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.
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.