Magical Mystery Pour #7: Slaapmutske Dry-Hopped Lager

Magical Mystery Pour logo.The third of six lagers recommended to us by Berlin-based American beer writer Joe Stange is from Belgium, but bears little resemblance to Jupiler or Stella Artois.

This time, instead of using us as guinea pigs, he’s directed us to a beer he personally knows and enjoys:

I have always liked this one, another fine Proefbrouwerij product. The Beersel Lager for the Drie Fonteinen restaurant is similar and also dry-hopped, and I like it enough that sometimes I have one there instead of a gueuze. Which is deranged.

It has 5.3% alcohol by volume, comes in a 330ml bottle, and we got ours from Beers of Europe for a not unreasonable £2.39.

Our expectations, based on the information on the label, were that it would be (a) quite dry and (b) a little grassy, perhaps even hinting at Poperinge Hommelbier.

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Magical Mystery Pour #1: Spontanbasil

Magical Mystery Pour logo.Throughout this year we’re going to make an effort to drink some more unusual beers alongside our usual diet of standards from St Austell, Penzance Brewing Co, Anchor, Westmalle, and so on.

Dina, AKA @msswiggy, always seems to be having great fun exploring the weird outer reaches of the world of beer, like this:

So she was the first person we approached to give us a drinking list, stipulating that:

  • It should contain five or six beers.
  • All of which should be available from the same supplier.
  • At a cost of around £40 maximum for the lot.

First up, she recommended Spontanbasil, a collaboration between Lindemans (Belgium) and Mikkeller (Denmark), a lambic beer made with fresh basil leaves. It cost (brace yourselves) £13.50 for a 750ml bottle and its ABV is 6%.

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Saisons: Prelude to Finale

We’ve set aside tomorrow evening for the final saison taste-off but, just for context, have tried a couple of US and Belgian takes on the style in the last week.

Anchor Saison (USA, £3.16 for 350ml from Beer Ritz, 7.2% ABV), also labelled as ‘Spring Ale’, was a disaster: hotly alcoholic, too clove-heavy, with a general excess of bitter spices. The clove character is, it seems, from the yeast but the recipe also contains ginger, lemongrass and lemon peel. It just needs toning down, or at least pulling together so it doesn’t rattle so much.

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (USA, £3.68, 355ml from Beer Ritz, 7.6%), on the other hand, is one of the most immediately exciting beers we’ve tasted in a while. Rather than by-the-book amber/gold it is a beautiful pilsner-pale green-yellow, like Duvel. The headlining hop contributes lemon throughout and coconut at the end, enveloped in a feathery-light body. The yeast, firmly under control, didn’t seem to contribute much in the way of spice or funk, so perhaps the ‘saison-ness’ of this beer could be questioned. Duvel is the nearest equivalent, in fact — bright and light, Champagne-like, and one we’ll be drinking again.

We can’t see that Anchor’s effort has had much influence in the UK but Brooklyn’s must surely have something to do with the ubiquity of Sorachi Ace in British-brewed saisons. We’ll bear this in mind when we revisit our contenders in the finale.

* * *

Silly Saison (Belgium, £2.47, 330ml, 5%) is a beer we drank once or twice years ago and wrote-off as, frankly, grim. We wanted to revisit it as a reminder of how broadly ‘saison’ is applied in its native land and it certainly fulfilled that function. Red-brown and perfectly clear, it has a crystalline, Coca Cola quality which carries through to the taste: our first thought was malt loaf, then acrid cold tea, and, finally, thanks to a prompt from Martyn on Twitter, raisins. (When you soak raisins in tea to make bara brith — that!) We still think it’s too sweet and were left wondering how a beer can be both bland and weirdly nasty at the same time.

Finally, back to the Sgt. Pepper of saisons: Saison Dupont (£2.83, 330ml, 6.5%). After several months of challengers and wannabes, this was almost a relief: it is just perfect. Drying, a little flowery, alternately crisp and luscious, full of interesting details without any one facet dominating. If we could fault it, we might say the bitterness was just a touch blunt, but then that might have been a hangover from the sickly Silly.

In the final taste-off we will, of course, have Dupont in mind — how could we not? — but we’ll also remember Silly: saisons can be brown, and they can be sweet, and Dupont isn’t the only role model in town.

An English Brewer in Belgium, 1924

‘Some time ago,’ begins S. H. Evershed’s account of his travels, ‘I was commissioned by a gentleman who had bought a small brewery in Belgium to fit up the brewery with the necessary plant’.

Martson, Thompson & EvershedYou might recognise the name Evershed from old labels for Marston’s of Burton-upon-Trent. Evershed was a brewery taken over by Marston’s in 1905 and there were two generations of men called Sydney Herbert Evershed, father and son.  We can’t be quite sure which of them is responsible for this account but our guess is that it was the Sydney Herbert the younger, born in 1886, who would have been in his thirties in 1924, and later, as MD of the company, went on to introduce Marston’s Pedigree, in 1952.

This detailed account of his Belgian jaunt appeared in the May 1924 edition of the Journal of the Operative Brewers’ Guild, an organisation based in the north of England which eventually became part of the IBD. The journal was written by brewers, for brewers, and generally explored minute practical details of the brewing process, including what to feed horses for the maximum efficiency, and the price of Isinglass on the world market.

The Belgians’ motive was simply to ‘brew under English conditions in order to get inside the Belgian tariff wall’ — that is, to provide English-style beer to Belgians who were thirsting for it without paying high import duties intended to keep out German goods in the post-war reconstruction phase. (Think of Boston Lager being brewed at Shepherd Neame.)

I found the brewery premises in excellent state — beautifully constructed — on the tower system — with tiled floors on every storey… Almost all the windows were broken, and half the roof tiles were off, while every particle of brass or copper had been removed by the Germans, including the copper, with its dome, mash tun taps and pipes, refrigerator, and every bearing form the shafting and boiler house fittings.

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Fantôme Saison and Brise-BonBons

Belgium’s not as handy for us now as when we lived in London so we have to rely on mail order beer deliveries for our fix.

At the end of last year, from different sources, we got hold of two bottles from cult brewery Fantôme, and decided to liven up a stormy weekday January night by tasting them in one session.

The last time we tried Fantôme Saison was at Cask in Pimlico in 2010.  Back then, we didn’t really get saison (here’s the moment where it began to click) and, anyway, as various people told us, Fantôme is notoriously variable. At any rate, as far as we can tell*, though we made it our beer of the week, we didn’t write about it at length, and don’t remember much about it.

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