Discomfort Beer – Saison, Tripel, Brett and Kriek

‘Access01’ by David Bleas­dale from Flickr under Cre­ative Com­mons.

These are our instructions from Alec Latham, the host of this edition of the monthly beer blogging jamboree:

For Ses­sion 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your com­fort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just need­ed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were com­pro­mised, defec­tive, flat, off etc because this is about delib­er­ate styles. It would be inter­est­ing to see if these expe­ri­ences are sim­i­lar in dif­fer­ent coun­tries.’

The exam­ple Alec gives in his own post is Thorn­bridge Wild Raven, the first black IPA he’d ever tried, and in the broad­est terms, there’s the answer: any new style will prob­a­bly wrong-foot you the first time you come across it. You might even say the same of entire nation­al brew­ing tra­di­tions.

Dis­com­fort’ is an inter­est­ing word for Alec to choose because the feel­ing we think he’s describ­ing is as much social anx­i­ety as it is pure­ly about the beer: oth­er peo­ple like this, but I don’t – am I being stu­pid? Am I miss­ing some­thing?

Partizan Lemongrass Saison.

We grap­pled with sai­son for years, for exam­ple. Michael Jack­son wrote about it so elo­quent­ly and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, as did Tim Webb and Joris Pat­tyn, and many oth­ers, but we didn’t get it. How could we match up those tan­ta­lis­ing tast­ing notes with the fizzy Lucozade beers we kept find­ing in Bel­gian bars in Lon­don? Maybe the experts were just wrong – a wor­ry­ing thought. We could have sim­ply giv­en up but we kept try­ing until some­thing clicked. Now we not only under­stand sai­son (with, say, 65 per cent con­fi­dence) but also know which par­tic­u­lar ones we do and don’t like.

Over the years we’ve been sim­i­lar­ly dis­gust­ed or non­plussed by Bel­gian tripels, specif­i­cal­ly Chi­may White which just tast­ed to us like pure alco­hol back in 2003; and also by Bret­tanomyces-influ­enced beers – Harvey’s Impe­r­i­al, now one of our favourites, appalled us the first few times we tried it, and Orval left us cold until quite recent­ly. (We are now fan­per­sons.)

In each case, the dis­com­fort was worth it, like prac­tis­ing a musi­cal instru­ment until your fin­gers hurt, because it opened up options and left us with a wider field of vision.

The flip­side to Alec’s propo­si­tion, of course, is that some beers are imme­di­ate­ly appeal­ing but per­haps become tar­nished with expe­ri­ence. The first time we were ever dragged to an obscure pub by an excit­ed friend it was to drink Timmerman’s fruit beers from Bel­gium which we now find almost too sweet to bear. Com­fort turns to dis­com­fort, delight to queasi­ness.

The sense of taste is an unsta­ble, agile, mis­chie­vous thing that you can nev­er quite tame.

19 thoughts on “Discomfort Beer – Saison, Tripel, Brett and Kriek”

  1. How odd – I was into Bel­gian beers for years before I start­ed tak­ing an inter­est in the Eng­lish vari­ety, and it was Chi­may White that start­ed it for me; I tried it on a whim, nev­er hav­ing drunk an abbey beer and not being much of a beer drinker, & loved it (although I’m pret­ty sure I tipped the yeast in).

    For me lam­bic is still ter­ra incog­ni­ta. To quote my Bruges post from a few years back:

    The bar­man saw the face I made after my first swal­low and apol­o­gised – “It’s not very sour, is it? That’s the only lam­bic we can get in a keg – the good ones are only avail­able in bot­tle.” Let’s just say that the prob­lem I’d had with it wasn’t a lack of sour­ness.

  2. I have to say that I find the major­i­ty of smoke in beer a bit off-putting, and in par­tic­u­lar, I just can­not tol­er­ate Rauch­bier – that scent of smokey bacon crisps I just can’t quite get to grips with.

    The flavours that cul­tures delib­er­ate­ly impart and nat­u­ral­ly pre­fer are var­ied, and seem to be sub­ject to if not geo­graph­i­cal, then cul­tur­al bound­aries . If beer has nat­u­ral­ly grown up around people’s eat­ing tra­di­tions as much as their drink­ing ones, and have done so in part­ner­ship with one anoth­er, it makes sense that local beers have sprung up that delib­er­ate­ly either mim­ic those flavours that cul­tures pre­fer, or are in some ways designed to com­ple­ment them. If we as British peo­ple find those flavours uncom­fort­able, it’s quite easy to see why: we sim­ply don’t have the cul­tur­al­ly impart­ed taste for them (just like a lot of peo­ple don’t like the taste of mild, for exam­ple).

    As for the Bel­gians – well, they seem to have a very sweet tooth indeed, both in beer and oth­er­wise.

    1. I’d nev­er had a smoked beer that I liked until Christ­mas just gone, when my son gave me a bot­tle of Schlenker­la smoked weizen. Com­bin­ing two such dif­fer­ent flavour pro­files could have been a mess, but it real­ly worked – I found I could appre­ci­ate the smoke when there was some­thing else going on.

      As for the Bel­gians, don’t for­get they also gave us lam­bic and gueuze. Tru­ly, Bel­gium is a land of con­trasts.

  3. There is noth­ing to be ashamed about in sim­ply not lik­ing cer­tain beer styles. I don’t real­ly like sour beers and no amount of prac­tice is going to change that; but it doesn’t mean that peo­ple who do are wrong; despite what cer­tain arro­gant dinosaurs may believe, taste in beer, and notions of “qual­i­ty” are entire­ly sub­jec­tive. The only thing that mat­ters is that peo­ple are pro­vid­ed with suf­fi­cient choice to be able to find their own pre­ferred style.

  4. Saisons and Lam­bics leave me feel­ing slight­ly vio­lat­ed. Titan­ic Plum Porter is also a big nope from me. I recent­ly bought a mixed case of Bel­gian beers and found Rochefort 8 to be almost unbear­able on first sip, and 10 to be ridicu­lous­ly strong, but they grew on me. Orval is also quite hard work, but the brand­ed chal­ice is to die for…

  5. Any­thing with even a trace of acetic pong. The clas­sic Duchesse De Bour­gogne can go take a ride… the whole “Flan­ders Red” style with it.

    I have tried. I real­ly have. I’ve drunk loads of this sort of stuff. I can grin and bear it, but I can’t “learn to love it”.

    I also think malt vine­gar on chips is dis­gust­ing.

    So I can see how some folk can love the Flan­ders Red whilst I don’t… it just isn’t for me.

  6. I guessed Lam­bic, Brett and sours would be pop­u­lar con­tenders.
    Thanks for giv­ing Ses­sion 119 the rumi­na­tion it need­ed and you’ve hit on a future Ses­sion top­ic: which beers lost the pea in their whis­tle? For me that could be any num­ber of long­stand­ing bit­ters (but not all) that just honk of sweat and pas­try now but once seemed sharply bit­ter.

  7. Wouldn’t bit­ter and mild also be dis­com­fort beers for some, espe­cial­ly for drinkers who go straight onto fruit IPAs (which seem to be tak­ing up the intro­duc­to­ry role to beer for new­com­ers as did cider and lager top for me)? I also won­der if chal­leng­ing would be bet­ter than dis­com­fort, a word which (per­son­al­ly) has con­no­ta­tions of con­sti­pa­tion, pulled mus­cles and embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tions? Just a thought. BTW I used to put a sug­ar cube in my Can­til­lon Gueuze in the 1990s until I got it, but Michael Jack­son sold sai­son to me imme­di­ate­ly in his Indie columns.

    1. PS and by per­son­al­ly I meant what I think of, rather than what I have experienced…written 2000 words this morn­ing so a bit hazy.

  8. The prob­lem with the word chal­leng­ing is it’s so overused in food, busi­ness, eco­nom­ics, man­age­ment etc to the point it doesn’t real­ly mean any­thing. Nope. Dis­com­fort stops you in your tracks. So I’m stick­ing to my pis­tols on this (look­ing for­ward to read­ing Beer In So Many Words that my sis­ter got me for Xmas btw).

  9. Yvan’s point about people’s palates dif­fer­ing is inter­est­ing. I’ve nev­er got to the bot­tom of this, but there’s a cer­tain hop which Mar­ble used to use – round about 2009-10 in par­tic­u­lar – that made all the pale beers smell (not to put too fine a point on it) of vom­it. I know it was the hop, not a brew­ing fault or any­thing, because I was at a tast­ing in 2010 where James and Dom (ee, them were’t days eh?) brought along some lit­tle con­tain­ers of hops for peo­ple to sniff at. I sniffed and com­pared, and there it was: mmm, dry grass… tobac­co smoke… vom­it. The smart thing to do would have been to ask them what it was, of course, but I was a shy and retir­ing type back then. Any­way, I find it very hard to believe that every­one was pick­ing up the same sig­nals – those pale beers seemed to go rather well – so pre­sum­ably it’s just some kind of clash between my olfac­to­ry palate and that par­tic­u­lar hop. What­ev­er it was – the next year they stopped using it.

    1. But – to com­plete the thought – that hop cer­tain­ly made those beers uncom­fort­able for me; in some cas­es I was prac­ti­cal­ly hold­ing my nose while I drank them. (Kids: don’t try hold­ing your nose while you drink beer.)

      1. That oniony scent of the last year has been going down a storm, but makes me want to put it down – I think the Cloud­wa­ter v. 5 was the worst for it that I’ve had recent­ly, but many seemed to either just not notice it, tol­er­ate it, or for­give it.

    2. Sen­so­ry dif­fer­ences are inter­est­ing… I think there are going to be ele­ments of nur­ture in it as much as nature. Cul­tur­al­ly the US seems to have enough of a lik­ing for root beer for it to be a com­mon thing there, whilst try­ing to sell root beer in the UK is a chore. Peo­ple here think it tastes like med­i­cine – I’m assum­ing there is/was a com­mon med­i­cine of trau­mat­ic child­hood mem­o­ry involved.

      I don’t know why I am not a fan of malt vine­gar though, or why I hate it on chips. It total­ly pre-dates any real inter­est in beer too.

      My oth­er half hates licorice… and that’s not uncom­mon and seems to be poten­tial­ly a genet­ic pre­dis­po­si­tion. I love the stuff, and like a hint of added licorice in a big dark beer… Kat would be less enthused. (I must ask her opin­ion on Flan­ders Reds, I’m not actu­al­ly sure what it is.)

      Sen­so­ry edu­ca­tion is anoth­er step. I’m pret­ty cer­tain I find beers undrink­able now that I would have drank (maybe not enjoyed much) 10 years ago. I’ve dived too deep into beer – I’ve done taint tests, drank with expert brew­ers, etc… and learnt too much about off flavours. I don’t rec­om­mend it because it makes enjoy­ing beer more dif­fi­cult. [But it makes your appre­ci­a­tion for a tru­ly stun­ning beer all the stronger.]

      I have “dis­com­fort beers” now that were per­haps not “dis­com­fort beers” 10 years ago… I seem to have devel­oped a sen­si­tiv­i­ty to acety­lalde­hyde I didn’t have before, and it is the one flavour that makes a lot of aver­age cask bit­ter a “dis­com­fort beer” to me now days. On the oth­er hand I’m still not very sen­si­tive to diacetyl, a lit­tle of it doesn’t both­er me much in most beers.

  10. That could’ve fea­tured as one of the posts in the roundup by itself Yvan. Yes – what are Dis­com­fort Beers now weren’t a decade ago. The sweati­ness of some British cask ales was some­thing that used to go unno­ticed. The metal­lic nature of some sta­ple Lagers would be tol­er­at­ed less now too.
    And what were dis­com­fort­ing beers back then we accli­ma­tise to.
    I’ve yet to expe­ri­ence the oniony taste (except in onions). Real­ly curi­ous about it.

    1. The sub­ject is a very inter­est­ing one.

      Onions as some describe it I don’t get so much either… I think it is anoth­er some are more sen­si­tive to than oth­ers. I’ve had the odd pale hop­py thing that has a hint of the alli­um about it… but per­haps more gar­lic than onion to me.

      Alas don’t real­ly get into the old blog­ging much any more. Sort of busy. (But still make the time to write over­sized blog com­ments;)

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