13 February 2017

None more Belgian

Sorry, that should read "some more Belgians" because this is another cross-section of Belgian beers, as picked by my wife from Brussels off licences.

De Poes has a pretty label, which is presumably why she picked it, but it's very short on information. We know it's 8% ABV and is flavoured with two unnamed sorts of hops and some equally anonymous spices. No style designation is given, but from the strength and the hazy yellow-orange colour I'm calling it a tripel. The aroma is estery but thankfully not overly hot: there's just a little banana and some orange juice as well. The flavour is certainly spicy: I get sparks of pink peppercorn and grains of paradise. Behind this there's jaffa flesh leading to a dry wheaty finish. It's quite decent: Belgian without being too Belgian, if you get me. I'd happily have another.

The cat theme continued with Black {C}, a "craft Belgian stout". 8% ABV says the label but it's hard to believe because this beer is dryyy. It smells like burnt toast, and tastes like very burnt toast. And not much else. I let it warm, sipped carefully, gave it the full sensory, and maybe there's a warmer fruity hint somewhere buried deep. Cream sherry, perhaps, or ruby port. But at every angle the acridity rises anew to rasp on the palate and scorch the throat. It's not a nice beer. Maybe the snarling panther was meant to be indicative.

To follow, Kerst Pater, a "special Christmas beer" from Van Den Bossche. It's 9% ABV and a properly festive mahogany colour. Served cold from the fridge, it took a bit of sitting out for it to start tasting of something. When it did, I got dark chocolate and rum-soaked cherries: all very luxurious. There's a cola sweetness, an effect enhanced by a texture that's surprisingly thin and fizzy for 9% ABV. I liked how it tastes but feel it should have more substance. I doubt I've ever criticised a dark Belgian strong ale for not being hot enough, but this one isn't. Go figure.

Also from the Christmas offerings, and also 9% ABV, is Noël de Silenrieux: chestnut red and rather murky. It was a bad sign when it gushed from the bottle and a worse one when it began smelling of marker pens. But things settled down after that. There's a happy jammy strawberry foretaste, leading seamlessly into a woody balsamic tartness which may not be intentional but left me thinking nice thoughts about Flemish red ale. A sprinkle of peppery cedar finishes it off. I have absolutely no idea what this is meant to be, but I enjoyed its busy complexity, even if it was too fizzy for Christmas.

Next up, the little barley wine that isn't. It's called Ceci N'Est Pas Un Barley Wine and comes from Brasserie Sainte Hélène in Florenville. An ugly beast, it's 10% ABV and a dirty ochre colour. It smells ugly too: powerfully sickly and hot, like emulsion paint. The flavour is a little more charitable, with a wholesome wheat and oatmeal cereal sweetness and juicy raisin and fig fruit, shading towards cola. We're not a million miles from the plum-pudding stylings of dubbel here, but sweeter, boozier, and without the dark malt richness. Balance is not in this beer's remit, though there is a tiny pinch of white pepper piquancy right on the end which helps offset its other excesses, but it's still a challenge to try and enjoy it.

A honey beer next: Zatte Bie ("drunken bee", if my Flemish is correct). It's a dark chestnut-brown colour and, perhaps unsurprsingly for 9% ABV, leans very heavy on the malt. The aroma is wholesome and grainy, turning to light sweet toffee on tasting. There's not much Belgian yeast character and the honey seems to pick up the slack: there's a waxy honeycomb effect which definitely tastes real rather than some sort of honey essence or flavouring. This is not the super sweet novelty beer I was expecting from the comedy label and instead is rather pleasant, balanced and drinkable.

What could be more Belgian than beer, bicycles and bande dessineé? They feature together on the label of De Bie's Vélo, though as far as I can see a style designation does not. It's roughly a tripel, being a murky orange colour, 7.5% ABV and with a complex aroma of herbs, spices and mint. The flavour starts refreshing and juicy but the sweetness level builds and the needle creeps over to tinned pineapple, at which point it becomes tough drinking. The sweet fruit and bitter herbs are quite jarring; too much so for this to be suitable post-cycle refreshment, though in fairness I think it's actually pitched at the spectators.

Another strong winter seasonal to round this post off: Ter Dolen Winter at 9.1% ABV. It's a murky red colour and gives off a heady, and very Belgian, fruity warmth in the aroma. I was somewhat surprised to get a hit of herbal medicinal spices on tasting, and a check of the label says honey and cinnamon are the secret ingredients but I'd never have guessed. It's a strange combination of menthol and pine, fading to leave just a thick brown sugar base. Overall it's not terribly complex, but it does the job of central heating adequately, which I'm sure was the intention.

That should be the end of the Belgian winter beers for this season. I'm hoping for something a little sunnier next time out.

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