Next up, the organic saison Forêt. I looked it up: it means ‘forest’. Is it a suggestion not to miss the forest for the trees? You decide. It is important to note that when they say ‘organic’ they mean it. Exactly 100% of the ingredients in this beer are organically grown, unlike beers labeled ‘organic’ in the United States.

Forêt pours a hazy golden fulvous color (yes I looked that one up, too). The creamy white head lasts forever, and there are a few of the same yeast specks floating. The aroma is just fascinating. There are little bits of so many things. A spiciness greets you at first: coriander, black pepper, anise, and cinnamon. This is followed by an herbal hop character that borders on floral. A clean pale malt aroma rounds it out, but the spices never give way.

The taste, much like the nose, is spicy, yet so much more. An alcohol warming sets the stage. The black pepper and coriander are back, and sage and basil are quick to add an herbal contribution. A little bit of sweetness and clean malt flavor balance an earthy hop bitterness. This lasts just a moment, with the sweetness lingering a bit longer. This beer is eminently flavorful, refreshing, and quaffable. Without question Forêt deserves a place among the best saisons, be they organic or otherwise.

2010-01-16-bon-voeuxFinally, the Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie Dupont. The top of this label has the inscription “III”. Every bottle I have seen has this. I don’t know what this is or why it’s there. Please tell me if there is some story behind the three that I cannot locate.

The Bons Vœux pours a lightly hazy coppery gold. The off-white head is thick and voluminous and seriously lasts. The nose is light and dirty. The sweet malt aroma is made interesting by a bit of barnyard funk and sweatiness. Some spiciness comes out, too.

A spicy alcoholic flavor, a warming sensation, and a bit of ethanol flavor betray the nine-plus percent alcohol of this beer. It is almost hidden, however, in the spicy yeast flavors: coriander, pepper, mace, and cloves. A bit of sweet malt contributes a bready flavor. The earthy hops add a balancing bitterness that keeps the beer lively. Though thick and sweet, this beer is certainly refreshing and not at all cloying. The Bons Vœux would be essentially perfect if not for the pronounced alcohol character.

++Dupont Forêt

4.5 (4-9-9-4-19)

++Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie Dupont

4.4 (5-9-8-4-18)

+Saison Dupont 2009

4.0 (4-7-8-5-16)

+/-Saison Dupont 2007

3.6 (4-8-7-3-14)

Spotlight Week: Goose Island Beer Company

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

2010-01-14-giIf you want an inspirational story about a brewery that pulled itself up by its bootstraps, you need look no further than Goose Island Beer Company. In 1988, John Hall opened the first Goose Island Brewpub, at Clybourn and Sheffield on the north side of Chicago. Though essentially in Lincoln Park, the brewery is not all that far from Cabrini-Green, which at the time was easily the most unsafe part of the northside. Over the years the brewpub built a community of beer fans and simultaneously played an instrumental role in revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood.

By 1995, the brewpub had grown enough that Goose Island opened the brewery on Fulton Street. This is the facility that currently produces all the company’s bottled beers. They have since expanded further, opening a second brewpub on Clark Street, half a block from Wrigley Field. Each of the two brewpubs produces their own specialties and unique creations. After a deal with Widmer (wherein Goose Island brews are sold by Anheuser-Busch distributors) the beer is now available nationwide, and also in England. It seems the plan has paid off, for in the last three years they have grown from 37th largest brewery to 22nd.

2010-01-14-matildaGoose Island produces five year-round beers: 312 Urban Wheat Ale (one wonders what exactly “urban” means here), Honker’s Ale (a regular bitter), India Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale (formerly the more inspired Hex Nut Brown), and Oatmeal Stout. They also brew a variety of seasonals (some with more interesting names) and their acclaimed special reserves. Among the most sought-after craft beers these days is their Bourbon County Stout, a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout that sells for upwards of $5 per 12 ounce bottle. Tonight I will try three others of the brewmaster’s specials: the Belgians Matilda, Sofie, and Juliet.

Matilda used to be brewed with Brettanomyces wild yeast. It is my understanding that they now only bottle with that infernal bug. It pours the color of a persimmon, crystal clear despite warnings of “a sediment”. The lace-inducing off-white head is not nearly voluminous enough. Matilda has a delicate fruity nose: mostly raspberries, cherries, and honeydew. There is a little spicy aroma and some clean malt as well. Perhaps some roses in the background.

2010-01-14-sofieThe taste is spicy with yeast character. A noticeable alcohol warming supports the peppery flavor. There is some strange fruit and caramel. A little dustiness and that strange fruit are all I get from the Brett. A bit of hop bitterness seems present but is quickly gone. Tastes just a little flat. Officially it is “dry and quenching”, but I don’t find it either. There is a prominent sweetness that turns cloying, leaving a coating on the tongue accompanied by a lingering astringency. Don’t drink this one now; sit on your bottles for two or three years.

Twenty percent of Sofie has been aged in wine barrels of undetermined varietal on a bed of orange peels. This has been blended back with the unadulterated version to yield a barely hazy, barely yellow brew. A decent amount of creamy bright-white head leaves a thick lacing on the glass. The nose is of orange peel, almost to the point of smelling like Gojo. Actually, it has the exact aroma of fermented Mountain Dew (not that I know that at all).

The taste continues the citric bomb with a tart lemon flavor. At first that character makes it seems like a Berliner weisse, but it is not nearly acidic enough and much too sweet. The lemon yields to pepper and a malt flavor. The sweetness lasts throughout and lingers on. This is a highly regarded beer, and frankly I don’t understand why. The flavor is flat and the sweetness cloying. As my brother (who likes it) said, people must like Mountain Dew more than I.

2010-01-14-julietFinally we get to Juliet, an aptly-named sour, aged in wine barrels of indeterminate variety on blackberries (at one point they were using gooseberries). Juliet is an opalescent burnt orange with some white head. The nose is deep. Fruit dominates the first level, mostly pie cherries, dates, blackberries, kiwi, and raisins. Then comes a dusty, barnyard sweetness. Deeper yet is a rich balsamic vinegar character. A complicated and intriguing aroma.

The flavor is likewise complicated. Seriously fruity at first, the sour character soon comes out. Berries, pomegranate, and a little more exotic fruit are present. A lemon tart and balsamic vinegar sour add a rich complexity. Some caramel flavor attempts a malty coup but the acidity fights on. The flavor continues to develop on the tongue for several minutes, eventually resting as a latent astringency. The sweetness and acidity balance each other initially but they both linger a bit long. An otherworldly berry taste is really the star of this beer.

++Goose Island Juliet

4.3 (4-9-9-3-18)

+Goose Island Matilda

3.6 (3-8-7-3-15)

+/-Goose Island Sofie

3.2 (4-6-6-3-13)