26 November 2015

A few days in beertown

I left you last time in Moeder Lambic Fontainas, Brussels's ticker heaven. The other beer I had there before moving on to the cask Cantillon lambic, was L'Amer des Moeders, brewed for the house by Jandrain-Jandrenouille. It's a golden ale of an approachable 5% ABV, pale and slightly hazy with a sugary perfumed nose. This resolves on tasting into a weighty Belgian blonde with spicy jasmine up front and quite a dry finish. It's good, as pretty much everything the brewery produces is, though it's also a little severe, especially if it's intended for repeat purchase.

There's a new geek bar in town next to Centraal station: the first Belgian outpost of the BrewDog chain. It occupies a cavernous space, with oddly less seating than I'd have expected. There are also signs that this is a licensed franchise rather than part of the main operation as the staff don't seem to have the precision customer service expertise that's a hallmark of the UK branches. The menu is a mix of the core BrewDog range and a well chosen selection of mostly unusual Belgian guests. To wit:

Monkey Monk is a new Belgium-based brewing operation founded by Finnish ex-pats. The beer I had was a 6.5% ABV IPA called API and it's all rather simple and tasty, with that orangey hard candy taste common to many Belgian and Belgian-style IPAs, plus a dusting of light spices. Straightforward, no gimmicks; clean and well-made.

I followed it with Mont des Cats, a newish trappist brand, brewed under licence at Chimay. It's 7.6% ABV, a pale orange-brown colour, and smells enticingly of rum, rasins and bananas. The flavour is very much that of a strong dark trappist, with more raisins and a great deal of crusty brown bread, though the texture isn't as heavy despite the substantial strength. I kept expecting some tripel-style spicing, but that doesn't feature. Decent stuff and a pleasant change away from your Chimays and Westmalles while staying broadly within the genre.

That's all there was time for before dinner, hosted by Brussels's most renowned cuisine à la bière establishment, Restobières. Eccentric chef-patron Alain kept thrusting bottles of his house beer at us: ForMi Diable, a blonde ale complete with extensive punning ant cartoons on the label. The use of coriander and orange peel at 6.5% ABV make it something like a souped-up witbier, though the savoury herbal effect is more reminiscent of clean Belgian blondes like Duvel and makes it a better food beer. Which is the point, I guess. Anyway, a nice dinnertime conversation beer, though I'm still none the wiser about why the ants.

Also being passed around was a limited quantity of 2009 De Cam Framboise. I'm new to this gueuze brand, but have always enjoyed it so far. This red one is 6% ABV and very funky: lots of brett, traces of vinegar and just a tiny wisp of residual raspberry fruit. The most distinguishing feature was the sharp acidity, making it pure heartburn in a bottle. Fun to try, but a sip is plenty for my unrefined tastes.

For afters, a trip around the corner to Pin Pon, which I mentioned on Monday. As well as the house beer, I also had a go of St Feuillien Grisette Fruit des Bois, much to the bemusement of my companions. And the bar staff, actually. We're used to grisette as very much a craft style -- so craft that I don't think anyone in Ireland has made one yet -- but I suppose in Belgium this light saison still carries the less romantic associations of its industrial past. And especially when a load of purple syrup is dumped into the vat. The end result is 3.5%, bright pink and very sweet. The flavour is that of a forest fruit yoghurt, all fruit gunk and not much beer behind it, just a kind of vague stale mustiness. I'd be interested in trying the naked version of this, but it scratched my sweet fruit beer itch for a while.

A pub crawl on a different evening began with dinner in La Lombard, washed down with Petrus Aged Pale, a beer which, from what I've read lately, did rather well out of its sponsorship at the 2015 European Beer Bloggers' Conference. This is a whopping 7.3% ABV and features an odd aroma of candycanes and vinegar. It falls somewhere on the spectrum between proper Belgian sour beer and the high-volume industrial gueuzes, a properly bitter tartness sits next to quite a heavy sugariness. A simple flavour, with no woody or bacterial complexity, it's accessible and drinkable, despite the strength. And the good news is that importation to Ireland is imminent.

Dessert was Troubadour Imperial Stout. A little disappointing, this. I was expecting bigger and better but instead I got something which called ancient memories of chocolate-flavoured Ready Brek to mind: that fine sawdust wheatiness and sweet milk chocolate. A metallic hop kick in the finish and a light pepperiness adds a modicum of complexity, but that's your lot: just because something is from one of Belgium's best brewers and is 9% ABV doesn't mean it will alter your perception completely.

Guest photobomb by Tim Webb
After a quick stop in A La Bécasse and a pair of big jugs, the evening wound up in Toone and my nightcap was 3 Fonteinen Oude Kriek. This chap is only 5% ABV but very dense with it, a dramatic dark blood-red colour. I reckon the thickness helps offset the sourness because this is quite gentle in that respect, taking away the harsh acidity and leaving a pleasant spiciness. No fruit sweetness has survived the process and the flavour is more like tart blackcurrant than cherries to my mind. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a kriek this much.

The last event of the trip was a reception the EBCU held for politicians and the drinks industry, in celebration of the group's 25th birthday. Member organisations had shipped in beer from their homes so there was a veritable buffet of varied European beers -- special thanks at this point to Carlow Brewing for providing Beoir's contribution to the party. I was only around for the set-up of the event so had time to sample just two of the beers on offer. One was Visioen, an 8% ABV stout from Dutch brewer 7de Hemel. It's a perfectly classical example of a strong stout: roasty and creamy at first and finishing with an assertive dry bite. The other, also a stout, was East London's Quadrant. This includes oatmeal and gets the benefit of its smoothing effect. But there's plenty of roast too and a certain sourness as well. Very drinkable and it would have been nice to compare both of these to Leann Folláin, which I'm told was very popular on the night.

But I had to make my excuses and depart, shoplifting as much as I could carry from behind the bar. Posts about my ill-gotten gains will follow in due course.


  1. Mont des Cats

    Ooh, I scooped TBN! (I assume it was the same beer, although it's hard to tell from the two reviews.)

    Ant in French is 'fourmi', BTW.

    After a quick stop in A La Bécasse and a pair of big jugs


    1. Yeah, I knew Mont des Cats has been around a while. I was actually surprised to find I hadn't had it before.

      I was awake through enough of my classical education to know that "formi" refers to ants, but why name your beer after ants?

    2. I can imagine a late-night conversation at the end of which 'formidable'/'fourmi diable' would seem either the funniest thing ever or weirdly profound, or both. The fact that it still seemed like a good idea the next morning is harder to understand.

    3. And then you have to explain it to the artist.