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.
Popping the bottle and pouring we got a glass of brassy, darkish yellow beer with a stable, pure white head of foam.
The aroma was… Hmm. Not hops, just a whiff of over-ripe banana, and a hint of vegetable-rack funkiness.
It took us a while to agree on how it tasted. Bailey (who is more sensitive to these things) detected a stale cardboard note and something like (very faint) smokiness. He dashed off to retrieve the cap from the kitchen counter; it was best before June 2016 so fairly elderly, it turns out.
Boak, on the other hand, just straight up liked it: the banana perfume, the toffeeish malt, that slight funkiness, and a throat-seizing, neverending bitterness (evoking mustard leaves, somehow) really pressed her buttons.
In what sense is this lager, we wondered? Would we have questioned it if the label had said (as so many Belgian beers do) ‘Blonde’? Probably not. We might have though it was a lagery Blonde but we wouldn’t have questioned its essential Blondeness. That is, looking a bit like lager but tasting heavier, thicker and fruitier.
By the end, we both agreed we liked it and that we could easily imagine ourselves drinking it as light relief between stronger, sourer or weirder beers in a bar in Belgium. But we also thought it would be good to try a fresh bottle where, presumably, the effects of dry-hopping might be more evident.
Not quite a hit, but certainly not a miss.
It’s interesting to give lager a close reading. It reminds us of when we did a jigsaw puzzle based on an M.C. Escher sketch. At first, it just looked like hundreds of identical dark grey pieces and seemed impossible but, after a few weeks, we’d zoned in on the distinctions: tight diagonal cross-hatch dark grey level 3 was distinct from loose horizontal cross-hatch dark grey 5. The human brain is good at detecting differences and if there aren’t any, it imagines them. Except in extreme cases, lager tends to taste like lager, and any tasting notes we offer (see mustard leaves, above) are tentative, and the distinctions they describe quite elusive.