Category Archives: Belgium

Belgian Hop Beers

Belgian hop beer bottle caps.

Over the last few nights, we’ve tasted several Belgian ‘hop beers’ which we bought from the Belgian Beer Factory, a remarkably good value online beer store.

As luck would have it, Joe Stange’s article on this topic appeared online at Draft Magazine on Wednesday, so we had an idea what to look out for:

Whether today’s Belgian brewers are re-discovering a hoppy tradition, jumping on an international bandwagon or just slapping green cones on the label to reach a lupulin-lusty American market—or a haphazard blend thereof—is open to interpretation.

The notes below are based on us drinking half of a 330ml bottle each, so very much first impressions.

First, Palm Hop Select (6% ABV) – a clear example of the label-only hop beer Stange mentions in his article. The aroma was of muscovado sugar, the colour amber, and the flavour overwhelmingly metallic, like accidentally chewing on aluminium foil. That eventually passed, leaving us with what might have passed for a 4% UK supermarket bitter — clean, as in plastic tablecloths, with a touch of orange barley water. Not terrible, in any specific way, but the thought of having to drink it again makes us shudder.

Next, Buffalo Bitter (8.5%), which took advantage of us admiring its pretty cap design (the bucking bronco, above) to spew from the bottle and all over the table. What we managed to rescue was so cloudy it might appropriately be described as a yeast-beer emulsion. Resenting it before we tasted it, we were pleasantly surprised by its juiciness. Strawberries (from Tettnanger hops?) and tangerine combined with a creamy body with good effect. Rather malty and sweet, it was almost a car crash, but, somehow, it worked. We’d like to try it again.

The opaque yellow Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor (8%) struck as relatively simple but delicious – bright, dry and chalky. The overriding flavours were orange peel and alcohol. In fact, it tasted as if a tot of whisky had been poured into the glass. It had, as far as we could discern, no more distinct hop character than many other Belgian beers.

Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel (9%) is one we’ve enjoyed before. This time, we noted an underlying similarity to Hopsinjoor, especially in its evident booziness. We appreciated a dab of toffee to balanced out a bitterness which brought to mind biting into an unpeeled orange. The promised hops made themselves known in a lingering green fir-tree aroma. A great beer.

We’ll mention Duvel Tripel Hop 2014 (9.5%) in passing (we have another couple of bottles to enjoy) and say that, if you liked previous year’s efforts, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy this. Along with the Achouffe, the pick of the bunch for us, along with De Ranke XX Bitter (6.2%) which, while hardly aromatic, really is almost too bitter. Which is to say, it’s just right.

On balance, we don’t think typical Belgian yeasts leave much room in a beer for huge hop aroma, especially from strident American varieties. More bitterness, though, it can handle.

Magazine Review: Belgian Beer & Food

Cantillon Bio Gueuze, 2007.

One of our Belgian beer photos — the photography in Belgian Beer & Food is much nicer.

Paul Walsh is the editor and publisher of a new magazine, Belgian Beer & Food, and kindly sent us an electronic copy of the first issue, out now.

Belgian Beer & Food Issue 1Every now and then, someone asks, ‘Why isn’t there a decent beer magazine?’ Though BB&F has a very specific remit, could it be the publication everyone has been hoping for?

First impressions: it looks like one of those Borsetshire Life type society magazines aimed at people with ‘lifestyles’ — the kind you find in hotel rooms and in first class lounges. The typography and layout is tasteful, while the photography is downright gorgeous, but there is little immediate evidence of the cobwebs and character we associate with Belgian beer. It’s not very brown, in short.

The articles, however, are more imaginatively conceived than the rather glossy look of the magazine led us to expect, and we took the inclusion of Joe ‘Thirsty Pilgrim’ Stange’s name on the credits page as a sign of good things to come. His contribution is a solid, very readable guide to drinking in Brussels — one to cut out and keep.

There are also good pieces by writers we don’t know. We particularly enjoyed Emma Beddington’s consideration of women in the world of Belgian beer. She is not a beer drinker — her boyfriend smuggles gin into beer festivals on her behalf — which gives her tasting notes a certain refreshing originality.

Another highlight is the opening piece by Alan Hope, ‘Beer Without Borders’, which is an illuminating investigation of what beer culture means in Belgium, and the significance of beer as a kind of glue which binds an otherwise fragmented, fragile nation.

Less exciting, though readable enough after the manner of in-flight magazine copy, are uncritical pieces on various breweries and bars. We asked Mr Walsh if any of the articles were sponsored and he confirmed that three pieces (on Mort Subite, Bosteels and a restaurant called Bed Van Napoleon) were written as part of a package with paid advertising in the magazine. In future editions, arrangements like this really ought to be flagged.

Individual issues cost €6 while a year’s subscription (four issues) costs €14 (including UK delivery). We have decided to subscribe — there’s enough meat here to justify £3 a copy, and the glorious photography offers a cheaper alternative to a trip on Eurostar — but this is not the One Beer Magazine to Rule Them All.

European Beer, New World Hops

The only thing the two beers reviewed below have in common is that they are from countries where experiments with new world hops are a relatively recent development.

Should we pleased when Belgian and German breweries are inspired by American ‘craft beer’? We don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, as long as it’s about adding variety, rather than part of introducing an invasive species. Based on this experience, Belgium has more to worry about on that front than Germany.

Braufactum Palor pale ale.

All mouth, no trousers

We picked up our bottle of Braufactum Palor pale ale (5.2% ABV, 750ml) for £2.50 from the bargain bin at the National Brewery Centre in Burton-upon-Trent gift shop, so it’s likely to be another cast-off from the International Brewing Awards.

The packaging was gorgeous: nicely textured paper for the smart-looking label, an unusually heavy bottle with a slinky shape… a bit too much, actually, as if it is intended as an executive gift rather than a drink.

The beer itself (an afterthought?) smelled distinctly soapy: we’d like to say coriander leaves or Earl Grey tea, but, nope: soap. It had a copper-coin flavour we associate with Perle hops, though it doesn’t contain that particular variety (it has Cascade and Polaris). A slight hard-toffee quality also made us think more of a big, malty Festbier than, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Overall, we have to conclude that this is the worst of both worlds: the restraint of German beer with the rough-edges of something brewed in a bathtub.

 

Duvel Tripel Hop strong golden ale.

Duvel’s Brasher, Cooler Younger Brother

We bought Duvel Tripel Hop 2013 (9.5% ABV, 330ml) from Noble Green Wines online at £3.59.

It is fundamentally the Duvel we know and love (very pale, high carbonation, dangerously drinkable) but even stronger, and dry-hopped with Sorachi Ace (2012 used Citra) turning up the dazzlement a notch.

We don’t know Sorachi Ace well, but assume they were responsible for the weediness (as in drugs), the passing hint of chives, and the freshly-picked gooseberry quality, none of which are usually present in Duvel. Some people don’t like them, but we have absolutely no complaints.

Bright and raw-tasting, but surprisingly well-balanced, we concluded that Tripel Hop was damn near perfect.