11 May 2018

Ankers away!

Yesterday's megapost came to you from the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival which happened last month. I mentioned that it was organised by the Hof ten Dormaal brewery. They were also kind enough to send up a selection of their beers for us EBCU delegates to have with our lunch once we'd finished our meeting in the room at the top of the building.

The first one I tried was their collaboration with Weird Beard, the tortuously-named If Only The Hof Had A Beard. See what they did there? It's a soured IPA of a mere 3.8% ABV and poured a hazy yellow colour. The carbonation is low but it's not thin, despite the strength. The centre of the taste is a beautifully zingy lemon rind flavour, fading to a clean chalky mineral finish. This refreshing mix of mild sourness infused with hop sparks makes it fit neatly into one of my favourite sub-categories of beer. I'd drink this by the pint if I could bring myself to order it by name.

I didn't realise that Dormaal had hitched their wagon to sourness quite so securely, but the other two were sour also. Duindoorn too much so. Ostensibly it's a Flanders red, and a strong one at 6.5% ABV. It looks awful for a start: a murky amber brown. The aroma is strongly funky, real dirty farmyard stuff, which isn't a flaw by itself, but combined with a taste that is pure unadulterated malt vinegar, it doesn't go any way towards making this more palatable. Maybe there's a sour beer bro out there who thinks he likes this sort of thing. I, meanwhile, would be willing to support an assessment that it's objectively awful.

I thought I was in for more of the same with Winter 18, a 9% ABV coffee-infused barley wine, soured and barrel-aged for some reason. It smelled rank, like cold stale black coffee. The flavour is better, however, the sourness a nuanced black cherry balsamic, followed by Turkish coffee notes adding a balancing sweetness. It's not one I'd drink a lot of, but a small glass provided plenty to think about.

The bottles of Torpid Mind by Czech gypsy brewer Badflash may have been supplied by the Czech delegate at the meeting as he was also wearing the t-shirt. It's an imperial stout of 10% ABV with smooth and creamy coffee flavours, livened up by just enough bitterness from leafy green-veg hops and any cloying sweetness washed away by black-tea tannins. No gimmicks here in this serious yet fun thumper.

The following morning was our last in Belgium. The vague plan had been to head for Brussels and tramp the well-worn path of familiar pubs before making for the airport. Before checking out of the hotel I opened a map and zoomed out of Leuven, noticing that Mechelen was nearby. It's also handy for the airport and neither of us had been before. That settled it. Train in twenty minutes?

Like many a town in the Low Countries, Mechelen takes its time to get going on a Sunday. When we arrived late morning one of the few options available was the town's ancient brewery, Het Anker, famous for the Gouden Carolus range of beers. That's where we headed.

Having booked our tour we had a couple of minutes to kill in the brewery bar where I opted for Anker Pils, never having seen it before. Our tour-guide-to-be passed by the table and made a disdainful comment, which I thought odd for someone employed to put a positive spin on the brewery and its wares. On the tour later on we learned that Het Anker ceased brewing pils decades ago and this one, created to meet local demand, is contracted out to another brewer in a neighbouring town. As a Sunday morning pils it's fine: light, sweet and crisp, mixing a gentle lemon zest with dry grain husk. It's refreshing and uncomplicated and I was happy with it.

The tour of the quaint facility across the courtyard ended back in the bar with a run-through of the core range. I've covered most of them before but not Carolus Tripel. It's sweet for the style, showing higher fruit levels than normal, and corresponding lower spices. Served on draught it was clear and clean, though still with a big boozy punch. It's OK, but not a classic Belgian tripel by any measure. I'm not inclined to believe the bottled version will be any great shakes either.

Among the recent brand extensions is Cuvée van de Keizer Whisky Infused which started life as a one-off in their Indulgence series in 2015 but went on to become a permanent feature, and was on tap. It arrived a gorgeous clear red wine colour with a nose of plump raisin and, yes, whisky. The flavour is whisky first, then smooth and vinous malt-driven beer afterwards. There are no warm fruity esters, no booze heat despite 11.7% ABV, and generally no sharp edges. This is smooth to the point of being, well, dull. It's certainly nowhere near as complex as I was expecting.

A lovely glass of Hopsinjoor finished me off for the brewery, and a lovelier Oude Gueze Boon at charming waterside bar De Gouden Vis finished me for Mechelen. Back to the airport, then, with enough time to check out its new beer offer.

For all the time I've been flying out of here, Interbrew/InBev have had a near monopoly on the beer supply: nothing but Leffe, Hoegaarden and Stella. That arrangement seems to to have come to an end and there's now a fancy new food hall with a range of fancy, if expensive, Belgian beers, including gueze from Beersel. There's even a house beer: Bistrot Airport by Brouweij Dilewyns, best known for its Vicaris range and situated not far from the airport. I was poured a goblet of thick orange beer with lots of suspended floaty clumps in it. The aroma is thickly sweet, like hard candy, though thankfully its flavour is drier, with wholesome breadcrust the main feature, backed by a subtle note of exotic jasmine. This is an unadventurous beer, but unmistakably Belgian, so ideal for the weary traveller.

This weary traveller quaffed it down and went home to Dublin, full of the joys of multifaceted Belgian beer.

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