05 December 2016

Random Belgians

After a few years off the roster, my wife is once again making regular work trips to Brussels. And, legend that she is, this has meant a bit of a beery bonanza for me. Here are some recent examples of things she brought back and was kind enough to share.

Kasteel's Barista was first out and I'm guessing this was created with an eye to the export market. "Chocolate Quad" is definitely written in an American accent. It's 11% ABV and, typically of Kasteel, tastes like all of it and more. Even before tasting there's an intensely sweet chocolate aroma and this follows straight through into the flavour which is unpleasantly sickly. By way of balance there's just a touch of wheaty breakfast cereal dryness, but it does little to counteract the building layers of hot mocha, adding an old coffee sweatiness to the syrupy chocolate. So, not a subtle beer. Maybe the brashness is deliberate, designed to appeal to the broes who'll chug an 11%-er and pretend to like it. Not me though. This beer needs to go away and calm down.

Something much lighter to follow: Session 4 is the abruptly-named collaboration between London's Brew By Numbers and Brussels's De La Senne, top notch operations both. Yes it's 4% ABV -- insanely low strength for Belgium -- and from looking at it I was expecting to see "east coast IPA" in the description: it's that sort of opaque pale yellow. That's where the similarity ends, however. It's billed as a blonde ale and that's how it smells: all cereals and honey. It's rather more complex on tasting, introducing a lovely moist melon fruitiness and a very slight hop acridity on the finish. This isn't a million miles from Senne's own classic pale ale Taras Boulba, though like Taras Boulba I think it would be even better if it cleaned the yeast out. But that's not the way of things in Belgium, or Bermondsey, for that matter. Onward!

The next beer lays its cards right on the table with the name: Full of Hops, a white IPA by Het Nest Brewery in northern Flanders. It's the pale lemon yellow of a typical witbier, hazy but much less so than the previous beer. I get a rather homebrewish twang from the aroma, a sort of earthy funk that I don't believe belongs in either wit or IPA. A big burst of fizz is the first impression in the gob, but behind this there's a rather cultured and elegant beer, with a dry prosecco grape character and then a more intense hop burn in the finish. White IPAs aren't normally my favourite beer style but this one dodges the soapy pitfalls rather well. Still smells rank though, which is unfortunate.

Enough craft messing, it's soberly traditional Dupont next, and their Bière de Miel organic honey beer. They've got their money's worth out of them bees as the end result is 8% ABV. It's a hazy pale orange colour and smells warm and sugary with that uniquely Belgian savoury yeast funk. I get more honeydew melon in this, but it's a lot more: intensely sweet. That turns to a distinctly honeyish perfume in the finish, one which fades off the palate in a mannerly, unsticky, way. As expected, this is a classically understated sort of honeybomb, showing off the key ingredient but not getting in the drinker's face with heavy amounts of booze or sugar. I don't know that I'd drink more than 250ml at a time but it's an entertaining sipper which leaves a pleasant wholesome warmth in the pit of the stomach.

And lastly Viven Master IPA. I thought I'd covered this in my last Viven round-up back in 2012 but it turns out I didn't. Having really liked the double IPA I was expecting big things from it. It's a muscular 7% ABV, though pale and innocent-looking in the glass. Quite a bit of alcoholic heat comes through in the aroma, with just a small element of juicy peach struggling to make itself heard. It really steps up to the mark in the flavour, however, where the soft stonefruit is right out at the front, backed by bitterer grapefruit and lime. The two sides work perfectly in tandem for a well-rounded classic US-style IPA experience, minus any crystal malt toffee, thankfully, and only a slight yeast burr serves to remind you that this is actually a Belgian. Like the honey beer, a building belly warmth is its legacy after it has departed from the palate.

A bit of a ropey start to this lot but some lovely examples of the Belgian brewer's art here.


  1. Professor Pie-Tin10:00 am

    At last,something good comes out of Brussels ...
    Wahaay !

    *** dons tin helmet ***

    1. Good morning, Major. No, the papers aren't here yet.