beer reviews Belgium bottled beer

Magical Mystery Pour #11: Troubadour Westkust

Magical Mystery Pour logo.This is the third of five beers chosen for us by The Beer Nut (@thebeernut). It comes from Belgium and is a 9.2% ABV ‘strong, dark, bitter beer’.

We bought two 330ml bottles from Beer Gonzo at £3.25 each — cheaper than many Belgian beers of similar strength.

Something about the design of the label and the type of beer made us look askance: we just knew it was going to gush everywhere. So, anticipating the need to dump it quickly into a vessel, we went for a chunky British-style pint glass rather than a frilly goblet, chalice or holy grail. But, as it happened, though the head was uncontrollably huge and the beer lively, it stayed in the bottle until invited out. The body was a faintly muddy dark red-brown with small flecks of yeast whirl-pooling about; the head coffee crema off-white. We noticed a dusty, musty pantry smell of cocoa powder, dried fruit and sprouts.

Sprouts by Eric Hunt via Wikimedia Commons.
Sprouts by Eric Hunt via Wikimedia Commons; dried fruit and cocoa powder ours.

You know how some smells are so faint that you think you’ve imagined them, stop trying, and then notice them again a minute later? That’s what the musty damp-cupboard note in this beer was like. It didn’t overwhelm but it kept popping up, slightly off-putting, through the first half of the glass. Our first impressions on tasting were similarly negative: it reminded us of batches of home-brew we’ve ditched, and bottles of bad UK microbrewery beer picked up in gift shops over the years. Too sweet, too rough, unfinished.

Then, fairly quickly, that instinctive recoil passed and we began to get into a bit. We found it complicated and interesting — let’s say that for starters. It’s not actually sweet even though the sugary flavour and syrupy body tell your brain it ought to be. In fact, it’s really bitter. So bitter. Like, a two-bag cup of tea left to stew for 20 minutes, or maybe hot chocolate made using only that intense, black, rock-hard stuff designed for cooking. Or both at the same time through some act of carelessness near the kettle. Like we said, complex. There was even a kind of burning on the tongue as if a pinch of cayenne pepper had somehow got into the mix.

We got into a bit of word association: it’s a ugly, harsh, brutal beer. Like drinking hammers. Which is not necessarily a complaint. It’s a sort of halfway point between classical Belgian brewing and the in-your-face extremes of modern UK-US craft beer.

The last third of the glass, a bit warmer and flatter, yielded — yes, yielded, like the wine people say — more of the underlying raisin and prune character, along with an over-generous dose of some spice or other — let’s assume coriander, but we did wonder whether it might be fennel seed. It reminded us finally of Rochefort 8 or St Bernardus Abt 12, but a rough-hewn, homemade garden shed version thereof.

Tasting done, we looked it up online. Troubadour turns out to be not a brewery but a brewing company which has the beer made, as do many others, at De Proef. When TBN first encountered it in 2013 he was bowled over, beginning his comments with ‘Wow’:

The nose is pure Fry’s Turkish Delight, starting with milk chocolate then adding floral rosewater. It tasted very porterish to me, with coffee and cocoa dominating the flavour and the hops adding a pot pourri element without any real bitterness. Not really the sort of thing I’d expect under the black IPA flag, but as a beer it’s flawless.

Does that sound like the same beer? Chocolate, vegetable matter and granny’s cupboard stuff… Yeah, maybe, just about. He found it stout- or porter-like and mentions that it is elsewhere described as a black IPA. We wouldn’t have classified it as either but we can see that it probably sits somewhere in that part of the family tree.

This really is a beer for tasting — something to wrestle with — and we’d probably drink it again, which means we enjoyed it more than most of the words in the above review might suggest. If you like a challenge, give it a go.

3 replies on “Magical Mystery Pour #11: Troubadour Westkust”

I’m beginning to see a discord between Troubadour’s bottled and draught offerings, in that the draught is some of the most amazing beer I’ve ever tasted while the bottles have been somewhere between dull and outright infected.

Sprouts and dark cocoa (and tar) is something I’ve come to associate with black IPA in general, and it can be enjoyable, but it’s not what I found in this on draught at Wildeman, which was light and perfumed and extremely clean. Definitely not a challenge. But I’m glad you enjoyed it anyway.

Hmm, how sure are you of your supplier and supply chain – obviously we all taste different flavours in beers, but that is so far off from my notes on it that my guess is you got a dodgy couple of bottles (or perhaps it was a bad batch)…

Not sure at all! We didn’t go and inspect Beer Gonzo’s warehouse or anything.

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