Four from Flemish brewery Viven today. The bottles are a little short on information, but the mix of styles is unusual and tells its own tale.
Up first, the one simply called Viven Ale. At 5% ABV I was expecting something in the general Belgian Blonde vernacular but the pour revealed a beer much more of a dark orange, with a nice waft of fresh mandarin hops. I spent a bit too long musing on this and didn't notice the lees going into the glass after the beer. That may have been a bad mistake as all trace of the hop aroma was gone when I lifted the full glass, receiving instead a grim yeasty grittiness instead. The flavour was shockingly dull at first, watery and hollow, and also slightly sweet, like rubbishy cheap lager. I gave it a little time to warm up and hopefully drop some yeast to the bottom of the glass. When I came back to it there was maybe a little extra bitterness, making it taste like a marginally better pilsner, but not enough to make it properly enjoyable. Time to call it quits, drain the glass and move on.
Viven Bruin was next in the running order: 6.1% ABV and more of a red than a brown, with a massive pillowy head. The aroma is quite estery, shading towards marker pen. Strawberries and milk chocolate are the long and the short of it, flavourwise, with the esters coming in strongly and suggesting a fusel-induced hangover even as I sipped. As it warms I started to get some of the nasty brown apple I get from gloopy nitro red ales. Promising to begin with but by turns boring and unpleasant over time.
The 7% ABV Viven Porter offered a much better prospect and I even took it out of the fridge a little early to get it acclimatised. This is a very viscous chappie, dense enough to permit no light through the liquid, showing only faintly brown around the edges. There's an intense blast of roast from the thick layer of off-white foam on the top, generated by a busy carbonation which keeps it from getting too heavy. The flavour is sensational: runny caramel chocolate first, fleetingly spiced with paprika and sandalwood, then a long dry tangy finish. One of the best beers in its class I've ever tasted.
The bar is raised for the last in the set: Viven Imperial IPA. This certainly pushes the right aroma buttons with a pungent citrus buoyed up by the promise of warming toffee. That's pretty much what the taste delivers, 8% ABV adding a considerable sweetness to go with the fresh peachy bitterness, putting it up there with many a top-notch American version of the same thing. But there's a Belgian dimension too, an extra tang that can only come from the big-flavoured yeasts the Belgians prefer. It's very rare to find an American-style Belgian IPA that ranks with the Belgian-style American IPAs, but here's one.
So that's Viven: a fantastic Belgian brewery as long as you don't expect anything too Belgian-tasting from them.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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