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zondag 11 oktober 2015

HoppySlosh Rants: Slurfke

I've a confession to make.

I watch Thuis almost every day.
In case you don't know (*), Thuis is for Belgium what Coronation Street and Eastenders is to the Brits, Sturm der Liebe for the Germans and The Bold and the Beautiful to the Murkans(°).

°) Although the latter is also staple food for the brainless hordes of Belgian Octogenarians who have ejected Thuis from their daily roster because it deals with unrealistic everyday stuff like lesbianism and transgender issues and stalking and murder and people all being related to one another.

*) and really, I forgive you. But your innocence is lost because you do know now.


I watch Thuis.
Mostly as an excuse to plonk down on the couch with the Missus and the Wee Miss whilst the vegetables turn themselves to food on the stove.

What's my sordid little secret got to do with beer, you ask? Hark! Yonder beckons relevance!

Or is it Den Eddy?
At some point, several seasons ago, one of the more marginal characters in the programme (°) dug up an old recipe of his grandfather's and started homebrewing in his wife's kitchen.

°) den Eddy is the programme's perpetually unemployed token semi-criminal roustabout. Equipped with a heart of gold, but, I daresay, somewhat challenged where common sense is involved.

Story-telling-wise, nothing much was done with the idea of homebrewing, or even beer for the better part of that season. Just last year, however, the entire plot hook of the homebrewing weirdo was abandoned and all of a sudden, the sets became plagued with barely concealed product placements.

For this.
Toe-curling shenanigans were undertaken to infuse nigh-on every scene with at least a background effigy of Van Honsbrouck's proliferous spawn. If characters were not outright swigging pint-sized cans of Kasteel Rouge, or downing Passchendaele straight from the bottle, then they'd be lugging around cases of Kasteelbier in gift boxes when attending fancy dinners, or a banner bearing the Kasteel logo would be flapping in the breeze someplace where it would most irrelevant. It was all a bit ridiculous, but TV programmes are expensive to make so what can you do?
Besides this.
Van Honsbrouck was on the rise, and when the almost-forgotten thread of den Eddy's homebrew attempts was Frankensteined from underneath the Rouge-infused flagstones of the Zus&Zo, I raised a wary skeptic eyebrow.

Prescience can be a curse, it seems, for today, with just enough fanfare to still afterwards be able to claim it was all a bit of laugh, supermarkets are selling den Eddy's (formerly homebrewed) beer, marketed both in- and outside of the programme as Slurfke, as if the beer had broken the fourth wall and escaped its scriptorial confines.
The monster is loose.
Notice anything odd about that picture, by the way? Scroll way up again, to the still from the programme where den Eddy is eagerly pouring his first bottle of homebrewed Slurfke and take a look at the colour of that first batch. Now look back at that pic just above this paragraph and tell me you don't see it. I dare you.

It gets worse from here onward.

I have tasted Slurfke yesterday evening and the colour is the least of its issues.

I was nearly shaking with anticipation when I opened the bottle, albeit in the way I'd get the shakes if I were being carted into the operation theatre to undergo a reverse vasectomy. Let's just say that my track record with Van Honsbrouck has programmed my naturally inquisitive mind to a state of wary apprehension. A bit like lion tamer would approach his fifteenth capture from the wild. 

Just maaaaaybe.
This one will be okay.
Nothing, not my rewired mindset, not the warning lights flashing in my head, not even the screenwriters' and brewers' atrociously ham-fisted collective market-injection , could prepare me for what  I found inside that bottle.

Slurfke pours a dark brown. Not nearly the alluring black you see in the promo pics (and in the programme as well), but rather a deep mahogany shade of burnt wood. 
That thick creamy head you see on the promo pic?
It's a McHead.
The smell was underwhelming. A whiff of brownish malty things, a hint of the metallics so often present in pasteurised dark brews, but nothing altogether off-putting.

But the taste.

OMG the taste!
There's the expected signature sickly-sweet jackhammer present in every single one of Van Honsbrouck's Kasteel versions, mixed with a dreadful cough-syrup-like flavour. Artificial (and again sweetsweetsweet) red fruits, but devoid of all fruitiness, and infused with medicinal whythefuckness. Just when you think it can't get more offensive than a Kasteel-codeine hybrid could get, you get hit with an aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.

Imagine the street is your tongue, and the rest of the picture is aspartame.
Upsetting even the basic offensiveness of the brew's main flavours, the liberally dosed sweeteners numb the tongue to everything else, and I swear I felt my taste buds die under the onslaught.

The worst thing about it?

I think it's simply a lazy blend of Kasteel Bruin and Kasteel Rouge, back-sweetened even further to smoothe out any obvious blemishes, and darked with extra caramel.

Curiosity kills cats, and it's beers like this that make me dread my own intrinsic curious nature. 

Here's a beer born (nay, bred) for all the wrong reasons. 

If the aim were to simply introduce a new beer to Van Honsbrouck's already impressive lineup, then I simply don't see the point. It adds nothing of value whatsoever to an already over-populated segment of the Belgian beer market (being that of overly sweet beers which haven't woken up from the nineties yet). In fact, it even detracts from it, being such a blatantly bad example of a sweet brown beer. Or of any beer at all.

If however the aim were to throw us a bit of television merchandise, the very least they could've done was make the beer appear to be realistic. Where, I wonder, did den Eddy's grandfather find all that aspartame back when he was a youngster? When, I wonder, did den Eddy decide that instead of a generic blonde beer, his Slurfke was actually a brown type of liquid throat lozenge? As it is now, Slurfke makes as much sense to Thuis as the Oliphaunt-surfing Legolas did to the Lord of the Rings.

...whilst being marginally less cool besides.
I could rant for ages about the all-encompassing, Lovecraftian wrongness of this beer, but then I'd have to acknowledge it as a beer, which clearly it is not. 
Everything, from the label on inwards, smacks of engineered marketeering, devoid of any proper brewing. 

Suffice to say, then, that I did not like it.

Curiosity kills cats, but in Slurfke's case, we'd better teach the cat to fight back.

Until we do,



donderdag 6 augustus 2015

When in Rome: HoppySlosh Goes on Holiday(*)

*) not actually to Rome though.

Ah. The holidays. Pack your baggiest shorts, your floweriest shirt and your toelessest sandals, head down south and soak up some rays.

And some local cheap ass lager while you're at it.
Well not if you're me, you don't. My sandals may be toeless, but my shirts are plain and I like my beer authentic thank you very much.

Because there has to be some proper beer in Europe, right?
On my last visit to De Struise, I met Cécile and Benoit, a French couple of beer geeks who've quit their jobs to chase the dream and sell beer. As I may have hinted at before, France is considered to be very much a third world country in terms of potable beer where most Belgians are concerned. Needless to say, I was happy to make their acquaintance and promised to stop by their beer shop in Nîmes on my way down to Spain this year.

Promise is like a pie crust, but when I tossed the idea to the Missus extending the duration of our annual 2-day road trip to the Spanish Costa by an unknown length of time "because honey, they sell beer! In France!", she did not bat an eye. "Of course we're going to see them, dear. It'd be lovely to meet them".
I have such an awesome wife.

Yes you are, honey.
So off to France!
Et un peu vite quoi! Hein?
Benoit was off with the kids when we stopped by on the way down to Spain, but Cécile was happy to point me towards the aisle containing the French beers.

Not my pic because the camera was -where else?- waaaaay down at the bottom of the trunk.
Turns out the French have been busy, and there are quite a few microbreweries enthusiastically cooking up beers which are decidedly un-French. IPAs, always the heralds of budding craft brew movements the world over, are becoming common, and there were even a couple of porters on display. With limited space left in the car, I let Cécile help me decide on six bottles of various but always French origins (°) and then it was time already for us to take our collective leave, with promises to return on the way back home.

°) because, really, when you're in France, in a store like this, you bury your misgivings and buy French beer. Even if they stock some awesome international beers, and even if they have some Belgian beers you'd much rather find around the corner at home.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I dutifully and with no small amount of personal satisfaction worked my way through this small stash, sitting beside the swimming pool, in the residual heat of the longest and largest heat wave sweeping Spain (and most of Europe) since the invention of recorded meteorology.

Suffice to say it was a bit hot.

From Curemonte in the Dordogne hails Brasserie Corrézienne,  with an impressive array of beers in their portfolio. HopHopHop is (du-uh) a hoppy American Pale Ale which, besides a rather forward resinous twang, brought loads of grapefruit and pine. A very smooth brew, and an excellent eye-opener: the French know beer!
I meant beer.
They also do a double IPA called Dordogne Valley, which blew me away.
Rich tropical fruit, pineapple and mango. Juicy and smooth with a bitter kick at the finish. I found it to be almost New-Zealandish with its fruit-basket punch, and while the label only mentioned Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo, the website also mentions Nelson Sauvin which could explain a lot.

Or else it's the secret ingredients they chuck in the mash.
Matten, from Matzenheim, near the German border, did a collaboration brew with the (now sadly liquidised) Brasserie Fleurac. Highway to Ale (°) is a 666-themed IPA, with Brewer's Gold giving it a very British character, leaning more towards a Barley Wine à la Old Foghorn than an IPA as we know it. A bit monocline perhaps,but pretty decent.

°) Zee French are not zee onlee waans oo laik laffink wif zee French accent, eh?

Smack in the middle between Die and Gap we find BhB, a cocky bunch (°) of upstarts brewing all sorts of crazy like they were Brew Dog with a baret.

°) David D and his myriad of fractured personalities.

Rudimentary Peni is a hoppy wheat lager (who does hoppy wheat lagers? In France?) which smells like Skittles and tastes like spicy watermelon. Awesome beer, and great gift for anyone called Rudi.
Grätzer is (du-UH-huh) a grätzer(°) with a wheaty-lemony smell which belies the mild but pronounced smokey tartness underneath.

°) a nearly extinct Polish beer style. Think smoked weizen, only different.

BhB is one of the only breweries in the world who pair beer with music, and each comes with its own recommendation. De gustibus etcetera but if turn the volume down a bit, you're left with two excellent beers from a brewer I'm very keen to meet and whose beer I'd very much like to have available here.

Brasserie de Sulauze lies not far from Marseille. I got their Pan Pan Cul Cul, a dangerously quaffable rye IPA. Piney and citrusy in the nose, with spicy rye on the tongue. Exessive carbonation made this turn out a bit weak in the body, which was a shame because it's evidently a good recipe.

So. Six beers to re-introduce me to French brewing anno 2015, and I'm hooked. Take into account the fact that France is a nation built on tradition and conservativeness (°), and you may appreciate the relative novelty of these beers. Sure, there are more innovatives brews aplenty to be found elsewhere, but try finding anything like decent IPA in France without actually knowing in which village the brewer lives. France's beer revolution is still very much in its grassroots phase. A small number of renowned breweries aside, most are still very much local, and very much trying to establish a foothold, which isn't easy in a country whose inhabitants are used to Pastis, Pelforth and 1664.

Or, à dieu ne plaise, panaché.
We stopped by the store again on the way back home, with the camera even deeper enconced inside the trunk, but again, Cécile and the now-present Benoit were very hospitable, and we left with another (modest but precious) cargo of French beers, forever ambassadors to not only the Global Beer Cause, but also to L'Arene des Bieres. Seriously, if you're ever anywhere near Nîmes, drop by and give them your love.

You'll be reading more about French beers as soon as they've recovered from the journey and have found their way into my glass.

Until then,



maandag 1 juni 2015

HoppySlosh Tastes: Leffe Royale IPA

There are certainties in life.


Regardles of what day it is, or which way the earth spins, some things can be relied on to always be around. 
Whether they're a good thing is sometimes debatable (unless they're Lemmy), but generally speaking, their reliability is a source of (sometimes bleak) comfort for mankind.

At least less bleak than the constant fear of the snake winning one night.
Sometimes, however, certainties are depressing as hell.

Story in case:
AB-Inbev is launching a massive summer campaign, extolling the virtues of hops. 

"Superior selection of hops from around the world".
In case the stencilled bottle was too subtle.
Hops are hip, at least to the stiffs in suits who run AB-InBev. From the confines of their office buildings, they've been watching the world outside go by, while the factory below churns on. And every once in a while, they overhear whispered conversations between their minions, and they hear rousing talk of hops, and flavour and something called IPA.

"We must capitalise on this idea", must have been their reasoning. "We must have an IPA of our own".

"Even if we know jack shit about IPA"
Regardless of the exact definition (*) of an IPA, the general consensus seems to be one of hop-forwardness. Of intese flavours, and of boldness and attitude.

*) which I'm willing to keep liberally open for debate but will come back to at a later point

None of these are qualities I tend to associate with the Leffe brand, but I'm always ready to challenge my own preconceptions. 

Even when they're actually jsut observations.
Trying my best to be as unattached as I can be to all notions about IPA, hops, or even beer, I sampled both versions of Leffe Royale the other day, to find out what all those huge billboards are raving about.

My findings can be summed up as such:


First off was the Leffe Royale Whitbread Goldings. 

Will you just look at all that hoppy hoppiness!
Fairness where fairness is due: this beer is not marketed as an IPA. It comes with lots of hoppy pretenses though, from its overly fanciful tinfoil wrapping with its golden hops flowers, to the back blurb (*) extolling the hop-forward focus of the beer itself.

*) I'll get back to the blurb, I promise.

But fairness goes both ways, and in all fairness, I have to say that this beer reeked.
It stank.
It ponged so much that even The Missus (*) could smell it whilst she was frying onions in the kitchen, causing her to exclaim (and I'm not even paraphrasing here)

"It stinks like a bad pub serving three-weeks old stale beer"
--The Missus

*) who doesn't like beer but is still perfectly capable of distinguishing subjectively (°) bad beer from objectively (^) bad beer
°) polarising beers which, plainly put, aren't everyone's taste.
^) bog-standard beer which, equally plainly put, isn't any good.

I sniffed and smelled and inhaled and simply could not detect any trace of yumminess in the pap-like, syrupy swamp wafting from the glass into my nose. I have rarely, if ever, smelled a less appetising beer than this, and Saint Arnoldus knows I've smelled a few.
In the mouth, the beer caused my natural curiosity to riot against my instinctive self-preservation. It's hard to get it down, and perhaps harder still to keep(*) it down.

*) I'll make a point to ramble about the beer burp sometime, but for now, suffice to say that in this case, they bordered on retching. My stomach rebelled and my burps tasted like old beer and nail polish.

I smelled very little hops, and certainly none of the promised citrus and resin. In fact, I mostly smelled Leffe.
Plain old ubiquitous Leffe.
Take any of the dozen-or-so different Leffes and smell it.
That's what this Leffe smells like.
A signature smell of faux bananas and solvent, mixed with corn syrup, and the pervasive stench of an industrial brewing site. Where the Whitbread Goldings was supposed to be , I cannot tell, but my guess is it was hiding.

I wish I could say I wasn't expecting this, but then I'd be lying.

Onward, dauntless zythophiles, to another brave horizon! Here comes Leffe Royale Cascade IPA:

Because IPA is always served in an Abbeye chalice.
According to the blurb (*), dryhopping with Cascade magically transformed the Royale into an IPA.

*) I swear I'll get back to you on the blurb and it won't be much longer now.

I'll be the first to make disparaging comments about the narrowness and restrictions of beer styles, but let me make this very clear once and for all: dry-hopping alone doth not an IPA make. A beer doesn't "become" an IPA simply by infusing it with hops. Thinking of IPA as merely "a beer with increased hop rates" detracts not only from IPA, but in fact from all beers with any hops in them at all.

Belgium's got its head so far up its own beerbellied navel that all we seem to understand about IPAs is "that special technique" called dry-hopping. Infuse any beer with a smidge of hops and tadaaaah! It's an IPA!
Granted, Cascade IPA does smell a bit of hops, and is infinitely more hop-forward than the Whitbread Golding (which I assume is just plain Leffe Royale, packaged differently).
And sure enough, that little hoppy note tries its best to hide and obfuscate the lingering presence of the Royale base, but in the end, it is just that: a Leffe Royale, briefly exposed to a minimal amount of hops.
It is to Leffe what the Tripel Hop is to Duvel, only even less subtly executed. Underneath the Cascade, you still get that signature Leffe taste, of yeasty solvents and rushed beer, and the burps that follow are, alas, once again devoid of hops.

There are certainties in life.
Death & taxes. Even for Lemmy.

Both beers were exactly what I feared they would be: half-assed attempts to capitalise on the current trend toward hoppy craft beer. A thinly veiled marketeer's ploy to imbue into the Leffe brand an image of innovation which it sorely lacks, and which it is, in fact, utterly incompatible with.

Just look at the blurb (*) and tell me I exaggerate.

Interludium : the blurb

A short story about a legendary beer
For a master brewer, nothing is more precious than hops. Because the hops determine all of the beer's properties: the character, the flavour and the colour. The selection of hops is the basis of everything and has to be done with extensive knowledge and accuracy. When master brewer Charles Nowen developed the Leffe Royal range, his ambitions were clear: to develop exceptional and characterful beer styles which are both unique and special. After searching the whole world for the best hop growers, he finally chose three hop varieties. One of these is Cascade. A prestigious hops, grown in the Cascade mountains in the USA.
...the process of dry hopping makes this golden-blond beer a true IPA (an "India Pale Ale" is a beer with increased hop rates) for conoisseurs...
Experts' advice
This blond beer, the result of a unique brewing process, has the flavour of a real IPA beer, so much appreciated by connoisseurs. Its lively disposition, refreshing character and citrus accents (lemon, yellow grapefruit) are courtesy of Charles Nouwen, Leffe's master brewer, who has travelled the world in search of the best hops. Eventually, he chose three varieties, one of them being Cascade IPA. A hop variety bred in the Cascade Mountains in the United States.

Translated faithfully from the brewery's website by yours truly at the time of writing, this bit of proza highlights just about every illness and ailment of current-day macro brew labeling.
Between the self-anointment and the pompous ego-trippery, you'll find inconsistencies and errors rubbing shoulders with dubious claims.
I could spend pages and pages picking apart those handful of lines, but let me keep things short:

  • I can understand how names like Eyjafjallajökull can be problematic, but a brewery so proud of its master brewer should at least make an effort to spell his name correctly. Failing that, constistency of errors is still preferrable to nominative ad-libbing. If you've got money to send your master brewer globetrotting, you've got money for a blurbsmith with editing skills.
  • Hops do not determine all of the beer's properties. If they did, we wouldn't be so fussy about malts and yeast and even water. Of all beer's properties affected by hops, colour is a singularly bad example since it simply is not. Not even a little. But people are stupid so they'll swallow this nonsense too.
  • We got it the first time round. No need to reiterate the first paragraph word by word in the second, in hopes we'll find the "experts's advice" more valuable. Besides, who are these experts anyway?
  • Charles travelled the whole wide world in search of the best hops, and all he could come up with was fucking Cascade? Which for some reason is named  Cascade IPA by "the experts"? 
  • Worst of all perhaps: don't tell us that your "unique" beer tastes "like a real IPA". Because it doesn't, and even if it did, it'd be the least useful thing to say about it.
This blurb is a typical example of macro breweries' approach to labeling and marketing: a loud and trumpeting raspberry being blown at the customers, at truth, humility and at common sense.

Here's what that blurb needs in order to become so much more accurate and useful:

A short story about a legendary beer
For a master brewer, nothing is more precious than hops. Because the hops determine all of the beer's properties: the character, the flavour and the colour. The selection of hops is the basis of everything and has to be done with extensive knowledge and accuracy. When master brewer Charles Nowen developed the Leffe Royal range, his ambitions were clear: to develop exceptional and charachterful beer styles which are both unique and special. After searching the whole world for the best hop growers, he finally chose three hop varieties. One of these is Cascade. A prestigious hops, grown in the Cascade mountains in the USA.
Experts' advice
This blond beer, the result of a unique brewing process, has the flavour of a real IPA beer, so much appreciated by connoisseurs. Its lively disposition, refreshing character and citrus accents (lemon, yellow grapefruit) are courtesy of Charles Nouwen, Leffe's master brewer, who has travelled the world in search of the best hops. Eventually, he chose three varieties, one of them being Cascade IPA. A hop variety bred in the Cascade Mountains in the United States.
I know: I shouldn't poke fun at whatever tripe is being served on the packaging and the brewer's website. I know that, at the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

...but it becomes an irresistible joke-butt at some point.

Interludium : done

*) told you I would get to the blurb eventually

That whole "For Science!" thing? It will be the death of me one day, unless I learn to curb(*) my curiosity and leave those obvious macro-Frankenbrews nicely on the shelves where they can be pretty and vacuous like the auto-tuned pop starlets they are.

*) Gag, chain, sedate or otherwise restrain. Seriously, my cats have got nothing on me in the face of curiosity-with-possible-consequences.

I make a solemn vow today. I will one day expose myself (and possibly a few of my more masochistically inclined friends) to these beers in a (fair) blind trial. And if even one of them takes anything but an instant dislike to them, I promise I'll do a side-by-side comparison of all and every Leffe brew commercially available at the time, and write about them all without a single disparaging comment.

Until then,



donderdag 28 mei 2015

HoppySlosh Innovation: Leuven Innovation Beer Festival hits the ground running

Fate is a fickle bitch.

Ain't it just so?
One day you're running a brewery in the hinterlands of Brabant, the next your looking at its smouldering ruins while the devil shits hot coals down your spine.

In January 2015, a fire laid waste to the buildings in which Hof ten Dormaal housed its brewery. Even though most of the equipment was salvaged from the flames, a large part of the brewery's stock was lost. Things looked pretty bleak for the brewery, and its future looked as promising as a republican during the pre-election tour.
And slighty less cheerful.
A bitch she may be, but fickleness comes in forms not always unpleasant. Even as the ashes were still smouldering, the beer community reared up. Incentives were launched, crowdfundings initiated, and brewers the world over reached out to lend a hand.

Instead of rejoicing at their competitor's misfortune, brewers from around the globe came to their friend's rescue, and before the end of winter, the brewery's future was more or less secured. Flame and fire and a shitload of bad luck later, Hof ten Dormaal was still in business, and the display of compassionate camaraderie in the face of such misfortune was a sight for sore eyes in these seemingly callous times of selfish capitalist opportunism.

Long story short: in the wake of all that's happened, André decided to launch a festival. Tired of Belgium's somewhat sad reputation as the Land of Blonde, Dubbel and Tripel, he decided the theme of the festival was to be Innovation.
Hence, perhaps, the name.
As I have lamented about before, Belgium doesn't seem to be too keen on foreign beers, but will you just look at that list of attending breweries? 

BeerBert and I attended the last day of festival, in the stunning venue of Leuven's historical brew house De Hoorn. 
"You've got style" achievement unlocked.
The venue alone would be a reason to visit the festival all by itself, even if there was no actual beer present, but sometimes fate smiles on us, and we can have our cake and eat it too.

Because who would lie about cake?
But there was beer (*), and some of it was really quite innovative (°).

*) obviously. Wouldn't be much of a beer festival if there wasn't, right?
°) obviously. Wouldn't be much of an innovation beer festival if it wasn't, right?

We started things off with a visit to Siren Craft Brew's, stall. They embrace a brew philosophy which I've come to think of as the New Wave of British Brewing, which is somewhere in the middle between present-day contintental craft brewing and contemporary USA attitude. This translates to beers like the wonderfully refreshing Calypso, a Berliner weisse hopped with Comet and Simcoe. I remember having the Amarillo version earlier this year (°) but this iteration was decidedly more rounded and complete, blending the lactic sourness of the Berliner weisse with the American craft vibe of Simcoe and Comet. Deelish. 

°) Praise be unto Saint Arnoldus for specialty beer stores (De Caigny in this particular case). If it weren't for them, we'd never have proper foreign beer in Belgium at all.

Beerbert had the  7 Seas, a black IPA (*) with 7 C hops. 

Clever beer needs a clever name.

*) I know. It makes no sense until you drink one. 

From there on, we headed over to Goose Island. Yes, friends and neighbours, Goose Island showed up at a Belgian festival. I was sceptic about the obvious tie-in with InBev (*) but honestly, I was happy to see them.

*) Seriously. When you exit the Leuven train station and take a right, just walk donw the road for 5 minutes. Before you know it, you will find yourself inside InBev Citadel. It's like mini-Europe with Leffe posters plastered all over it. Pretty weird, a craft beer festival in the middle of enemy territory.

BeerBert had their Sofie, which, despite being called a farmhouse ale, tasted more like an up-state wit. Loads of orange zest, with a faint lactic/wheaty zip in the back. Classy, but not my taste at all. I went for the Class of 1988, a complex beer with tonnes of oak and grape. 

Much much later, Goose Island brought forth their flagship brew in the form of the Bourbon County Brand Stout and its Vanilla Rye variant. The Constant Reader may recall my infatuation with both the 2011 edition and the Vanilla edition, but it saddens me to say that time has made me a difficult geek to please. I found the the BCBS 2015 and the Vanilla Rye both to be overly sweet. Syrupy brews, both bordering on liquid ice cream desserts. Oodles of flavour, yes, but the sweetness got the better of me very quickly. Festivals like this are a dream for beer geeks though, because they provide an opportunity to taste rare(°) brews which would otherwise remain unobtainable to them. In this case, quite a few visitors where possitively creaming themselves in aticipation to snatch a sample of BCBS, to the further glory of All Things Craft. Say what you will, but Belgium's just not kitted out for this kind of stout violence.

°) and sometimes pretty damn expensive.

Lunch then. 

Hell yeah.
De Hoorn hosts a pop-up restaurant where we were served a nice meal, which we washed down with some brews by De Molen, recommended  by John & John. BeerBert had the Cuvée#3, a blend of thisses and thats, aged in various barrels. I think my exact words, upon sniff ing the beer, were "Even if I never got to taste this, I'd still be happy knowing just how amazing it smells". It has that signature Molen-smell all over it: roast and coffee and chocolate and booze and leather and vanilla and lots and lots of other things all just screaming at you to be drank. Spectacular brew again, and empiric proof that you can't go wrong with De Molen's stouts. I went for Groot&Sterk, a beer which was described by various people as "that ham beer". A smoked barley wine with a spicy chili bite, this really was a lot like prosciutto in a glass. The fleur de sel was a nice touch as well, emphasising the meaty character of the beer, without turning into beery broth. Awesome, and well into innovation territory.

Think this, minus the actual meat.
Heading back inside, we bumped into Kjetil, the gentle viking and CEO of Norway's Nøgne ø brewery. Whilst sampling his outstanding Vic Secret IPA (gotta love those NZ hops) as well as the Aurora Australis (°), I goaded him into commenting in my homebrewed fenugreek porter.

°) Aurora has an amazing story behind it. Apparently, it is a Norwegian tradition to send alcoholic beverages across the globe in order to benefit from the temperature fluctations as they cross the equator. How much of this is yippy-talk I cannot say (how many Norwegian alcoholic beverages can you name?), but in Aurora's case, the beer (a Belgian-style quadrupel) is brewed in two locations. A batch is brewed in Grimstad, Norway, where Nøgne ø is located. The other is brewed in Beechworth, Australia, where friendly brewers Bridge Road are located. Kjetil racks his batch into whisky barrels and sends them to Australia, where it's bottled as Aurora Borealis. The guys at Bridge Road rack theirs into red wine barrels and ship to Norway where it gets bottles as Aurora Australis. Wonderfully complex and vinous, and another fine example of International Innovative Intoxication I mean Inventiveness.

Interludium : fenugreek & festivals

Really, there is no better way to get feedback on your own brews than by asking a brewer his opinion about it.
So every time I attend a festival, I make sure a haul a couple of bottles along with the express purpose of harrassing brewers and anyone interested until they voice their opinion. If they think it's shit, I'm counting on them telling me. And while the "It's shit and this is what's wrong with it" comments are invariably priceless in terms of learning and upping one's game, secretly of course, there's always that eager kid inside hoping for approval from the big guys.
So, pepper fenugreek porter this time, and a single bottle of Zwarte Madam with raspberry. For the heck of it.

Done Interluding

Kjetil seemed to genuinely appreciate my porter, which made me all fuzzy and glowy on the inside. Until (and I kid you not) he asked for seconds! Which made me all glowy and fuzzy on the outside as well! 
I was all, like, wiiiiiiiii!
John&John seemed to like it too, so I must be doing something right. 

Back to the actual attendees, whose limelight was in no danger of being eclipsed by yours truly's homebrews. 
We headed over to Tiny Rebel, where we sampled the vowel-less cwtch, a Welsh red IPA which I thought had a bit of lager-funk going on. I've said it before and I'll say it again: IPAs tend to not work well for me in a festival setting. There's only so much hoppiness I can objectively compare before my brain and palate seem to fuse into a single alpha-acid saturated lump of lupulin. I'm sure the cwtch would have fared better had I tried it earlier though, as it was a very decent brew. I got a taste of the Dirty Stop Out which was a solid smokey brew.

Stillwater Artisanal's Surround is a coffee-flavoured beer and delivers its coffee in spades. Reminded me a lot of cafe con hielo which I like having on hot spanish mornings whilst on vacation. 
Sidling over to Freigeist Bierkultur for quick primer to what's brewing in Germany of late, we got ourselves some Nosco's Café, another coffee infused brew which reminded me a bit of my own Yog-Shotoddy, which is both a good thing ("Hey this could have been brewed by me.") and a bad ("I'm not sure I'd want that particular brew to be on display at a festival"). 
Later on, I tried their Atlantis Gose, a beer which seems to drive home the fact that I am underwhelmed by most goses. This one was a mildly lactic, refreshing and uncomplicated brew. I can see myself using this as a reward for mowing the lawn: easy, quenching  and interesting without being complex.

Wenn ich meine Rasen gemähet hatte, möchte ich gerne eine Gose trincken bitte. 

Heading out for more sun, I dragged out two brews by Foglie d'Erba. HopFelia is a an Americo-Italian IPA, hopped with USA hops and, surprisingly, Tettnanger in dryhops. Freewheelin is its DIPA counterpart, using pretty much the same ingredients but in a double version of the HopFelia.
Perhaps it's just me and festival-IPAs again, but I found myself a bit underwhelmed. There was a certain lingering undercurrent to both beers which I've started to associate with Italian IPAs, and which doesn't seem to agree with me.

Kees!  was there!
And he brought (among others) his intensely roasty Export Porter 1750. A robust, bitter, but very smooth brew which impressed me no end. The nutty flavours which I detected in the batch he brought to ACBF earlier this year were gone, and I think what Kees has produced now is pretty much as authentic a porter as we could hope to get without actually drowning an entire borough in it.

Horror, even without metric conversion.
Brekeriet were present, and I had their Rye Whiskey Sour which brought a big smile to my face. Daring to the point of being brash, the beer was assertively sour, with the rye and the whiskey bringing an smoky touch to the whole. The best weird sour I had that day. 

Time to head over to the award ceremony; walk this way please!

No, not that way.

Interludium : brewing contest

Realising how homebrewers have ever been at the forefront of innovative brewing, André organised a competition, inviting attending homebrewers to submit their most novel brew.
I hastened to oblige and submitted Good Girl Ginger, figuring a ginger-hibiscus radler-saison hybrid would be adequately innovative to have the jury sit up and take notice.

Meta never felt so good.
Long story short, I did not win but got honourable mentions for innovativity. The beer needs work (quite of few of my beers do) but the idea seems solid enough to explore it further. Which I will, and you will read about it when I do.

This Honorable Mentions thing, together with what seemed like genuine approval from whoever I subjected to my brews is certainly invigorating, and an incentive to step up my game.

Congratz to the winner and the runners-up! Pity we never got to sample each other's brews though.

Done Interluding Again

A couple of post-ceremonial samples later (*), BeerBert and Yours Truly settled on the terrace with a final serving of Cuvée#3 (°), whilst chatting about beer and nationality and whatnot with the amiable Mikkel .

*)Zure van Tildonk was a pretty classy lambic-ish brew, and the Revenge of the Raspberry was revealed to be a beer re-racked onto raspberries, which imparted a solid falvour without the color. Definitely one of the more innovative ideas I saw explored to great effect that day.

°) Someday, I'm going to post something deep and meaningful about "the final beer of the festival" and what this says about both the beer and the festival, but today is not that day.

In spîte of being relatively below-radar, this was a fantastic festival, crammed with nice people, nice beers, in a setting which was just awesomely spectacular.

André, this was a blast. May friends, good cheer and good beer be ever with you, even in the face of chaos and the fickleness of fate.



woensdag 20 mei 2015

Brewsflash: Dog arses and make-believe citrus

Bottling time!

I've been too busy brewing and not busy enough bottling lately, leading to a production bottleneck (see what I did there?) in the shape of too few carboys.

Nothing makes my day like a confusing Google Image Search.
As I reported recently, I brewed a medlar saison a couple of months ago, and it was about time I got it bottled bottle lest it never get druk. Drank. Consumed. Whatever.

Medlars are a fascinating fruit. Related to the hawthorn, medlar trees grow golf-ball sized fruits, which are hard, tannic, and not very pleasant unless they're bletted.

That means rotten, only more poshly so.
I am endlessly fascinated by weird and slightly(*) yucky foods, and the medlar is a favourite of mine pricesely because (°) it is a rare example of a fruit which effectively has to spoil in order to be edible.

*) or very. Or very very. Or will you fuckin' stop already!

°) also because it gets charmingly nicknamed things like "open arse" and "dog butt". Good thing the Internet wasn't around when the medlar got its nick, or else I'd be gargling goatse(^) beer soon. 

^) Oh and for the love of god don't google goatse if your don't know what it is already. The internet should come with a warning sticker that says "Don't google goatse". The medlar's nick should be ample warning, but apparently it isn't.

Using about two dozen properly bletted medlars (courtesy of the amazing Marloes & Martijn), I made a syrup which I froze until I was ready to use it in a brew.

Early February, I brewed a basic(*) saison, and in a spontaneous act of generosity, I'm sharing the recipe with you, Constant Reader.

Or just because.

*) I promise to one day lay out my understanding of what a saison was, what it now is and what it should be, but for now, let's assume there actually exists such a thing as a basic saison.

Technical stuff below; skip unless you like technical stuff, numbers and beergeekery

Made a 5 gallon batch, comprising 36% Pilsner, 36% pale and 28% wheat malt. 
Mashed on the low end at 150°F, where it gradually petered down to about 140 (my mash tun needs an insulation coat). 
70' boil. 
0.5 ounces of Citra @ 70'         (26 IBU)
1.0 ounces of Citra @ 10'         (6 IBU)
1.5 ounces of Citra @ flameout (0 IBU)

5g of black pepper corns and zest of 1 lemon @10'.

Cooled to 68°F and pitched with French Saison (second generation 3711, kindly donated by Frankenbuddy). 
Fermented at 71°F, ramping to 77 over the course of a week; dropped from 1.063 to 1.002.

Racked to secondary and split in three batches. 

Technical stuff all done now, resuming normalcy

Three batches then, from a single brew. Not only did I not have enough medlar syrup to flavour an entire 5 gallon batch, I also wanted to be able to define the specifics of the medlars' contribution. 

It will end in tears one day.
  1. basic version. Just the above recipe, no further shennanigans applied.
  2. Cul de Chien: added syrup I made from about 2 dozen bletted medlars, half a lemon, and sugar.
  3. basic + Orval dregs for Brett funk and rustic saison character.
Then I moved all three to the cellar and tried to forget about them for a few months.

Until yesterday.
Batch 1 and 2 were bottled by yours truly yesterday, which means I'll be able to taste them properly in a couple weeks' time. So far, the prognosis looks good. Solid saison profile, with Citra really doing its utmost to bring refeshing hoppy citrus notes and the yeast tying it all together. The Cul de Chien version had a bit of extra lemony zing to it (I may have overdone things lemon-wise when I made that syrup) and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi which probably the medlars. Even if the beer tatstes nothing like medlars at all, it's still going to be a great brew. 

Yeastie Boy is buzzing with anticipation.
Batch 3 will be bottled sometime soon. My understanding is that the Bretts will take a long time before they become noticeable, but will impart a bit of that rustic Old Orval vibe, which I think will add more complexity and authenticity.

Because all authentic saisons were brewed with citra and Dog's Arse.
More news when the brews are sampled.

Until then, I part with a fitting Chaucer quote:

We olde men, I drede, so fare we:
Til we be roten, kan we nat be rype;

May our bletting be long in the waiting.