16 August 2012

Belgian Vogue

The label looks like it was cut from a mid-'80s fashion mag, though the effect is somewhat ruined by the unglamourous title of La Grognarde. It's a "hoppy blonde" from Brasserie Sainte-Hélène in the far south of Wallonia, not far from Orval.

I'm always a little skeptical of anything the Belgians call hoppy, since the strong yeast-derived flavours have a tendency to override the finer points of hop character. Nevertheless, the hops -- Saaz and Brewers Gold -- haven't been skimped on here. The first indication of this was in the skunky whiff when the cap came off: you didn't think the green champagne bottle through, did you?

Poured into a glass and given a more considered sniff there's a stronger, more complex oily pith aroma from the hazy pale orange beer. The carbonation is surprisingly light and the alcohol a mere 5.5% ABV so it's quite sessionable for a Belgian blonde. The central flavour is deliciously juicy with hints of sherbet and only a mild background hum from the earthy Belgian yeast, barely noticeable on the first pour from the large bottle, though louder on the second. Maybe it's the influence of that northern European yeast, but I'd never have guessed there was Saaz in here.

I'm impressed, overall. It's properly citric and refreshing, very drinkable while still having all the depth of character of a small-batch Belgian ale. I would quite happily rank this in the same league as De La Senne's much-loved Taras Boulba, though I award extra points for the bigger bottle and the advantage that gives to the hops.