07 May 2018

Project expansion

EBCU business brought me to Brussels in mid-April. The Thursday night rendez-vous was at Brussels Beer Project, and I was looking forward to returning. On my previous visit in 2015 the taproom was still in set-up mode; now it's in full swing with a huge range of their own beers on tap and bottled, merchandise and takeaway at the front of the shop and seating available amongst the barrels out back.

I began my explorations with Jungle Joy, a blonde ale with added mango and passionfruit. This goes heavy on the fruit juice but stills retains its essential beeriness, offering a fun and refreshing blend of bitter and sweet notes. The stated ABV is a substantial 6.6%, yet it's light and approachable. I can imagine it getting a little sickly after a while, but a small taster really brightened my evening.

The fruit buzz continued with Rise Again, a grapefruit pale ale. This is a pleasant clear amber colour with a heavily dank and resinous aroma. Sweet sherbet begins the flavour and is quickly followed by the herbal resins, finishing on a sharply metallic aspirin bitterness. The grapefruit doesn't make much of an identifiable contribution, being utterly dominated by the big hops, and that's probably for the best. It is just a little too heavy, overall, turning cloying and sticky very quickly.

There were four intriguing-looking experimental beers on the menu and I decided to get them as a flight to try them side by side, and save myself some walking.

#Exp0040 was described as a "smoked blond milk stout", which I'm sure the brewers found highly amusing. It arrived a clear golden colour and smelling very dry and smoky. As expected, the flavour was strongly smoky too, and quite acrid with it. There was no lactic side, just a slight stickiness. Overall it's just an average effort at a smoked ale of the sort any mediocre home brewer could turn out. Experimental indeed!

Moving on, #Exp0043 was described as a tangerine Belgian ale. There's a strongly spicy perfume from this amber-coloured job, and it tastes primarily of talc: all powdery flowers. A gentler and softer mandarin note hovers in the background. It's OK, but not the best tangerine or Belgian-style beer I've ever had.

Next in the sequence is, predictably, #Exp0044. This is an American-style pale ale, 5.7% ABV, and absolutely spot-on for the style. It's punchy and zesty first, with a juicy orangey middle and a bitter grapefruit finish. Pure, no-nonsense, quality.

The final one, #Exp0046, was listed as a "cherry sour" which I thought a bit odd for a Belgian brewery. Maybe "kriek" has too many fuddy-duddy associations for the cool kids of craft. Anyway, it's hardly sour at all, going very heavy with the cherry syrup. I got a hit of cheap red wine on the front, and then just sticky sweetness until the end, accompanied by an artificial metallic bitterness. All very substandard.

Back to the regular line-up, then, and I couldn't resist trying the vaguely Irish-themed Captain O'Connor, a red ale with seaweed. It's only 4.8% ABV and not terribly full-flavoured, but I liked what's there: crystal malt sweetness with a spicy salty kick, reminding me of salted caramel. Simple and enjoyable.

Staying on a low alcohol vibe, there was Red My Lips, a session ale. This is a dark orange colour rather than red, and tastes of hard candy with a bonus hop spicing. The texture is light and effervescent, and overall it's clean and decent, a little on the sticky side perhaps (the theme of the evening), but not overpoweringly so. I could well imagine a session on it.

Last orders brought You Want Me, the double IPA, though a light one at just 7.5% ABV. It's a bit light on flavour too, showing just some mild jaffa and a slight pithy bitterness. It's not heavily textured, boozy or sticky, which is all to the good, even if it does veer away from the style spec. I was really looking for something with more poke on which to finish my visit.

I did manage to squeeze one more Brussels Beer Project offering in late that evening on a visit to La Porte Noire, the renowned subterranean bar that had hitherto escaped my attentions. Soleil Levant is 5.7% ABV and brewed with jasmine and orange blossom. I got much more than that in its flavour and aroma, however: a veritable bouquet of honey, elderflower, apple and apricot. There's a considerable, and by now predictable, sticky weight to it, but it was fine as a sipper.

A mixed bag, then. So it goes with Brussels Beer Project, and probably always will. I like their commitment to turning out lots of specials, even if they aren't always brilliant. The taproom is a great place to explore what they're up to, in small doses. And there's always the reliable Delta, Dark Sister and Babylone core beers to fall back on.

More Brussels explorations tomorrow...

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