14 July 2014

Going solo

Today's beers answer a question that I've been vaguely curious about for a long time but have never taken the time to research. Belgian brewery De Proef is most famous as a contractor, making beers which are sold under dozens of different brands, including luminaries such as Mikkeller, 3 Fonteinen and BrewDog. But where are their own beers? How come you never see an actual Proef-branded beer? Turns out that you do, except the house brand is Reinaert, with its stark but classy label.

Reinaert Amber is 7% ABV and a little pale for its name: a sort of dark orange where I'd be expecting a deep garnet. There's a strong sweetness in the aroma, like being too close to an overly-perfumed fellow commuter. Who is also wafting a lit thurible. Behind the smells, there's lots of wholesome grain, like crusty brown bread, and also plenty of chewy buttery toffee as well as a generous dose of brown sugar. The hopping contributes nothing more than a very vague pithiness, barely audible over the rest of the din. A bad start, then: this is just too heavy and too weird to be actually enjoyable.

I hoped for something a bit cleaner from Reinaert Tripel, setting a low bar, I guess. It's a foamer from the get-go and it was a race to get all of it into the glass. After all that excitement, it was a little on the dull side which, following the Amber, is a bit of a relief. There are subtle jaffa notes at the centre, more crusty bread and a modest amount of alcoholic warmth, considering the ABV is 9%. No interesting spices, however. None of the flourishes that make good or interesting tripels stand out. Overall, it's very drinkable, in a plain and understated way.

We turn up the heat and turn down the light for the last one: Reinaert Grand Cru. This is 9.5% ABV and just the dark red colour I was expecting from the amber. The aroma is pure heat, almost oloroso-like, though I'm fairly sure it's not oxidised. The flavour is more subtle: a toffee apple balance of sweet candy and more tart fruit acidity. The texture is surprisingly light and, aroma apart, one might be hard pressed to guess the strength.

There's nothing here to indicate that the Proef boffins have been sneaking notes while Mikkel is in doing his thing. The Amber may be odd, but not that kind of odd. They may be the life force of some of the world's great beers, but when it comes to their own recipes, Proef do things their way, take it or leave it.

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