17 October 2016

A cool reception

Each year the European Beer Consumers Union holds a reception in Brussels for MEPs and the drinks industry, just to remind them of us, the humble consumers, and our concerns over issues like provenance, ingredients transparency, taxation and whatnot. I missed all but the first few minutes of last year's but decided to go over to this year's as a special one-night trip. The venue was a beautiful community centre with a garden, and the weather played ball too. Beers from many parts of Europe were brought along for the guests to try.

Centrepiece of the event was Browar Maryensztadt from eastern Poland who had a draught rig set up and brewery staff on hand to talk about the beers. The first to come pouring out was Wheat You, so a wheat beer then. OK, I'll try that. Turns out it's a lot more than a wheat beer: there's a superb fresh peach aroma followed by a juicy mandarin flavour. It's still softly textured like a weissbier and has some of the yeast bitterness of a wit, but there's a definite leaning towards pale ale sensibilities as well and it makes great use of the strengths of both kinds of beer. As a refresher after travelling 1000km it was perfect.

I didn't have such good luck with their next one, Czarnolas, described as a double black IPA and 7.6% ABV. It's very heavy and very sweet, tasting far more of caramel and hot alcohol than hops. A slight bitterness in the finish is the only claim the flavour makes to being an IPA of any kind. Dirty, boozy and difficult to drink, it's pretty much the opposite of Wheat You.

Another burning disaster was expected from Gorączka Sezonu, described by the brewer as an imperial saison. Eww. I hate strong saison and this one is a runaway 8.4% ABV. But... it's brilliant. It manages to be weighty and warming without tipping over into sticky and hot. The generous use of Cascade and Citra gives it a lovely pinch of lemon-and-lime bitterness but there's also a major snap of white pepper from, one assumes, the saison yeast. It's another beer that combines elements from different brewing traditions to fantastic effect.

Danish brewery Thisted was represented but nothing of theirs really stood out. Goldings "British pale ale" was a clear lagery gold colour and quite dry with a cereal crispness and a rather Germanic pepper and celery hop flavour. Perfectly drinkable but rather dull, and not at all what I'd expect from the description. The same goes for Boston, the American-style pale ale: very plain and grainy, and gold again. I don't think this lot have got the hang of either British or American styles. Their prestige beer was Madagascar, a stout with vanilla. It's very very dry, reminding me of gritty first-time stouts at homebrew meet-ups past. It doesn't taste of vanilla either, so that's a basic fail. Sorry Thisted: you do some great lagers, and I will defend your Limfjords Porter to the very death, but this sort of modern beer doesn't suit you.

There was a handful of British beers but I only tasted one: Embra, a red ale from the usually-reliable Stewart Brewing, from Embra, of course. It's thoroughly unexciting. The blurb promised Chinook but neither the flavour or aroma delivered any. It strikes me as the sort of beer that might shine with some cask complexity beneath, but cold from the fridge in far-off Belgium it just didn't work.

Closer to home there was a very inverted-comma'd "IPA" by Huyghe, created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Delirium Tremens brand. Delirium Argentum tastes exactly like standard Delirium Tremens: lightly fruity, slightly chewy, and quite easy drinking -- the ABV lowered to 7.8% ABV. Nothing too dangerous or daring here.

My token Dutch beer was Tasty Lady Porter, and I was a little apprehensive as I've found previous outings by this female brewers' collective a little unsettling. This is a classic, however. The aroma balances sweetness and dry roast in perfect equilibrium and the texture is textbook creamy. It tastes maybe a little too sweet with luxurious milk chocolate holding the centre but there's a pleasantly smoky edge as well. Very nicely done and a beer to drink in quantities bigger than teeny sampler glasses.

Which leaves only Italy and a bunch of breweries I'd never heard of. Score! I was drawn immediately to the paper wrapping of Margose by Birranova,  based way down south in Apulia. It's a straightforward classical gose: a wan pale yellow with a light savoury saltiness, turned slightly towards bathwater by the coriander but still lovely and cleansing.

Away up the north, to the west of Milan, is Birrificio Sant'Andrea and they had a saison called Sexon. Just 5.5% ABV and a pale orange, smelling not unpleasantly of stewed apple. It tastes like that too, with even a bit of complementary cinnamon spice. But that's your lot. It doesn't quite manage the refreshing crispness of good saison, staying just on the happy side of inoffensive.

From the same operation comes La Rossa del Gallo ("The Red Rooster"), badged as an English-style bitter but piling on the booze at 6.9% ABV. It's unsurprisingly strong and warming with some red berries up front and then a long genteel malt-biscuit finish. Softly spoken and elegant: a continental's idea of Englishness, perhaps.

And an imperial stout to finish, of course. Croce di Malto's Piedi Neri, complete with a rather literal rendering of the the tribal name. There's kind of a rough, hot, tobacco-like aroma which put me on edge but it's wonderfully smooth to taste with just a mild violet floral quality amongst the gentle cocoa and coffee. No loudness or brashness here, simply lots of class.

And that was it for the evening. Thanks to all the EBCU team who put it together. Remember: beer is not just for taxing or worrying about the public health implications of. You can drink and enjoy it too.


  1. Professor Pie-Tin10:53 am

    Brussels,America,the UK ?
    Your recent carbon footprint must look like a clown's size 22s.
    Wahaay !

  2. It's offset by the children and car I don't have. And this has been a quiet year for travel.