27 October 2014

He's off again

For the fourth year in a row, late September saw me at the Borefts beer festival, a two-day shindig held at the De Molen brewery in Bodegraven, South Holland, with beer from a hand-picked selection of brewers from all over Europe. It has always been a bit of a chimera, changing its shape to squeeze into different parts of the brewery, the pub and co-opted neighbouring buildings. This year for the first time since the early days it was all concentrated in one space, the brewery and its car park, which made it a lot easier to get around and meant I could make a point of trying at least one beer from all 19 exhibitors.

My bookend beers were both from Cantillon: there was a chance to re-try their apricot lambic Fou'foune, and while it was definitely fruitier than the elderly acid-bomb I drank four years ago it was many degrees sourer than the Tilquin Quetsche that my wife opened her account with. The last beer on the second day was Grand Cru Bruocsella: a hard, biteable sharpness all acid burn and oaky vanilla for an experience simultaneously smooth and pointy. And in between these two?

As always De Molen had plenty on offer, including lots of their first-rate imperial stouts. Twist & Stout was a new one for me, 12% ABV and cognac-barrel-aged. Aged for a while too, I'd say, what with the big savoury autolytic aroma. The texture is massively thick and sinfully smooth, while the flavour piles on masses of crumbly dark chocolate and unctuous liqueurs. Further evidence, if it be needed, that Menno traded his soul at a Bodegraven crossroads for the ability to make imperial stouts like this. Hel & Verdoemenis Wild Turkey Eisbock was back for another year too. Phwo-o-oar!

I am a little more equivocal about Vlees & Bloed: 10.9% ABV and unbarrelled, but aged on cedar with added fleur de sel, heather honey and habanero pepper. Unsurprisingly the end result is very busy. Big coffee dominates, with an undertow of clover honey stickiness and then a dry cedar bite in the finish. The peppers add sweetness rather than heat, and that woodyness builds gradually on the thin texture, eventually blocking a lot of the rest out. 50% oh! and 50% ugh! is my assessment.

Away from the stouts, 21 Grams is a double IPA with the stated quantity of hops per litre. It's an innocent clear pale orange colour and smells rather medicinal. It's very sweet and sticky -- not all that surprising at 9.2% ABV -- but with a genorous portion of fresh zing too. And for hopophobes, Barley Bomb, a 10.7% ABV barley wine with a hot and heavy aroma; warming and rich with flavours of toffee, caramel and freshly baked cookies. It's a more toned down and mannerly version of some of De Molen's other beers in this style.

Staying Dutch, I made sure to call on Emelisse to try their Aceto Balsamico which I missed last year. This is an 8% ABV Flemish-style oud bruin, and perfectly aged to have a distinct smoothness in with the sharp sour notes. There's even a warmer chocolate element and the balsamic vinegar barrel in which it was aged leaves just a trace of herbal resin complexity. I enjoyed it, but a small glass was plenty.

New to the festival, and the overall Dutch brewing scene too, I believe, was Het Uiltje ("The Little Owl"), based in Haarlem and using Jopen's brewkit. The owl theme is laid on pretty thick, with beers like Schreeuwuil ("Screech Owl"), a double IPA which smells like a bag of hop pellets and combines sticky hop resins with sticky malt sugar; and Bosuil ("Tawny Owl") a 6% ABV black IPA, oily again with lots of lovely grass and chocolate flavours plus just enough of a jaw-pinching bitter bite.

It gets a bit weirder after that. Meneer de Uil is named after a puppet on kids' TV and is an imperial stout aged in Bowmore whisky barrels for lots of salty iodine with your rich dark chocolate. Flaming Ass Owl is hopefully not named after anything on kids' TV and is an imperial smoked porter with added Trinidad scorpion peppers. It's heavy with a bit of the puttyish flavour I sometimes detect in very strong dark beers. There's a lovely sweet chilli aroma, and while the flavour is low on chilli heat there's a dry chilli-skin flavour and lots of sweet pipesmoke. It wasn't the only chilli beer they brought: Pepperspray Porter is made with Carolina reaper chillis and is much hotter, alternating the intense throat burn with more gentle lavender flavours, like receiving flowers from an abusive partner. The aftertaste is minimal but it does leave a nice chilli thrill in the stomach.

To finish, Mind Your Step is a lovely dessert beer: a 14.5% ABV imperial stout, tasting almost spirituous with lots of brown sugar, toffee and butter. But probably their best beer, and a strong candidate for my beer of the weekend, was Het Uiltje G & T Dryhopped Radler. It tastes pretty much as the name suggests: 2.6% ABV and immensely complex, dominated by a distinct quinine dryness but with a generous squeeze