26 October 2015

Starting low

The Borefts Beer Festival rolled round once again in late September. As always, De Molen had invited a wide range of breweries from around Europe and across the pond to exhibit, all bringing a selection of special and outré beers for sampling over the two days. This year saw the biggest churn of any of the previous four I've attended, with almost none of the former regulars present but lots of newcomers. However: enough overview, let's get stuck in at the bars. This post is about the low countries' representatives, beginning with our hosts themselves.

De Molen had limited themselves to one bar this year, but a bar with a vast selection and attracting a lot of attention all weekend. As in previous years they had set a theme for all the other breweries and this year it was saison plus an unusual ingredient. And I think they claimed the prize for the most unusual with their Grasshopper Saison. This orange-coloured headless and hazy beer has a pleasant pithy jaffa nose and features some lovely fresh and spicy herbal flavours, though much more like a pale ale than a saison. There's no sign of the grasshoppers in the flavour either, unless they taste hoppy, which would make sense. Further research required.

Better use was made of saison as a clean base for a distinctive ingredient in De Molen's Wasabi Saison. This blended the peppery qualities of the style with the warm and woody horseradish flavour of wasabi. There's not much else going on so you might be expecting more complexity at 6% ABV, but I found it enjoyable for what it was.

Next to it there is Zang & Noten, an imperial stout, barrel aged, with added coconut. It's black, headless and smells simultaneously roasty and sweet. I probably shouldn't have been surprised to discover it tastes a lot like a dark chocolate Bounty, but it does: heavy on the cocoa and finishing dry. The texture is remarkably light given the whopping 12% ABV though there's a fun kind of oily chewiness provided by the coconut. Coconut is a tough flavour to get right in a beer. It seems big imperial stout is the way to do it.

De Molen's other offerings were poorer. They had a plethora of Fruit IPAs, of which I tried the Cassis. It's a murky red-brown with a funky aroma very out of keeping with IPA. There's a mild tartness but a lot of savoury meatiness. Definitely not what I was expecting from the description and not at all enjoyable.

Spannig & Sensatie is yet another imperial stout, this time 10.8% ABV and aged in a whiskey cask -- the programme didn't say which one, but De Molen does have a lot of casks. The first thing to strike me about this was an oxidised twang. Behind it a hot and sweet Scottish malt whisky vibe all but drowning out the stouty chocolate and caramel. Perhaps this barrel needs another batch or two through it before it starts producing balanced beer. And finally Skulls & Tentacles (left), a barley wine they created with Spanish brewery Zombier, rocking out at 11.5% ABV yet bizarrely thin. The taste offers burnt caramel and biscuit but no juicy hop fun and not even any boozy warmth. It's all rather insipid and disappointing.

De Molen still had plenty of their amazing regular beers, but the experiments were a little lacking this year, for the most part.

Moving on, and three more breweries with three more imperial stouts. Kees! is a relatively new one and had a 12% ABV Peated Imperial Stout. There was a nice lasting head on this but it was rather rough tasting, with harsh dry smoke finishing on an unpleasant putty tang. Alvinne also had a flawed one, called Black King: 11% ABV and this time tasting badly autolytic. I can usually handle a bit of savoury, Bovrilly, umami in a big stout, but this was too much like drinking soy sauce. There was a big cloying sweetness too, and a stale oxidised finishing note. Bit of a diaster from one end to the other, really.

Best of this set was Kinderyoga by new-but-respected Dutch brewer Oedipus. 11% ABV yet understated and approachable, providing the sort of gentle dry roast typically found in lower-strength stouts. A sequence of subtle complexities nip in behind this: a little chocolate syrup, a slightly smoky bitterness and some vegetal hops. Despite the name it's a rather serious beer but there's no questioning the quality.

From down low to up high: I'll cover the Nordic breweries next.

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