Starring Sierra Nevada

knockedup.jpgWe went to see Knocked Up last night. We liked it, tut this isn’t a film review site — you don’t care what we thought about the movie. You want to know what the beer angle is.

Well, this is surely the first and only film to signal a character’s hipness by having him chug Sierra Nevada Pale Ale throughout.

Paul Rudd‘s character, Pete, spends one scene knocking back SNPA from the bottle like that mock product placement slot for Pepsi in Wayne’s World. Later on, its possible to see where his character has been by the trail of small brown bottles with lime green labels littering the flat surfaces in his house.

Does the fact that we even noticed this mean we’ve crossed some kind of line into obsession…?

Beer bars in Brussels: Chez Moeder Lambic and A La Mort Subite

Isn’t it funny how bad reviews of a place can influence you much more than good reviews? You can have a page of excellent reviews, and yet one bad review will give you serious second thoughts about whether to go.

Both Chez Moeder Lambic and A La Mort Subite seem to suffer from a few negative comments about the service. Not quite sure why, as we had a great time in both and have no complaints about service or anything else.

chez_moeder_lambic.jpg

First CML. This is a very small bar out in the “St Gilles” region of Brussels. It’s actually only about 5 minutes on the Metro system from Gare du Midi. Directions below, once again courtesy of Andreea. It has around 200 beers in bottles and around 7-8 on tap. No food other than several types of Belgian cheese (served with bread). We think cheese is a perfect snack to beer so we were more than satisfied.

It’s dark and cozy, and we found it very friendly. It wasn’t busy until about 10:30 (though this may be because an August weekend in Brussels is very quiet indeed!). The bar staff seemed happy to offer recommendations, and warned us about the Brussels cheese (it’s very salty and smelly).

We also loved the decor – it’s a real temple of beer, with hundreds of beer bottles, adverts etc tucked into its tiny interior. Also, less congruously, loads of mouldy comics in the windows. Fabulous place. Definitely recommended.

mort_subite.jpg

A La Mort Subite is cavernous by contrast. We almost didn’t go – freshly sore from the Restobieres experience, the idea of more rudeness / bad service didn’t appeal. Plus it was very busy. However, we did go, and we loved it.

Firstly, it’s really beautifully decorated – allegedly the original 1928 decor. We couldn’t stop taking pictures (no doubt contributing to its “touristy” reputation in the meantime!)

Our waitresses were both extremely friendly and attentive, so absolutely no complaints about service.

The beer selection is not huge (probably around 30 beers?) but a lot of these are on tap and in excellent condition. I had a couple of beers here that I’d previously not been impressed by – Chimay triple and Mort Subite Geueze – both of which tasted much fresher and tastier than I’d remembered.

This isn’t the place for the serious beer geek wanting to sample Belgian obscurities. However, it’s a lovely place to hang out for a few hours drinking good quality Belgian brew.

Notes

  1. Chez Moeder Lambic is at Rue de Savoie 68, 1060 Brussels. To get there, take the Metro / Pre-Metro to Horta. (The “Pre-Metro” is an underground tram). Once at Horta, left out the station down the hill to the crossroads / roundabout, left and left again so you’re going up a road almost parallel to the one you came down. You should see a huge municipal building at the top. Cross to the right hand side of the car park, and CML is about 10 metres further on (look out for the red neon sign)
  2. A La Mort Subite is at Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7, in the middle of town, around 5 minutes walk from the Grand Place. There’s a map on their website.

Fake English

speciale1900.jpg Why “fake English”? It’s a phrase we came across on a beer menu in Ghent, referring specifically to “John Martin’s Pale Ale”. JMPA is a well-known British-style ale brewed in Belgium. This post isn’t about JMPA — it’s about another beer that we thought better deserved the same description.

The beer in question is actually a very obvious clone of Palm Special, and other “Speciale Belge” beers. Nonetheless, we thought it was delicious. We admit to having a weakness for Sam Smith’s Pale Ale (despite it not being bottle conditioned, etc. etc.) and this was like a much more intense version of that. Orangey, hoppy, not at all sugary — which latter can be a real turn-off for us in Belgian beer.

And the hops were English, too — Kent Goldings? Kent isn’t far away from Belgium as the crow flies, after all.

Despite having all their own amazing beer, Belgian brewers obviously have a soft spot for British styles.  There are a number of “Scottish” brews around, for example, Gordon’s Scotch being the most ubiquitous. But until this trip, we’d never tried a Belgian stout. Now we’ve had three. One remains unidentified, despite Andreea‘s best efforts, but we can’t recommend Hercule Stout or De Dolle Extra Export Stout highly enough. De Dolle seem to have based the label on the Harvey’s Imperial Stout. Hercule Stout is a fake British stout named after an English author’s fake Belgian — Agatha Christie’s Poirot. How’s that for confusing. Both were what you’d expect — strong, gooey, chocolatey. And strong. So strong that our notes on both are useless beyond that.

Now, where’s that Belgian imitation of cream-flow nitro-keg bitter we’re all waiting for..?

Okocim Mocne – is it more than tramp’s brew?

A break from the Belgian binge write-up to blog about this while I remember.

Most of the cornershops round our way stock a large selection of fairly similar Polish lagers. We blogged about the similarity of the light lagers (usually called “piwo jasne”) in one of our first ever posts.

There are a number of Polish lagers describer as “mocne” or strong, which I’d always assumed were little better than tramp’s brew. This assumption was based partly from bad experiences of Warka Strong on tap in Poland, and partly on the fact that any British lagers with “strong” on the tin are only drunk by gentlemen of the road and bingeing teenagers. But a comment by The Beer Nut a while back, together with positive reviews of Warka Strong on BeerAdvocate, made me think that perhaps I’d been a bit harsh.

okocim_mocne_beer_small.gifSo, looking for a lager to go with my chilli, I took the plunge and bought an Okocim Mocne from the offy down the road. Described as “malt liquor” on their website, it’s7%. I was hoping for perhaps an Oktoberfest style beer, or at least a drinkable “doppio malto” like Peroni Gran Reserva.

Initial aroma was promising – appley and slightly hoppy. Unfortunately the taste and body were very disappointing. It’s a very thin beer, not what you’d expect for this strength. And the only flavour I could detect was sweetness. No hops or anything else to note. It wasn’t even particularly refreshing.

It’s not revolting, but I can’t imagine a situation where I’d drink it again. Most cornershops stocking this also stock Lithuanian Svyturys, which is a better bet for cheap, convenient lager. And if I want to drink to drown my sorrows, I’ll do as the Polish tramps do and go for wodka instead.

However, if you do spot Okocim Palone, or the even rarer Porter, snap them up. In fact, does anyone know if the Porter is even still in production? I haven’t seen it for years, but the Okocim website seems to suggest it is.

Cantillon at 9:30 am

glass.jpg

Does lambic beer taste better first thing in the morning? Or have we finally “got it” with lambic?

Having had a great long weekend in Belgium, there was time for one last trip before the Eurostar trip home. The Cantillon brewery is very handy for Gare du Midi (5 minutes away) so with luggage and rare beers stashed away in left-luggage, we set out into the Brussels rain to find out more about this lambic lark.

We knew a bit about lambics before we set out – we knew that the classic lambic beer is created from “spontaneous fermentation”, matured for several years and mixed with younger versions of itself to make Gueuze, cherries to make Krieks, raspberries to make, well, raspberry beers and so on. Little baby lambics are called “Faro” and are supposed to be less “extreme”.

I think it’s fair to say that lambic beers are an acquired taste. Long maturation and the distinctive yeasts used elimate all of the sugar so there is absolutely no sweet taste – it is overwhelmingly sour, with some bitter notes. Cantillon has a reputation of being one of the hardest “tastes” to acquire.

We were still comparative newbies to lambics. You know: the stage where you drink one and say “hmm, very interesting; isn’t it sour” and then choose something else next round. We’d enjoyed a couple of Gueuzes from other breweries, but our only brush with Cantillon was a “Rose de Gambrinus” (Cantillon’s raspberry lambic) at the Great British Beer Festival. It had tasted rather like a raspberry vinegar that my dad used to make. However, we were not put off by this – many beers are not at their best in that kind of environment – and were determined to give them another go. And where better than at the brewery itself?

bottles.jpg

Despite knowing the theory of lambic production, it’s only when you see the equipment used (and particularly the rows and rows of maturing barrels and bottles throughout the brewery) that you can picture the production process. (NB – you can probably go one better if you visit between October and April. Brewing stops during the summer months)

You get an introductory spiel (possibly from the head brewer, Jean van Roy himself) and an informative leaflet to guide yourself around. We learnt a number of interesting things. We learnt that large amounts of hops are added for their preservative / antiseptic quality – but they’re aged for three years first to cut out the bitterness. We’d both assumed before we went that the beer was open to the elements for a long period of time, but actually the window for “spontaneous fermentation” is very small — only overnight, while the beer cools. Yet it (almost) always works. This is down to the apparently unique natural yeasts in the Brussels region.

The cooling room is really atmospheric – an enormous (but shallow) square copper dish in a dark attic, with shutters to control the heat and light. Apparently the roof tiles are original, re-installed after the roof itself was replaced to preserve the “micro-organic equilibrium”. Someone should write a ghost story set in a room like that.

barrells.jpg

We got to the end of the tour with some trepidation about the tasting session to come. Tasting one of the world’s sourest beers at 9:30 in the morning? (8:30 UK time!)

We were given some Gueuze, and it was a revelation. For a start, we could taste much more than just sourness — a real full and fruity flavour with a subtle bitterness at the end which we’ve never really got with other lambics. I don’t know if this revelation was due to us slowly becoming accustomed to lambics (in the same way that we only recently “got Koelsch“); the fact that Cantillon is “better”; or just perhaps that our tastebuds were more alive at such an early hour. Whatever it was, it left us keen to try more.

They gave us a glass of Rose de Gambrinus, which was also delightful. Whereas before we could only really taste sour, the fruitiness really came out and left a lovely aftertaste.

We left with as many bottles as we could carry, some glasses and a t-shirt. We’re converted.

I wonder what wild yeasts in the London area are like…

Notes

The Cantillon brewery is 5 minutes walk from Gare du Midi Station (where Eurostar comes in), assuming you go the right way out of the station. Come out at Horta Place (entrance/exit nearest the Eurostar arrivals with the taxi rank), go up the street you can see with the bus / tram stops, straight across the roundabout (Baraplein) up Limnander-Straat, then over the road at the top into Rue de Gheude. It’s at number 56.

It’s open 8.30am-5pm Mon-Fri, and 10am-5pm on Saturdays. At 4E, including two small glasses of beer, it’s well worth a visit. They also run various public brewing days. The next one’s on 10th November 2007.