06 November 2009

Joyful mystery

Session logo"Framing" is what Andrew calls the phenomenon of beer label description -- the text that tells you what to expect when you pop the cap and pour out the foamy goodness. It reminds me of Ron's definition of a beer style as "a consensus between brewer and drinker, a shorthand to describe the essential features of a beer". While you don't want a beer that's brewed to rigidly conform to standards set by someone other than the brewer, you do at least want some information on what to expect -- dark or pale; hoppy or malty; sessionable or likely to knock you on your arse after one. Framing beer is a matter of practical necessity.

And yet, I love throwing away the frame. I love to pick a beer totally at random and drink it with no previous knowledge of what it's going to look or taste like. It's far more fun than tracking down the much-sought-after brew that everyone else is talking about (though I do enjoy that too). All I know about Belzebuth is that it's French and that it's 13% ABV -- understandably this is advertised in massive bright orange characters on the neck: the only frame the brewery really wants you to be aware of. So what's inside? Nectar or tramp juice?

Obviously glass selection is a problem with mystery beer. I opted for my Duvel one with the vague expectation of this being a Belgian-style blonde, based mostly on the satanic moniker, though this is a great multi-purpose glass and will show off most beers to their fullest.

I was wrong on the blondeness anyway: it pours amber with lots of head which dissipated quite quickly, giving off a lightly boozy nose, with hints of pale sherry or white vermouth.

The first taste was a shock: incredibly syrupy, in a realm beyond Special Brew or similar stupidly strong soupy beer. Yet it's not one for the sink. There's enough of a proper hops bitterness to save it and make it a worthwhile sipper. The heavy and bittered malt flavour reminded me a lot of some beer schnapps I picked up in Munich, and that's how I think this beer is best treated. Take an hour over 25cl in what's basically a brandy glass.

I never enjoyed the similarly-strong Belgian ale Bush and haven't tasted it in years. This has got me thinking that liqueur-style sipping may be the correct approach. To be continued...


  1. Anonymous9:02 pm

    "I love throwing away the frame." Well said! Though I confess I am still learning about beer styles-- it's a nice place to be really-- where everything is a surprise or "joyful mystery!"

  2. I don't know about the beer but the post title is fantastic. Doing away with the hype and perceptions of a beer is always good. You get to taste it without expectation. You can be surprised if you do it.

  3. You can say what you like about a Catholic upbringing, but you do get some nice blog post titles from the rubric.

    Thanks for the kind words, guys.