Duvel: no dumb blonde


There’s no more illu­mi­nat­ing way to taste beers than to try three or four sup­pos­ed­ly sim­i­lar spec­i­mens togeth­er. When we found our­selves in pos­ses­sion of two noto­ri­ous­ly blas­phe­mous Bel­gian beers (Satan Gold and Judas) we thought it would be fun to drink them along with their evi­dent inspi­ra­tion, Duv­el. The expe­ri­ence gave us a new appre­ci­a­tion for this old favourite.

Satan and Judas look, too all intents and pur­pos­es, iden­ti­cal in the glass. They have the same rich gold­en colour; the same loose, bub­bly head.

Satan first. What a let down after the fun and tacky pack­ag­ing. It smells of pear-drops, nail pol­ish and alco­hol. There are some tart apple flavours which might work if they were bal­anced with bit­ter­ness. Sad­ly, this beer is hard­ly bit­ter at all. The stingy hand with the hops is coun­tered by an over­gen­er­ous help­ing of sug­ar. All in all, a bit like drink­ing syrup.

Judas is some­what bet­ter, though sim­i­lar. Sug­ary: check. Fruiti­ly acidic: check. It tastes, in fact, like stewed rhubarb, which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. All in all, not a beer we’ll be hunt­ing down, but def­i­nite­ly drink­able. Unlike Satan, this one didn’t end up down the sink.

And then onto Duv­el, which sud­den­ly looks and tastes like what it is – a very sophis­ti­cat­ed, well-engi­neered beer. It’s lighter coloured and lighter bod­ied than either of its two imi­ta­tors. The bit­ter­ness is refresh­ing and pro­nounced. Ver­i­ta­ble hops indeed. Where­as Satan and Judas lost their heads almost imme­di­ate­ly, Duv­el has ice­berg-like clots of foam all the way down to the last mouth­ful.

We have our win­ner. Just because it’s ubiq­ui­tous doesn’t mean Duv­el isn’t bril­liant.

Poechenellekelder, Brussels

Andreea in Bel­gium tipped us off to this pub a while ago. We popped in on the way out to Ger­many, and were utter­ly charmed by the place, so we stopped off for a longer ses­sion on the way home.

As Andreea says, it is right on the tourist path, and there are lots of tourists in it, but you would not describe it as a trap. Well, unless you were com­ment­ing on the nar­row entrance stairs – seri­ous­ly dan­ger­ous after a cou­ple of strong bel­gian brews. It’s extreme­ly cosy and wel­com­ing, the kind of place you can while away hours. It has a cou­ple of chang­ing beers on tap, and an extreme­ly long list of beer in bot­tles.

We stuck to the Christ­mas spe­cials. Ker­st­pa­ter (9%) and Gouden Car­o­lus Christ­mas (10.5%) were on tap, so we start­ed there.  The Ker­st­pa­ter was warm­ing and boozy, although the fin­ish remind­ed us of lucozade (too sweet?).  Gouden Car­o­lus was bet­ter, with a nice cher­ry-choco­late after­taste.  We thought it wasn’t real­ly nice enough to jus­ti­fy the 10.5% strength, but it set us up for the after­noon, and Andreea real­ly liked it.

Palm Dou­ble” was next. We can’t find any ref­er­ence to it on the Palm web­site.  Bizarrely, it tast­ed almost exact­ly like a 4% British bit­ter, despite being much stronger.  On to Pere Noel, by De Ranke. At 7%, this is weak for a Bel­gian Christ­mas beer, but was our favourite of the day.  It has the same “musty” hop taste as their XX bit­ter, of which we’re big fans.  It’s dif­fer­ent and refresh­ing, while still being Christ­massy.

There were var­i­ous parades going on out­side for St Nicholas’s day, and at one point an entire march­ing band, sousa­phone and all, squeezed their way in for a post-march booze up.  All of which added to the cosi­ness.  A high­ly rec­om­mend­ed pub.


Gluhbier in Dresden

Liefmann's gluhbier at the Christmas market in Dresden
Liefman’s Gluh­bier in the Striezel­markt, Dres­den

We had a few hours to kill in Dres­den and couldn’t resist a turn around the Christ­mas mar­ket. We ate junk food and were all geared up for a mulled wine when we spot­ted a stand offer­ing Liefman’s Gluh­bier.

The Ger­mans – a rather con­ser­v­a­tive bunch, if we can be per­mit­ted to gen­er­alise – seemed bemused, but we and a hand­ful of Amer­i­can tourists were up for it.

It tast­ed fan­tas­tic. A spiced ver­sion of their kriek cher­ry beer, it real­ly didn’t taste much dif­fer­ent to the cheap, fruity red wine they nor­mal­ly dish out. The spices are bare­ly there, which we liked (too many cloves and too much cin­na­mon have ruined many a Christ­mas beer).

A cou­ple of locals asked us what we thought and, with our rec­om­men­da­tion, decid­ed to give it a try. They seemed to enjoy it. Will Ger­mans one day put fruit and spices in more of their own beers, rather than import­ing it from Bel­gium…?

Alternative Belgian beer styles

A ludi­crous­ly strong pale and a ludi­crous­ly strong dark Bel­gian beer, tak­en in Ghent.

Style guide­lines. Don­cha just love them? As home­brew­ers, we can see that they have their uses some­times, if you’re try­ing to recre­ate a spe­cif­ic beer, or describe what you’ve cre­at­ed in terms that every­one will under­stand.

But the cat­e­gories that exist for Bel­gian beers are pret­ty daft. Objec­tive­ly speak­ing, is there actu­al­ly much dif­fer­ence between a “Bel­gian Gold­en Strong Ale”, and a “triple”, at least as defined here? Or even a Bel­gian Blond Ale? “Dubbels” and “tripels” are sure­ly only rel­a­tive terms, depend­ing on which brew­ery makes them.

At least the idea of sep­a­rate styles for “Trap­pist” beer and an “Abbey” beer seem to have fall­en by the way­side, although you still get sweep­ing gen­er­al­i­sa­tions such as:

Fin­ish is vari­able depend­ing on inter­pre­ta­tion (authen­tic Trap­pist ver­sions are mod­er­ate­ly dry to dry, Abbey ver­sions can be medi­um-dry to sweet)”

Per­son­al­ly, I think we should start again with Bel­gian beer styles. My sim­pler cat­e­gori­sa­tion would go as fol­lows:

(1) wit­biers

(2) sour ones

(3) fruity ones

(4) bor­ing pil­sners

(5) Bel­gian pale ales (you know, the ones that aren’t ludi­crous­ly strong)

(6) ludi­crous­ly strong pale beers

(7) ludi­crous­ly strong dark ones

Have I missed any­thing?

Obvi­ous­ly, with­in these, there are some huge ranges of flavours, but that’s the case with the guide­lines as they cur­rent­ly stand. My clas­si­fi­ca­tion is also eas­i­er for the lay­man to under­stand.

Next week: hav­ing sort­ed beer styles, how to end world hunger.


First encounters with Belgian beer and the Dove revisited

Boon beer at the Dove pub, hackneyRon’s been post­ing a fair few rem­i­nis­cences recent­ly, includ­ing a cou­ple of posts on first encoun­ter­ing Bel­gian beer – here, and here.

My first encoun­ters were not so cool. Around about the turn of the cen­tu­ry, when Leffe and Hoe­gaar­den were begin­ning to appear in trendy Lon­don pubs, a mate sug­gest­ed going to the Dove, Hack­ney for her birth­day.

Hav­ing got a bus to the real­ly rough bit of Hack­ney, and walked under­neath some dodgy rail­way arch­es to get there, I was already in a bad mood that she hadn’t sug­gest­ed some­where clos­er to home. I got even grumpi­er when I saw what was on offer – weird for­eign stuff at MORE THAN £4 A PINT!!! The barstaff did try to explain some rub­bish about how in Bel­gium you drank it from nice small glass­es, but I wasn’t hav­ing any of it. And it tast­ed weird.

I can’t remem­ber exact­ly what I drank – I think I had a fruit beer (don’t peo­ple always when they’re faced with a Bel­gian beer menu for the first time?) and a Delir­i­um Tremens, because the ele­phants were cool. We moaned to my friend for hav­ing brought us there for quite some time after­wards.

I’m always scep­ti­cal about peo­ple who claim they’ve always been into cool stuff. I’m hap­py to admit to being a philis­tine. And I think my expe­ri­ence is illus­tra­tive of the dif­fi­cul­ties that Bel­gian beer faces in gain­ing accep­tance in the UK, par­tic­u­lar­ly the insis­tence on the pint as the only mea­sure that makes sense.

Any­way, I went back to the Dove a year or so lat­er, when I was a bit more open to it (i.e. had a job and could afford it). I picked beers with odd names (Slag Pils! Mort Subite!) and fun­ny beer glass­es (Kwak pipes aplen­ty), and enjoyed the food. It became a bit of a treat. Then it became the vic­tim of its own suc­cess, and the last time I went there before today I remem­ber the ser­vice being dread­ful, the food so-so, the beer a bit off and the whole place full of smoke and screech­ing media types.

Then, hav­ing watched “In Bruges” ear­li­er this week (we liked it) we got a bit of crav­ing for Bel­gian beers in “gay glass­es” (to para­phrase the film) and decid­ed it was time for a return.

We’ve learnt from past expe­ri­ence that places in Lon­don can go from being great to lousy to great again – the pow­er of the inter­net, per­haps, as bar man­agers respond to com­ments on review web­sites and blogs? At any rate, the Dove was in top form today – superb food, and a great selec­tion of Bel­gian beers on tap and in bot­tles. They also had six or so British ales on, includ­ed Ore­gon Best from Crouch Vale, a deli­cious homage to Amer­i­can pale ales.

The staff look like they’re all in trendy bands, but man­age to hold it togeth­er long enough to care­ful­ly serve your beer in the right glass­es.

It’s a very cosy spot, full of nooks and cran­nies and rem­i­nis­cent of a pub in Ghent we went to. With the smok­ing ban in place, it’s an extreme­ly pleas­ant place to spend a gloomy after­noon and gen­tly souse one’s liv­er. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

We may blog more about some of the bonkers Bel­gian brews we had, includ­ing one that tast­ed like Heinz spaghet­ti…


Here’s a map to the Dove.