Sunday, 30 December 2012

Beer of the Week: Goose Island Lolita


Goose Island make some very good Belgian style beers so we were very interested to taste their version of   framboise, Lolita. It's a strong wild yeast fermented ale aged in French oak with 50lb fresh raspberries.

Those raspberries are very apparent in its cloudy red colour and its sharp sherberty aroma. When you taste it the woody oak flavour gives a strong backbone that accomplishes the amazing feat of tasting fresh and aged at the same time.

This is typical of proper Belgian lambic fruit beers but Lolita is heavier on the raspberry than expected with an almost jammy sweeter taste, which is fizzed out with a sherbert freshness at the end.

This is a good representation of the style but at over £15 for a 660mL bottle you could also think about a cheaper Belgian framboise or kriek.

Lolita is available from beermerchants and http://www.bottle-shop.co.uk.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Beer of the week - Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale

Christmas is the time to indulge when it comes to beer. It's now that, without a hint of guilt, you can crack open that special bottle you've been keeping under the stairs or explore the stronger beers on the beer shop shelves. Shepherd Neame brew a strong amber winter warmer for their festive Christmas offering.



After tasting their excellent new beers (the India Pale Ale and Double Stout) expectations were high. Sweet caramel with a hint of dried fruits on the nose promises some winter cheer but the flavour is surprisingly dry. However the 7% ABV is very apparent as is the healthy dose of lingering spicy hops which warm your tongue and belly.

I would normally prefer a richer, fruitier beer for Christmas but I would happily drink this at the end of Christmas lunch with some mince pies or figgy pudding!


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Beer of the Week: Tilquin Oude Gueuze A L'ancienne 2010/2011




6.4% ABV

Cloudy amber in colour, clean lemon sherbet and familiar woody lambic characteristics on the nose.

To taste; sour apple, an astringency which catches the back of your throat, it has the acidic shock of sour mix sweets. It's a really tasty well-balanced Gueuze, with just the right level of sourness and hints of fruity sweetness.

Available from http://www.beermerchants.com/ and other good beer stockists. RRP £4.95 (37.5cl)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Beer and cheese matching at Sambrook's Brewery

The concept of beer as the ideal pairing with food is being pushed by breweries and beer writers a lot recently and rightly so. Beer has the ability to accompany and enhance every course of a meal and this quality is most apparent when matched with cheese. It is with this mission in mind that Sambrook's brewery hosted the first event at their brewery bar, Boadicea. The newly opened brewery bar is is a cosy space overlooking the brewery that can easily seat thirty or so guests on long tables.

Sambrook's flagship bitter, Wandle, recently won gold in the pale bitter category at the World Beer Awards.  It was first on the tasting list followed by a further four more award winners from wide ranging categories. Each beer was introduced with obvious knowledge and passion by Jo Miller, Sambrook's head of PR. It is a welcome change to see so much detail being given about beer styles at an event like this. So often the technical details and history of the beers styles are glossed over.

The cheeses laid out ready for devouring

The cheese matches were dreamt up and explained by Bruno D'Abo from Hamish Johnston Fine Cheeses. It was obvious he had attacked this challenge with gusto and at their best, the matches were sublime. The best example of this was the stand-out beer of the night, Thornbridge Raven a black IPA, with one of my favourite cheeses, the beautiful British blue, Stichelton. Together they deliver waves of flavour, just as one threatens to dominate, the other comes through with another delicious layer of complexity.

Another clever match was the Mort Subite Kriek with the hard sheep cheese, Ossau-Iraty. Cheeses like this are often eaten with dark cherry conserve in the pyrenees so it makes a lot of sense to drink the slightly sweet but sharp cherry beer with it.

The other matches that evening were a Kristall Weissbeer with Wigmore and Sambrook's own Wandle with a crumbly caerphilly.

The take home message from this event was to try your own combos of beer and cheese, so in that spirit here are my suggestions for beers to go with your Christmas cheese board. Try them out and I'm sure your family will be impressed.

The boozy sweetness of Fullers vintage range will go well with a traditional mature cheddar. Have a look at our vertical review of a number of the vintages. 

The toasty rich malt make this wonderful porter a great match for milder soft cheeses like brie or Port Salut.

The aforementioned black IPA is the perfect foil for creamy, fruity blue cheese.

This spicy British style IPA will go brilliantly with washed rind cheeses like stinky taleggio.

These are virtually the same beer and their fruity complexity will go superbly with a mature manchego or Comté.

Keep an eye on the website for upcoming beery events at the Sambrook's. The brewery is well worth a visit and there are some exciting evenings planned.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Jake's Orchard; Kent Cider & Food Matching

As mentioned in a previous post a recent visit to Hush Heath Estate meant we came home the proud owners of their range of still ciders - Jake's Orchard. The ethos behind the cider is for a crisp refreshing drink which could act as a substitute for wine - hence the large (75cl) bottles to share. As a cider designed to be consumed with food we thought it would be interesting to try some food matching with each of the four varieties.


Jake's Orchard Pure Still Kent Apple Cider

We've talked about this cider before, but just to recap, it is a fresh, fruity and refreshing cider with a big apple flavour. It's incredibly easy drinking, and you barely notice the alcohol on the taste. For the first food pairing we went with the classic combination - pork - using Marcus Wareing's 'Mum's Pork Chops' recipe from How to Cook the Perfect....

Marcus Wareing's Pork Chop
This picture really doesn't do this dish justice, and we've made it so many times before as we love it. What you end up with is a deliciously moist pork chop, and soft sweet onions, in a herby buttery 'sauce' (for want of a better word). Pork and cider is the classic combo, but it wasn't the best match in this instance, maybe this cider is just a little too dry for it. It works well with the herbs and onions balancing against their sweetness, but it might fare better up against roast pork and apple sauce.

Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with English Nettles


The cider has lots of apple on the nose with a dry herbal edge. It isn't as dry as expected, with strong fruit flavours, a floral and slightly sweet taste. It is really well balanced between at the right side of medium dry with a slightly bitter savoury flavour from the nettle. It was very easy-drinking, the alcohol not being at all obvious in the flavour.

Kinda Mac 'n' Cheese with leeks and cider
We paired the nettle cider with a variant on macaroni cheese, made with leeks, cauliflower and (one of our favourites) Montgomery cheddar. The cheese sauce was made up with some of the nettle cider, and this worked really well, the booze taking the edge off the sharp cheddar and balancing the dish out nicely. Apple and cheddar is a classic British combination and it works fantastically well in the dish, especially when served alongside a nice chilled glass of the cider. The cider cuts through the creaminess of the sauce and highlights the sweetness of the leeks.

Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with English Elderflower


The elderflower variety of the cider didn't yield much elderflower on the nose, nor is it very pronounced on the taste - which we both agreed was probably a good thing in terms of matching it with food. We paired this one with a salmon salad from Jamie's Great Britain, and it was a good match, nicely balanced and you don't notice the dryness of the cider. In this instance it very much works in the way a white wine would, complementing the dish without overpowering it on flavour.

Salmon and new potato salad, with mint, cucumber and yoghurt
Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with Strawberries and Blackcurrant

The cider itself doesn't have a huge punch of fruit flavour (which was a relief), just a hint of the red fruits mingling subtley with the apple. We struggled to taste the strawberries, but the blackcurrant was more pronounced - it may well be that the sweetness of the strawberries balances out the tartness of the blackcurrant. It is still a very dry cider.
 
Homemade almond macaroons
We weren't really sure about what to pair with this one, and referred to the website which suggested eton mess and pear crumble as food matches. As we had some homegrown Bramley apples in the fruit bowl the recipe we'd spotted in River Cottage Every Day for Bramley apple Eton mess was modified slightly to replace the (usual) meringue with some crushed homemade almond macaroons (the crunchy kind) I'd made a couple of days previous. The result was a rather visually unappealing, but incredibly tasty dessert which had both sour, nutty and sweet elements to it.

When paired with the dessert the cider works surprisingly well - the apple flavours complementing each other, and also cutting through the creaminess/richness of the dish. There's a surprising change when after a while when an almost tannic, lambic-like character comes out in the cider - this emphasized the sour notes, but was still very drinkable. At this point it was starting to remind us of a good quality lambic-based Belgian fruit beer. This flavour 'change' is fascinating, and we'd be really interested if they widen the range further down the line to see the effects of blending this cider with other fruits.

Bramley apple Eton mess
It is great fun to experiment with these cider and food matches, and some obviously worked better than others. In terms of the cider alone, my personal favourite was the nettle, whereas Sam preferred the standard traditional apple cider. When it came to the food matches the nettle/mac 'n' cheese was the most satisfying, but the Eton mess and strawberry/blackcurrant match was both delicious and intriguing in terms of the flavour profiles the dish brought out in the cider.

Some of the flavours were more difficult to match than others and maybe there are some foods which are never going to work with cider in the way wine would - for example a nice rare steak - but it will be interesting to experiment further with these combinations and branching out further than the usual pork and cider suggestion.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Kent Vineyards: Hush Heath Estate



We spent the last weekend of September in Kent, sampling some fantastic English wines. On our last morning we took a drive over to Hush Heath Estate where we met Victoria Ash (Winemaker) and Rupert Taylor (Sales Executive) who despite the rain took us on a brief tour of the estate and winery. Vicky has an impressive CV, having worked extensively in New Zealand (including a stint at Lindauer), and then moving back to the UK to work at Ridgeview Estate and now Hush Heath. Rupert too has an interesting background, initially as a Sommelier at top London restaurants including Locanda Locatelli and our new favourite Trinity


Hush Heath Estate has 450 acres of land. As well as grapes for their wine they are growing apples, although this years crop was bad due to the weather. In 2002 they opened the Oast House Meadow vineyard, from which they produced the first three vintages of Balfour Brut Rosé (2004, 2005 and 2006). Balfour Rosé is typically 50% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay. 



We asked them about how the poor weather this summer is likely to affect this year's vintage. In 2011 the grapes were harvested in September, but this year they had decided to delay the harvest until mid October, in order to give the grapes more time ripening on the vine - this carries an additional risk that if the temperature drops too low, the grapes will all drop and be ruined. They are hopeful of having enough grapes for a decent vintage this year and they aim for a better quality of fruit rather than preferred timing for the start of the wine making process. The UK's challenging climate makes for a better sparkling wine.


Until now the wines have been made at nearby Chapel Down winery. The latest wines are being made in the brand new winery on the Estate which can make up to 100,000 bottles (in 2009 they produced 14,000).


For their sparkling wine they do not use oak or malolactic fermentation in order to retain the purity of fruit. The rosé sparkling is made with a separate ferment of the red. They have thought about doing some still wines but all the harvest has to go into the sparkling this year. In 2010 they made 6000 bottles of a still chardonnay but it commands a premium price due to the difficulty in making/growing, and can be difficult to sell at £20 a bottle.

 

Rectified grape must is used for the dosage. The 2008 vintage was on the lies for 3 years but they disgorge according to demand. A long discussion is always had regarding the correct dosage levels for the Balfour. We tasted the 2008 and 2009 vintages of the Balfour Brut Rosé. The 2008 has a high acidity, and a lovely finish with the flavours of peaches and strawberries. The acidity has changed and reduced over time. The 2009 vintage was just about to be released but it was used for hospitality at the London 2012 Olympics. It was a much riper vintage so has more fruit character and a rounder finish with a darker colour. It was a more immediate, intense and amazing flavour. The 2009 was our preferred choice, although Rupert and Vicky both favour the 2008 vintage - which just shows how much is down to personal preference.


It is testament to the high quality of English wines that they are now able to stand up in competition against Champagne producers. Hush Heath are regularly winning awards with the Balfour Brut Rosé, even from their first year as the 2004 vintage won gold at the 2008 International Wine Challenge. The 2005 vintage won gold at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards, and more recently their 2008 vintage won gold in the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards (the 2009 vintage won silver).


We also got the opportunity to sample a new product they've been making - a range of still ciders. Jake's Orchard still cider has a refined fresh apple flavour, like a high quality juice. You barely notice the alcohol in the taste, and it's incredibly refreshing. It also comes in 3 flavoured varieties; elderflower, nettle and strawberry & blackcurrant. The packaging is very stylish, and it feels like a high end product, specifically designed to be paired with food. We took a sample of each of these away with us, which will be reviewed in a cider and food matching post coming soon.


Monday, 19 November 2012

Greater than the sum

Much like the Power Rangers, when a group of brewers get together with a mission in mind, what they produce can be greater than the sum of their parts.

We have recently come across some great examples of inter-brewery collaboration that highlight this. The first of these was the annual Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight which took place back in September to celebrate the Kent hop harvest. More than twenty Kent breweries brewed special beers from fresh green hops, picked only hours before. These beers were then available for two weeks in pubs all over Kent. We popped along to the launch at the Canterbury food and drink festival - the only place where all the beers were available at once. This is where I felt the joy in this collaboration. With all the casks up against the back of the tent and the brewers who crafted them dishing them out to thirsty punters.


The different breweries obviously relished the challenge of brewing with the green hops. There were a wide range of beer styles on offer - from saison to cask lager - and each showed off the fresh and fragrant character of the green hops. The key here was that all these breweries were working together for the common goal and it was so successful that it looked like the beer wouldn't last the whole two weeks in the pub. Look out for bottled examples of these beers which may still be available.

The second look at collaboration is in a very different form. London Brick is a Red Rye Ale that has been brewed by The Kernel, Redemption, Zerodegrees, Dark Star, Phil Lowry, Brodies and probably a few more. Some of these breweries are part of the London Brewers' Alliance which was set up to celebrate and promote the resurgence in London brewing.

London Brick : Appropriately named!

The beer itself is a stunner. It grabs your attention with it's bright red muddy colour, it's intriguing to say the least. But it's the aroma of sweet tangerines and tropical fruits from the Simcoe that invites you to drink. This is the closest to a tropical island that you will get to in London. The heavy use of rye in the malt bill give a nicely sweet and full body which means this is a full, satisfying drink rather than a refreshing drier hop bomb style.

The last collaboration is one we came across in our last visit to Brussels. Horal's Mega Blend is an Oude Gueuze created by Horal, the High Council for Artisinal Lambic Beers and organisers of the annual Tour De Gueuze. Gueuze is created by blending spontaneously fermented lambic beer of different ages. In this case Horal have blended together lambics from eight breweries. Somehow what comes out is a well structured gueuze that gives you everything you could want in the way of citrus sourness and a heady funk. It is a refreshing and engaging beer but perhaps needs a year longer in the bottle. It would be impossible to pick out characters from all the breweries but this delicious beer is a symbol of the continuing resurgence of this traditional style of beer.

The brewery names on this label are enough to make a lambic lover weep with joy.
These collaborations are about more than the beer itself. They are important missions to celebrate and promote brewing innovations and traditions.

The Kent Green Hop Fortnight promotes the use of our excellent native hops.

The London Brewers Alliance celebrates the phenomenal quality of breweries in the captial.

Horal's Mega Blend helps to keep alive this most important of traditional beer styles.

The Kent Green Hop Beers are no longer available but look out for them next year. London Brick and Horal's Mega Blend are available from www.beermerchants.com.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Future Food

This post is my entry into the Fork Magazine writing competition which was judged a few weeks ago.

I didn't win so I thought I would put it up here for the hell of it!


Future Food

Restaurant Review – L’Avenir
Much has been written about L’Avenir, the newly opened palace of neo-futurist nano-
cuisine from the notorious Shorai twins Nueva and Nuevo. Given the twelve month
waiting list which built up in the few weeks before launch I thought it only appropriate
that I should give my dear readers a report from the meal I was lucky enough to
experience last week.

The hovercopter flight into the remote restaurant complex shows off the stunning
location. We swoop over swathes of newly greened coastal region of the Atacama
Desert and the vast seawater greenhouses in which ingredients are grown and
power for the complex is generated. Just out to sea, huge fields of genetically
engineered algae look like a patchwork quilt - divided by species and more
importantly flavour. The pilot flies low towards the beach so that the strongly spiced
scents from the algae enter the cabin. This overture to the evening’s events is an
exhilarating start to what will turn out to be a truly unique dining experience. The
chopper lands and we are whisked off into a darkened building that houses the
preparative equipment for our meal.

I emerge like a new-born into the main dining room, blinking in bright lights and
astonishment after the hour in the sensory deprivation booth. I am led by the hand
to my solo dining table by the now infamous serving holograms. Ethereal and
androgynous in their beauty, attentive yet discreet in their service I now understand
why this magnificent front of house solution should replace fallible waiting staff in any
high end restaurant valuing its reputation.
Back to this bizarre practice of pre-dinner solitary confinement. The premise is that
after an hour in a pitch black, silent and odourless box you will experience your food
as if it was your first ever meal. Every aroma, flavour and texture will be like a new
dawn to you and, after my initial scepticism, it turns out to be a truly enlightening
experience. The booths were introduced by Nuevo, the wild child of the pair of head
chefs, who spends most of his working day in his “ingredients crèche” creating
new ideas whilst off his nut on hallucinatory narcotics. His innovation of his flavour
combinations are matched only by the robotically technical brilliance of his sister,
Nueva. This combination has rendered many critics speechless in wonder at the
creations to come out of this revolutionary kitchen. But not this critic, my friends, no
I will endeavour to do justice to my experience of this wondrous meal in these few
paragraphs.

The first titbit brought to my table is an exemplary example of how to utilise artificial
meat to its greatest potential. Most of you won’t remember what the air dried ham
of Italy or Spain tasted like. I was lucky enough to taste one of the few remaining
legal hams, a few years ago in a barn just outside Seville. Even though it was a good
ten years after the international livestock ban came into force in 2017, the ham was
sublime. In a nostalgic attempt to recreate the feelings of hams past, this amusing
morsel of cured and air dried cultured meat is delicately placed on an Iberican acorn
weevil cracker. This playful and celebratory use of insects runs throughout the multi
course tasting menu and is certainly a refreshing change to the now ubiquitous use
of candied locusts that festoon every dessert that wannabe superstar chefs come up
with.

The restaurant is quite rightly proud of the drinks list. The burgeoning Nordic wine
regions are represented with sublime examples, from the crisp, mineral whites from
northern Norway to the rich, ripe fruit reds of Denmark. There is even a beautiful
specimen of an Icelandic ice-wine which comes with the next course, a compressed
cube of jellyfish infused with aniseed producing algae and wrapped in nori. This
paper thin sheet of seaweed is the most traditional ingredient found in their kitchen,
such is the dedication to pushing the boundaries of possibility with engineering and
design in food.

The dishes arrive to the table in various amusing methods, sometimes delivered
from within the serving holograms themselves. Flavoured aerosols are emitted
from their fingertips, solidified with edible plasticising agents that can be plucked
from the air with your teeth. In the early part of this century, this use of synthetics
would have been derided, even mocked, as molecular gastronomy. Then it would
be copied, commercialised and cheapened by every chef who fancied themselves
as progressive. This is no longer a problem now that copyright laws have been
extended to include menus, recipes and cooking techniques.

The final dish on the menu is another cute look into the past and a first for me. To
recreate the ethically dubious and now highly illegal French classic, foie gras, the
Shorai’s have utilised a very unique product. They have discovered a particular type
of stag beetle larvae that will gorge itself on rotting corn before settling down for its
incubation period. This extreme feeding gives the flesh of the larvae a rich, creamy
texture and a delicately sweet flavour. This wonderful ingredient is simply shown off
here on a slice of lightly toasted brioche.

It may seem that I can’t stop fawning over this temple of modernity but this is the
first time in the past twenty years or so that I have eaten anything resembling the
sophistication and wit of the gastronomic heyday of the 2010’s. Since the necessary
evils of the global food laws governing production of meat and seafood came into
force it seems that the soul has been ripped out of restaurant dining. Here, if only
for an evening, I almost forgot that the world’s diet has been forced to change so
dramatically.

I’m brought back to the present with a bump when, as dictated by the nutrition law,
I’m handed a card with a complete nutritional breakdown of what I have just eaten.

This is the future after all.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Beer of the week: Petrus Aged Pale

This was by far our stand out beer from the Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels so we brought a bottle back with us.

The people from Bavik were at pains to explain that this beer is not a lambic. There are some lambic-like characters to Petrus Aged Pale, it is wood aged and has a powerful sourness. It is more controlled than most lambics and is a very balanced beer.


It's a wood-soaked aged sour with delicious sherry, cherry and grape flavours. The age on the beer gives it unique yeast characters and the oak rounds this all off into a real treat.

If you like Belgian lambics you will really love this very special beer. Available at  www.beermerchants.com and most decent online beer shops for less than £3, it's an absolute bargain.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Beer of the week: Thornbridge Chiron

On a recent work trip to Brighton, Claire popped into one of our favourite beer shops, the inaccurately named Trafalgar Wines, and bought me amongst others a bottle of Thornbridge Chiron.

The brewery have been making consistently good beers since 2005 and are admired for their innovation and quality. Their flagship IPA, Jaipur, is a powerful expression of the style but at 5.9% doesn't meet the requirements of a session beer!


Chiron is a billed as an American Pale Ale and in many ways lives up to the title. The crisp American hops provide plenty of fruity tangerine and lemon but it still has a British quality of satisfying warmth from a pillow of sweet maltiness. This is a beer you can drink when its bigger brother, Jaipur, would be too strong.

Refreshing, satisfying, another excellent beer in the Thornbridge family. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Beer Of the Week - Gadds No. 3

Eddie Gadd has been brewing as the Ramsgate Brewery, Gadds since 2002. His numbered series of beers and the notorious Dogbolter are held up as excellent examples of British styles with perfect balance of  hops and malts.


No 3 is a premium pale ale designed to highlight the British Goldings and Fuggles hops. The hops really sing from the glass with sherberty lemongrass flavour and a very robust bitterness. The malts balance out this bitterness with gentle toffee. This is a well rounded and incredibley moreish beer. I got half way through my pint and already regretted not buying more. Luckily I've got a Dogbolter on the stairs ready to go!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Wine of the week: The Doctors Sauvignon Blanc

As a partner series to our Beer of the Week we will be reviewing our wine of the week. We will review and discuss a wine that we have drunk that week. This won't always be a wine we love but we will be honest and objective in our reviews.

This year we have noticed a growing trend for lower alcohol wine. It seems like every wine company is bringing out a sauvignon blanc or riesling that is supposed to appeal to a market that watching the calories and alcohol. This is a great idea as long as the lower alcohol doesn't impact the flavour.

The first wine we are reviewing for this series is a low alcohol sauvignon blanc from Malborough, New Zealand. The Doctors' sauvignon blanc is 9.5% is from the Forrest Estate and is the result of experimentation with careful fruit selection. 


The sweetness of the wine is unavoidable and may not to be to your taste if you are expecting a dry NZ style sauvignon. There is a bags of fruit, though and a refreshing acidity that cuts through that sugar. I was more impressed with Invivo's low alcohol Sauvignon, Bella, which caught more of the essence of the sauvignon fruit but with less sugar than The Doctors'. I think this wine has its place and would be perfect for a summer lunch or picnic. I am interested to try the Doctors' low alcohol Riesling which is a more traditional grape for making low alcohol wines. 

The Doctors' is available from Adnams Cellar and Kitchen and most supermarkets priced at £9.99.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Beer of the week: Adnams Ghost Ship (in a can!)

This is the first blog post in our beer of the week series. In this series we will review and discuss a beer that we have drunk this week. This won't always be a beer we love or even like but we will be honest and objective in our reviews.


The first beer we are reviewing is Adnams Ghost ship from the can. We tasted a bottle of this back in May at the Beer Bloggers Conference so it was interesting to see if the vibrant citrussy hops would transfer to the canned version.

I have always felt that canned ales have something odd about them, an extra caramel character that is not
entirely welcome. Perhaps it is something about the pasteurisation or maybe just my preconceptions but it was certainly something I tasted with Ghost Ship. The malt character seemed to overtake the hops, gone were the light lemony characters I tasted first time round and instead there was summer fruits, like a field of strawberries. It is of course a very drinkable beer and far more enjoyable than Adnams' lacklustre lower alcohol effort, Sole Star.

It it good to see Adnams putting their beer in cans. For too long there has been a bit of snobbery about beer in a can and putting good beer in cans is the only way to persuade the doubters. Ultimately though, I would buy Ghost Ship in a bottle where I think it's real character comes through and the American hops shine.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Beersel, Brussels: 3 Fonteinen & Oud Beersel

The Brussels Beer Festival was a lot of fun but exhausting. What we needed was a day of relaxation and so we headed to Beersel to visit two celebrated lambic breweries.

It turns out that the trains to Beersel don't run on weekends so we were reliant on the buses to get us there - never ideal when you haven't a clue where you're supposed to be going. Luckily we drove right past the entrance to 3 Fonteinen on the way to our first stop at Oud Beersel, so knew when we had arrived in the right place.

 

Oud Beersel only run brewery tours for two hours on the first Saturday of every month - as luck would have it the dates coincided with the holiday we'd booked. It's a lovely old brewery with lots of historic equipment as you can see from the photos. The tour was run by one of the head brewers who very patiently conducted the tour in both Flemish and English. 

 



 

Similar to stilton or champagne, Oud (old) Kriek/Geuze is a protected term, and it has to be made using the traditional method. This requires that the beer is blended from spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, lambic beer. At Oud Beersel they use chestnut wood rather than oak for their barrels, and for their kriek they use 400g cherries per barrel - most other breweries will use around 250-300g.





The wort for their beer is not brewed at Oud Beersel, it’s brewed at Boon. The brewery equipment is now used only for the barrel ageing process and as a museum. Although the wort is brewed at Boon, the differences in the recipe and then the blending make the resulting geuze distinctive from Boon’s. Their lambic has a distinctive and strong grapefruit bitterness.

 


 

A ten minute walk down the road is 3 Fonteinen where, as part of their annual open weekend, we were treated to a brief talk/tour led by owner, brewer and lambic legend Armand Debelder. He discussed how the new brewery had been set up following a thermostat incident in 2009 which led to the majority of their product to explode and resulted in him having to sell equipment and many rare beers just to keep the business alive. The ruined lambic was distilled into an Eau De Vie called 'Armand's Spirit', which he sells at a premium price to help fund the re-opening of the brewery. We got to see a lot of the recently installed brewery equipment and barrels of new lambic which he had had brewed at various other breweries.
It was heart-warming to see that the lambic breweries look out for each other and collaborate in order to continue making this important historical beer.


Armand acknowledges that making lambic and geuze is not an exact science, and there is no assurance the beer will be any good. The most difficult part of making geuze is anticipating the flavour in x years time and the skill is in the blending of the different year's lambics.


Here you buy beer made by a brewer not a banker!
Good ventilation as the wort cools stops the fruit flies but also encourages the totally wild fermentation. They use aged Belgian Challenger hops, unmalted wheat, but malted barley. The casks for 3 Fonteinen are from Bordeaux wineries, which can be used for up to 20-30 years.



Geuze is always blended with the oldest lambic first as it has the most dominant flavour profile. The oldest makes up about 15% and then the 1 and 2 year-old lambis are blended in to balance the flavours. No filtration is carried out, and the geuze ages and goes through secondary fermentation in the bottle.


Beers we tried:
Kriek - a lovely sour cherry flavours with a sweet sherberty aftertaste
Dark - a porter style beer with lambic yeast character
Lambic - flat, on tap, sour, fruity and tangy

 

Beersel, the land of Lambic, was a welcome respite from the crazy beer fest.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Belgian Beer Weekend 2012, Brussels


The 14th Belgian Beer Weekend was the main reason we had decided on a late summer weekend's visit to Brussels. With the promise of over 350 beers from 51 breweries available to taste we couldn't wait, and spent the Eurostar journey reading through the 14 page beer list and marking the ones we definitely wanted to try.


The Beer Weekend is set against the backdrop of the beautiful Grand Place in the heart of Brussels, and this year had extended into the Stock Exchange too. There were religious (and otherwise) processions, ompah bands and bagpipes too, and there was a very festive and rowdy atmosphere.


'Beer Street' outside the Stock Exchange


Inside the Stock Exchange were beer and food matching selections in conjunction with local bars and restaurants
It runs on a rather complicated token system, whereby you deposit your token with the bar on buying your drink, and then get the token back when you return your glass. The nice thing about this is that you do get a fresh glass with every drink you buy, but it is a bit of a pain if you're quite far away from the appropriate stand. In addition you pay for your drinks with crown caps, which you have to queue for in a separate area. Beers are priced from 2-5 Euros a glass, with most priced at 3 or 4 Euros, so it can be an expensive business if you stay for any length of time (or have a long list of tastings to work your way through).

One of the many processions of brewer confraternities
This wasn't when it was at its busiest!


To say it was busy would be a huge understatement. It was heaving pretty much from start to finish and we both found it quite stressful being there (I think we're getting old...). It got to a point on both Friday and Saturday evenings where we'd had a couple of drinks and then just couldn't stand it any longer so left. Luckily on the final day (Sunday) we arrived early, and although it was busy it wasn't quite as bad as the two days previous. We managed to make up for lost time/beers. Here are some of our favourites of the weekend;

Petrus Aged Pale (Bavik) - an oak aged sour beer. Very sour with woody notes. This was our beer of the festival.


Morte Subite Oud Kriek (Alken Maes) - I tried this on a whim just to see how it compared to some of the Oud Kriek we'd tried in Beersel. It was surprisingly good, with a deep flavour and heavy sourness. I'd been expecting something sweet and artifical tasting, so was a very pleasant surprise.

Saxo (Caracole) - a nice soft tripel style beer, slight caramel aftertaste but still very dry. Dangerously drinkable.

Saison Dupont Dry Hopping 2012 (Dupont) - A great saison, the hops lifting it to another level, with more bitterness than the usual Dupont Saison.


Duvel Triple Hop (Duvel) - This seasonal special tastes even better than it sounds, the standard Duvel quality but lifted with lemony Citra hops to another level.

St Feullien Saison (St Feullien) - Full on with flavour and alcohol, with a nice saison character to it. The Grisette Blanche was also good, with tangy, grassy and herbal notes to it.

A festively dressed Mannekin Pis - sadly we missed the point earlier in the day when the beer kegs were attached to the fountain
Special mention goes to Wittekerke Rose (Bavik), which I tried as we enjoyed the Petrus Aged Pale so much, and I do like a good fruit beer. This is possibly the worst beer I've ever tried. So sweet it was almost undrinkable. The wheat and raspberry characters were nice, but the sweetness made it taste like fizzy pop. A big disappointment.


We also had the pleasure of enjoying a few drinks at Moeder Lambic. This year's Cantillon wasn't to our taste (we tried the Mamouche on tap), with a grassy funk to it neither of us were that keen on. We treated ourselves instead to a bottle of Fou' Foune from an earlier vintage. Sam also tried Nogne O's 100, a heavyweight barley wine.


Moeder Lambic's cheese and charcuterie platter - everything on it was delicious
All in all it was a great weekend away (but then Brussels always is). We're still debating whether we would go back to the Beer Weekend or not given how busy it was. It was pretty hellish to navigate the poorly laid out festival until the first few beers take effect, but then you just don't care any more!