10 January 2012

Predestined for greatness

I'm all in favour of naming beers in honour of local historical celebrities, but must admit that John Calvin is an odd choice, even for Geneva-based beer company Les Frères Papinot. It shows what I know, however, as there's a detailed description of Big John's brief career as a brewer on the back of Calvinus Blanche, first in the helpfully-numbered sequence of eponymous beers. (Bov, the authority on Swiss beer, tells me these are all contract brewed in Appenzell by Locher.)

The long-necked swingtop emits barely a hiss as I open it, and what little head forms doesn't hang around long. The orange and spices are subtly present, and there's a slightly Germanic banana vibe coming from the yeast. It's not a particularly memorable version of the style but avoids being unpleasantly dry or sickly sweet, and not every artisan witbier can say that. There's enough sparkle for it to be refreshing, so it's an overall thumbs up from me.

A bigger pop and more foam from Calvinus Blonde Bio, and a remarkably clear beer for one that's unfiltered and packaged in a 33cl bottle. The lees stick firmly to the bottom after the last drop is poured. Like the Blanche, it's an approachable 5.2% ABV, though rather fuller of body and more designed for sipping than quick refreshment.

The flavour is complex and interesting, dominated by a dusty maltsack dryness overlaid with sweet honeyish perfume. I couldn't drink a lot of it, but it's still a very good, unsticky, take on Belgian-style blonde ale.

I never found number 3 in the sequence, but 4 is Calvinus Noire, featuring the good doctor tastefully blacked-up on the label. It's stronger than the others at 6% ABV, and beautifully viscous, pouring unfizzily an opaque oily black. There's a little bit of liquorice in the aroma and the taste is mostly about caramel and treacle, tempered by a coffee-like dryness and even a hint of hop bitterness in the finish. Wonderfully balanced, and a great after-dinner sipper.

Calvin may be an unlikely frontman for a beer brand, but it seems that his minions know their way around a mash tun. Who's up for some John Knox 80/-?


  1. ...maybe wash it down with a Wee Free Wee Heavy?

  2. John Charles McQuadruple...

  3. How about an Augustiner Bräu? Oh wait its only religious beer that doesn't exist. I really didn't get this joke did I

  4. Nurse! He's out of bed again!

  5. How about a nice pint of Hop of Faith by Bierkegaard?

  6. Indeed, back in 1997 or 98, when they started, the Papinot Brothers said contact brewing at Locher in Appenzell was a provisional measure and that they planned to open a brewery in Geneva "soon"...
    Anyway, almost a decade and a half later, the beers are still produced by Locher, who are very competent family brewers with quite a few respectable specialty beers of their own (the silky smooth, coffeish, smoky, and slightly winey "Schwarzer Kristall" took everyone by surprise when they released it a few years back as they'd just announced a "Schwarzbier"... and it works great with an aged gruyère cheese), and who master the technical side better than a micro probably would.
    The one issue I have with it, though, is the packaging that displays a prominent "Bière de Genève" without any mention of the beer actually being produced 350 km away or so, literally across the country...