24 April 2017

Belgian purge

All going well I should be just back from Belgium when this gets posted. It'll take a while to process through what I found to drink there so while I'm stringing those words together I thought I'd clear the Belgian beers that had been hanging around the house before I left. I'd built up quite a backlog of them, thanks to the good offices of my other half.

I started with Sheldebrouwerij's Hop Ruiter. It's a few years since I last had anything from them. This one is described as an "IPA tripel" and they're far from the first brewery to have elided those two styles -- I believe that honour belongs to La Chouffe. Appearance-wise, this could pass as either, being a hazy orange-ochre colour. 8% ABV and an aroma full of bright incense spices definitely say "tripel" to me. The flavours tilt the balance back again with mouth-watering honeydew and nectarine, fresh and juicy as you like. The quintessential spicy Belgian yeast is still there in the background, and builds towards the finish, but it definitely does a complementary job rather than conflicting. There's no real hop bitterness, nor big alcohol heat, making for a smooth and well-integrated experience. My balanced assessment is that it's a tripel wearing an IPA hat for marketing purposes, but that's allowed when it's this tasty.

Moving on to a set from Brussels Beer Project, another operation I haven't written about in a while. First up is Black Bird, a "black rye saison" brewed in collaboration with London's Ansbach & Hobday. I wasn't sure what to expect with this and, after the first sip, I wasn't sure what I'd got. It's 6.1% ABV and as well as the rye, Carafa Special I and II and other malts, it has a suite of big-hitting US hops including Chinook, Centennial and Colombus. The aroma is a bittersweet mix of forest fruits and the flavour starts rather plainly with a porter-like creaminess, then dries off the palate very suddenly before the arrival of jammy strawberry and a green rye-grass rasp. The complexity is a little like that found in O Brother's amazing black IPA Bonita, though much toned-down by comparison. I had to work to find the various flavours and if I were drinking it without paying close attention it would probably end up seeming quite dull. Though there are of course elements of saison and rye ale and black IPA and porter in there, it doesn't really make much use of any of them.

The next beer is a double IPA though I'm immediately questioning its credentials at only 7.7% ABV. The name is I Like It Bitter and it backs that up with a claim of one hundred IBUs. This is the "Mosaic & Equinox Edition", which implies that there are or will be others. It seemed a bit flat on pouring, while also looking pleasingly gloopy. There's bit of a mouthfeel all right, though it avoids being unpleasantly hot and heavy: just filling enough. Both the aroma and the flavour tantalise more than they satisfy. The former has a mandarin flesh juiciness and gunpowder spice buried deep within, and I found myself inhaling great draughts of it to try and get the full effect, to no avail. Savoury yeast burr fuzzes out a lot of the same fresh orange-tropical notes in the flavour, and there's a sickly tramps'-beer sweetness that slows down the appreciation of it. I can sense those top-notch hops at work, but big, strong and yeasty is not an environment that suits them. Were White Hag ever tempted to make an imperial Little Fawn, this beer is a clear indication of why that's a bad idea. You want a clean light base for your spritzy tropical hops. This tries to supercharge them with malt and fails miserably. It's not even especially bitter.

I did a bit of a double take when I read the details on the back of Stereo Lips. On the front they call it a "hot rye IPA" and turning the bottle around this is unpacked, revealing rye, smoked malt, smoked chilli, vanilla and a combination of Cascade, Chinook and Sorachi Ace hops. That's a daunting line-up of potential flavours, though in a Twitter poll, 52% of you deemed it "not scary". It looks innocent enough, a deep orange colour with lots of fine fizz and a big fluffy head. Sorachi wins the aroma, pumping out its signature oily citrus peel vapours. This is a major component in the flavour, but it's matched by a hard plasticky taste which I think may be down to the chilli: I've encountered it in badly-made chilli beers before, though this time there's not even any heat. The smoked malt, rye and vanilla are AWOL as well. When the bitterness subsides there is a soft grape and elderflower fruitiness which is the saving of the beer. It's not bad, overall, but I think it could have been achieved with a much simpler recipe. That it's a three-way collaboration is possibly not unrelated to this.