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 im