19 January 2018


Emerging from the Christmas shut-in period, the first bit of exploring we did was to Delft. It's almost a suburb of The Hague, served by the same tram system. And it was mostly still closed for the holidays. We had a quick lunch in the Belgian beer café Belvédère where, looking for something simple and easy-going, I went for Het Anker's Maneblusser blonde ale. It's pretty damn basic, earning a pass in its Belgian beer exams with a gently spicy aroma and light peach, plus a sprinkle of white pepper for flavour. There's not much to say about it beyond that, though it did meet my requirements at the time.

The following day we ventured further afield, to the North Brabant capital Den Bosch. There was a lot more life about the place here, and the Christmas market and ice rink were still in full swing. Our first pit stop was Le Duc, a typical brown café, long and narrow with a mezzanine down the end. What distinguishes it from others in the city is the adjoining Kolleke microbrewery whose beers are exclusively served here. Let's get stuck in.

Round one brought Kolleke Winterbier for me, 8.2% ABV and a muddy brown colour. The flavour has a bit of cherry-chocolate, which is fun, but also lots of unpleasantly gritty yeast interference, like it hadn't been left to drop bright for long enough. It's warming, which is most of what's asked of a winter beer, but that's about it.

I'm well overdue an exciting beer at this stage, though Oude Jan (left of picture) wasn't it. It was rather better than the Winterbier, however, despite looking quite similar though clearer. This is lighter at 7% ABV and correspondingly thinner. The flavour is simple and crisp with a bite of red grape tannin. There's no Belgiany esters meaning it's easy to drink and quite refreshing if still rather lacking in character.

The surprise of the set was Jheronimus, the 7% ABV blonde ale. This is dense and beautifully spicy with lots of sweet Muscat grape, fading to apricot and honeydew melon. It's a little sticky, but that aids its rounded, warming nature, a role it performs better than either of the dark beers. Perhaps pale beers are where Kolleke's true skills lie. Time for another round.

Ome Jan, the pils-a-like blonde ale put that theory to the sword pretty quickly. For one thing it's amber coloured and not properly pale at all. There's a slightly soapy aroma which carries through to the flavour a little. It doesn't upset the overall picture, but then there's very little in the overall picture. This is one of those grainy brewpub lagers that most of them make: designed to be inoffensive and thirst-quenching, which it is, though the ABV is excessive at 6.5%.

In the middle is Jonge Jan: apparently a witbier. It's completely clear and smells worryingly vinegary. The flavour has a concentrated lemon cordial thing going on. This eventually fades to a pleasant lemonade vibe but only at the very end, and by then you've already dealt with the unforgivable flatness and the nasty sweaty overtones. This can't possibly be what the brewer intended and I've never been happier to have a small serve.

Still the biggest surprise of the afternoon was Kolleke IPA. I mean, the damn thing is brown! It's murky too: again with the not enough time in the tanks. There's a spicy incense aroma, and just about sufficient hop character in the flavour to qualify as an old-fashioned IPA on a technicality, but this is really not a very good beer.

We left Le Duc distinctly underwhelmed. You needn't include it on your itinerary in Den Bosch.

It's situated in a busy area for eating and drinking establishments, and just around the corner is 't Paultje, a friendly little bar with a small but interesting beer selection. Desperate for a palate cleanser I chose Jerry Sauertopf, a Berliner weisse by Kompaan. It's a mere 3.8% ABV and a hazy medium-amber colour. The flavour is beautifully bright and clean, simply tart and acidic at first, but quickly developing a juicy grapefruit flavour before finishing quickly. Yes it's as thin as might be expected, but it's fantastically light and refreshing, as the style ought to be.

The murky yellow beer on the left of the picture is Wunderbar by Berging Brouwerij, created with the help of Amsterdam client brewers Pontus. Despite the soupy appearance it's clean and fresh, giving out lovely fresh melon aromas followed by flavours of peach and mango. The bitterness is low, and it's quite simple overall. While the yeast stays out of the picture for the most part, there is a tiny spicy contribution which adds seasoning and does the beer no harm at all. Very enjoyable drinking.

L: Larrun; R: Beagle Juice
One last stop on the way to the station, and it's Thornbridge's bar. It's a fairly convincing take on an English pub: bright and roomy with three handpumps and a slew of kegged options. Jaipur was in fine form but I went with Beagle Juice, a session IPA. It's a total lemon bomb, to the point of sourness, and definitely too tart for my tastes. Lemon zest is as close to nuance as it gets, with a vague perfumey afterglow. I found it hard to enjoy a half so can't imagine a session on it.

The third beer engine was pouring Brock, a stout. The landlord ran off a pint before pouring my half as it was the first of the day. I don't think he got all of the line cleaner out as I got an extremely bleachy glassful. The light cocoa one might expect from a 4.1% ABV stout was present, just about, but I could barely taste it and, infuriatingly, didn't have time to bring it back. Serves me right for thinking I could squeeze in one for the road.

While this drama played out in my mouth, the wife was enjoying Larrun, an 8.5% ABV rye IPA by Basque brewery Bidassoa. This dark red beer smells of thick caramel, and is every bit as dense as the aroma suggests. A massive liquorice bitterness opens it up, followed by heady ripe strawberry. It's much more like an imperial red ale or a barley wine than an IPA, but is mostly quite enjoyable, if a little on the hot side.

Then it was back to The Hague and, the following day, home. Until next time, Netherlands.

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