It's all about the beer and finding your way to it

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hop Power

Recently I sampled the recent limited release beer from Brouwerij DeRanke- Hop Flower Power. It is a wet hopped ale that is brewed with Brewer's Gold and Challenger hops for bittering, and Saaz and Hallertauer Mittelfrüh for aroma. The 80kg of wet hops added (hops freshly picked from the vine and added to the brewkettle usually within a day) were also Mittelfrüh. It was brewed for the 15th anniversary of the the Flemish beer tasting group H.O.P.(Heerlijk Objectief Proeven).

Wet hopping was something that was commercially pioneered by Sierra Nevada in the 1990's and in the last few years it has become quite common for breweries in the US to release wet hop beers after the hop harvest in the late summer.

DeRanke generally makes beers that tend to be a bit more hoppy than much of what you find in Belgium these days. XX Bitter is an example. They use whole cone hops for their beers and tend to use european hops and not american high alpha hops. The new Hop Flower Power continues this route. This kind of hopping gives the beers less of the citrusy or floral character that you find in heavily hopped American beers.

The result is quite nice and very refreshing. The beer is a soft translucent orange with a narrow head. There is a fresh grassy nose to it. The first sip brings a sharp bitterness that quickly fades to a grassy herbal spiciness that lingers nicely on the tongue. It gets better as you work through the glass, maintaining the flavor and never burning you out with hops.

Growlers and the kind of people that get them

Recent article in the NYT talks about the increasing use of growlers for bringing beer home in the NYC area. Nice sterotype in it:

"And the jugs, filled at taps in bars and stores, are not just the toys of the bearded, flannel-shirt, beer-geek set."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An Evolution of Beer Appreciation

It was nearly three years ago in a small restaurant in Gent where the sip of a glass at the dinner table resulted in the exclamation of: "That's terrible!". It was a glass of Hanssen's Oude Gueuze. Those words came from my father in law upon tasting this style of beer native to Belgium and regarded by many beer connoisseurs as one of the most complex and interesting styles that exist.
Gueuze is created by blending different vintages of lambic and then continued aging to create an astoundingly  complex but challenging beer. It is very tart and puckering and often has a note of earthiness to it. The lambic used to make gueuze is brewed using wild yeast that, traditionally, is carried in the air in the Senne Valley south of Brussels. Aged hops are also a hallmark of lambic, used to impart the preservative quality of the hops but without the flavor. This allows the tart nature of the wild fermentation to shine through. Lambics are brewed and then aged from one to three years to let the wild yeast do their work. Gueuze comes from the blending of various ages and batches of lambic to create a new beer that is considerably different from a straight lambic. This is a skill mastered by a gueuze blender, skill of experience. The gueuze is now ready to sit and continue to mature. It can wait for upwards of 20 years under the right conditions.

Back to the point of this story (which has a happy ending). Since that time of the first sip in Gent, through the tasting of more and more complex beers, I can report that earlier this month my father in law drank and enjoyed numerous glasses of lambic and gueuze at cafes around Brussels.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Run

Today there was time for another beer run to a different shop to fill out the beer stockpile. The haul came out quite nice- some Cantillon Vignerrone and a 2003 Bruocsella Grand Cru were highlights- and imclude a number of beers that are firsts for me. Boon Oude Kriek and La Rulles Blonde are two. An important part of the beer run was the case of Bink, an outstanding brew from Brouwerij Kerkom in Sint Truiden. The Bink Blonde and Bruin are perfect everyday beers that are of a lower alcohol level but make no sacrifices of taste. Below is the haul:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pennies per bottle

Went to the beer store today and came across this special you see to the left: a case of Echt Kriekenbier for €10. That is around what a case of Yueungling costs back home. However this is a sour Flemish brown ale aged in cherries that is very rare in US- I've had it once at a beer festival in December 2008. That rarity makes this find even better. The beer is a deep red color and comes across with a refeshing sour taste that has it's edge cut ever so slightly by the cherries. And it is a perfect way to pick up a dreary wet winter day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Primus met gist

That translates to 'Primus with yeast'. My interest was piqued by an entry about this beer in the recent Flemish beer book 100x proeven van straffe streekbieren. This beer is served only at the Brouwershuis restaurant across the street from the Haacht Brewery (which is where else but in Haacht). Primus is normally an extremely bland forgettable euro-lager found nearly everywhere in Belgium but at the brewery tap they serve it on draft with the yeast still in the barrel in hopes of imparting some character to it.

It was with this in mind that we traveled in aftermath of a snowfall to the Haacht Brouwershuis to try the Primus met gist and see how their lunch measures up.The restaurant is located across the street from the brewery in a very tastefully restored Victorian house that was formerly an executive's home. It a short walk from the train station and easy to find (can't miss the brewery). Lunchtime was very busy too.

Soon after sitting at our table we quickly got our glasses of the rare beer. The tall thin mugs were cloudy, almost the color of a witbier. This unfiltered Primus is markedly better than than the regular version. You can still tell it is a mass market lager but the yeast gives it a bready, almost chewy, character that leaves a nice taste on your tongue. A very refreshing beer that it went well will my tasty but a little unfocused 'Brouwershuis salad'- a mix of greens with chicken, shrimp, and calamari.

Worth visiting to try the beer if you are in the area but not so amazing that it demands to be a beer destination.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kerstbierfestival 2009

Christmas beers are not really a traditional style but are more of a modern creation as breweries have looked to create seasonal products. That said, the Belgians have taken to it with gusto and have created some incredible brews. Very generally speaking, a Christmas beer is usually rich, strong and often heavy. It may also be spiced with herbs. And the alcohol is usually quite high (to warm you on the cold winter nights, of course).

To celebrate these creations each year, a regional Zythos beer tasters group throws the well regarded Kerstbierfestival. The 2-day event takes place in Essen, a town in the north of Belgium and a stone's throw from the border with Holland. This past year on December 12 & 13 they had on show 157 different Belgian Christmas beers to be sampled.

The event runs in this way: upon entry you get a sampling glass for €3 (refundable if you return it later) and then you buy tickets that you exchange for samples of the beers. There is a large board that lists the beers that are available, some on tap but most from a bottle. Volunteers do all the pouring. After deciding on what you want to sample, you head to the counter, use the glass-washing machine to rinse out your glass, tell them the number, and hand over a ticket.

As with other beer festivals I have been to in Belgium, this one had a bit of an older touch than you see in the U.S. The crowd was lively but quieter than ones I've been to back home. People would get their samples and then chat at their table over cheese. Many would take notes as they discussed their beers.

Onto the beers. I'd say that the Kessel Christmas and Winter 10 were my two favorite brews. They were both dark beers that really had that satisfying fullness that is so enjoyable on a winter night. Slaghmuylder's Kerstbier was very interesting in that it was an unfiltered lager and not a heavy dark beer as is most common. Still it worked because it had a nice strong malty base that was refreshing and sweet.