17 September 2009

Hell, damnation and easy listening

I left out the beer from two breweries from my piece on last week's trip to the Netherlands so I could group them all together here. One of them I visited couple of years back, but the other we showed up to on Wednesday afternoon for a tour.

Formerly based in Amsterdam's suburbs, on the delightfully named Helicopterstraat, De Prael moved to a prime location in the Red Light district in the last year, as part of the city's attempt to clean the area up using something more than a powerhose. The building still isn't finished, with a tasting room no further than foundation level. What's standing is a shopfront, backing on to the small brewery at the rear. The authorities forbid serving beer in a shop, but boozing in the street is just fine, so pre-tour tastings are conducted in the narrow alley beside the building. Offered a beer each by our host, Barry, Mrs Beer Nut, a rather stoned Californian tourist and I picked a selection and shared the bottles round.

De Prael beers are quite distinctive from their modernist labels and odd titles. It turns out that most of them are named after local crooners from the '50s and '60s, and their LPs adorn the shop walls. Suddenly that bottle of Willy (their dark winter ale) isn't nearly as amusing.

But I didn't get to taste any Willy as the chap showing us round failed to offer us some. Selfish git. We made do by starting with Heintje, the witbier. This has a little more yeasty spice than your typical macrobrewed Belgian wheatbeer, a sort of rough hand-crafted quality that's enjoyable within the limitations of the style, but not exactly inspiring. There's also a pale winter ale called Willeke which I found rather boring. It left me even more curious about Willy. My wife the bock fiend went straight for Nelis, one of the typically dark ruby autumn bocks that start to appear this time of year in the Netherlands. Again, it's no barnstormer -- some pleasant sweet caramel as you might expect, a mild warming booziness, but not a whole lot else.

So far, so ordinary. But one De Prael beer did stand above the others, one presumably not named after a loaf-haired warbler: Zwarte Riek. This was on tap in 't Arendsnest and poured a dark ruby colour with a blend of light roasted porter notes coupled with very autumnal smoke and caramel flavours which make it much more of a success as a beer for this season than Nelis.

Workmanlike is the word I'd use to describe De Prael's beers: turning out, for the most part, good but unexciting interpretations of the common national beer styles. Not like the next guy.

Judging by the massive selection of his work on the shelves of De Bierkoning, it's a wonder Menno has time to do anything other than brew (though he did make an appearance at BeerTemple on its opening night). As one might expect, the Wizard of Bodegraven features prominently at 't Arendnest, not least because of the striking stark-but-informative labels on most of the De Molen beers. He's also taken to coating the necks of his capped bottles in wax, à la Three Floyds Dark Lord, and I'm not sure I approve of that pretension.

One scurrilous gossip I met told me that he doesn't make the same imperial stout twice, which helps explain why there are so many of them. The first I had on this trip was Mout & Mocca, flavoured, as the name suggests, with coffee. Even cold from the tap this is highly aromatic with a slight sour touch on the nose. The flavour blends bitterness both from the hops and the coffee with a sugary sweetness which, combined with the coldness, had me thinking of your typically Caribbean sort of strong stout. The sort of 10% ABV black beer you want on a warm afternoon like last Tuesday.

To the waxy bottles, then, and a Hel & Verdoemenis. The aroma gives off powerful sweet roasted promises, like sniffing raw chocolate malt, and the mouthfeel is as thick as one might expect from such a big 12%-er. Flavourwise, where do I start? The boozy vapours are the first thing to hit the palate, and there's a lasting undercurrent of big hop bitterness. The middle flavours are all about coffee roastiness, floating on the alcoholic heat haze -- Mrs Beer Nut's descriptor was "Tia Maria made from finest arabica", and I think that about sums it up. Each sip brings flavours that last forever, so even at €7 a bottle down the pub, this is good value for money.

The tap list in Wildeman advertised a 12% beer called "De Molen Black Jack" but I can't find anything about it on the web. Is it the Struis one? (edit: no, it's just very new. Thanks for the update, Barry) Anyway, this was good stuff: lots of sweet coffee and chocolate -- liqueurish again -- and a bit of phenol, though not enough to spoil it. Very tasty. That leaves just one other De Molen beer, and I moved away from the black stuff for this. Heil & Zegen is a double IPA of a beautiful dark ruby shade. There's no head and the body is thick and almost syrupy -- more of an American-style barleywine I'd have said. But it's very well balanced: no harshness, just a strong herbal hoppiness and a smooth weighty body without any trace of sickliness. It's yet another De Molen beer to take some time over.

And the other beers from this trip? They're still capped and stashed away at home for leaner times this winter. I'll be rationing them out to myself when I feel like a treat. Or run out of things to write about. Whatever.


  1. Mmm, those De Molen's do sound really very nice. I'm sure the brewery has close links with Gadds brewery in Ramsgate and I know a few casks get served on the Kent coast so I need to get out there and find them.

  2. Anonymous9:07 am

    Never did like the taste of willy much !! HaHa

  3. The Bloody Tan1:28 pm

    I'm intrigued to know how you manage to put away so much strong beer in such a short period of time while still remembering so much detail.
    I presume Mrs Beer Nut has a good shorthand note and an equally strong constitution !

  4. Remember? Dear me no. My notebook does that. And if you're having trouble putting away three or four glasses of wine in a sitting without being able to remember it, it's time to see the doctor.

  5. Regarding the wax its, very good at keeping out oxygen, especially if you want to lay down the beer

  6. So's the plastic under the crown cap. If it's not cork I don't see the point.