Category Archives: Belgium

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.

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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 Belgian’s 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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Session #95: Beer Books Yet to Be Written

Once a month, under the leadership of Jay Brooks and Stan Hieronymus, beer bloggers worldwide write posts on the same topic chosen by one of their peers. This month, Alan ‘A Good Beer Blog’ McLeod is hosting and has asked us to consider: ‘What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?’

We want books about beer to take us to places we haven’t been, and times out of reach.

We want them to introduce us to interesting and influential people and get beneath the surface while they’re at it.

We want them to explain how things came to be; to tell us things we don’t already know; and/or give us a trusted place to go when questions arise.

There are a couple of books that we’re hoping to write, so we won’t tell you about those, but here’s one we want to read that, as far as we know, doesn’t exist. (If we’re wrong, please let us know.)

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Wood-Aged Belgian Brown White, 1861

Brown Beer, White Beer.

This is from a rather vague article first published in the National Magazine in 1861 entitled ‘German Beer’:

The beers of Belgium and Germany, in general, may be divided into two classes — the brown, and the white, or yellow… The brown differs from the other in taste… The colour may be said to be chiefly owing to a more advanced carbonization of the extractive substances. It must be prepared from the best strong hops, in the proportion of 550 to 642 grammes to the hectolitre of beer. This will do for that manufactured from winter barley. Summer barley requires but 420 grammes… The white beer is prepared from pale malt.

In the rest of the piece, the anonymous author rambles through a list of beer types he or she has come across on their travels, not always specifying clearly whether they are brown or white/yellow.

On the subject of adulteration and fraud, the author has a Belgian brewer called ‘Berhardt’ describing a ‘harmless trick’:

I employ… in the manufacture of my brown beer the following substances, which give it the colour and taste of the ordinary brown beer. I evaporate in a well-tinned cauldron a part of the liquid even to the consistence of a syrup. I keep it in motion on the fire continually until the syrup becomes a burnt and deep-coloured sugar; with that addition alone I am already in a condition to make my brown beer equal to the best of the sort. But as all brown beers have a slightly astringent taste, I give it to the ordinary brown beer by the addition of the bark of oak or mahogany.

In other words, he’s brewing a white/yellow beer but making it look brown with the addition of caramel. That’s still frowned upon today — not very ‘craft’ — but the wood trick is quite the done thing, and we think Berhardt’s beer sounds pretty tasty.

If you fancy a break from brewing black IPA, why not give ‘Belgian brown white’ a go?