Restobieres: "No beer for you!"

duvelsign.jpgRestobieres has a nice website, which I spent a bit of time looking at before we set off for lunch yesterday. The menu looked simple and — most importantly — we’d heard that the beer was decent.

The website advertised something described in English as “The Set Beer Menu”, which I tried to order from the French menu. The website says it’s four beers: Bink blonde, Witkap Stimulo, Lamoral degmont and “Trappiste”, for 15 euros.

But my French is appalling, and the owner — an, er, colourful chap called Alain Fayt — reminded me somewhat of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. The whole thing was, therefore, a bit of a disaster.

After I’d placed the order, there was some grumpy dialogue which I didn’t follow, and off he went. Sometime later, my first beer arrived. There was a lecture in French on its origins, which I just about followed. But it wasn’t Bink Blonde — it was Watou Wit. Confusing. But fine — I drank it. It went really well with my pate, both bringing out interesting flavours in the other. So far so good.

A long while later, when I’d nearly finished my second course, Alain returned. He collected my glass and gave me what you might call “the stink eye”.

He returned with a bottle of something else. I say “something else” because he poured me a splash into a glass and walked off, very quickly, with the bottle. “Hmm,” I said. “That’s interesting. It’s not one of the beers on the list, and I’ve only got about 100ml of it.” It was very nice, whatever it was.

Things reached a head with the third beer — Caracole’s Nostradamus. Not on the menu. He poured me a splash but this time left the bottle. Being thirsty at this point, I proceded to finish it. Oh dear.

He returned looking like I’d insulted his family. “You must not drink it all. This is a degustation — tasting!”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, Englishly. I went red and felt guilty, as if it was entirely my fault. He slammed down a splash of another beer (again, no idea what, but a stout of some sort) and said, slightly more warmly, “It’s OK.” And that was that. No more beer for me.

So, yes, it’s an interesting place, with great beer, and decent food, but don’t go here expecting to be mollycoddled… and read the menu carefully.

Bailey

Apologies for the irrelevant image. I was too scared to use my camera in the restaurant…

Ciney vs. Chimay

chimay_ciney.jpgFor the last few days, we’ve been seeing advertisements for Ciney beers, which we’d never heard of before. The astounding thing is that Ciney have completely borrowed Chimay’s logo and typeface. What’s more, even though they’re not a Trappist or even an abbey brewery, they’ve stuck a church spire in their logo to give that impression. In fact, they’re owned by the huge Alken-Maes Group.

So we assumed they’d be, at best, clones of the Chimay beers and, at worst, horrid.

When we found ourselves this afternoon in the legendary bar “A La Morte Subite” and noticed that the menu had a full range of both Ciney and Chimay beers, we thought we’d compare them. We ordered them in pairs — Ciney Brune with Chimay Rouge; Ciney Blonde with Chimay Triple.

And do you know what? They were not at all similar. Ciney’s beers are characterised by an underlying sourness. They smell sour — fruity sour — and taste slightly less so. Both the brune and the blonde are excellent, but the brune was the real stand out. It’s rich and full of flavour, but not heavy. If you see it, give it a go.

Few of you need us to tell you about Chimay. Suffice to say, they were also great.

To follow in the next few days:

  • Restobieres — “No soup for you!”
  • Chez Moeder Lambic
  • Ghent
  • Westvleteren — easier to find than we expected… but is it real?
  • Deus — posh, expensive, but is it any good?
  • “Fake English”: Belgian attempts to “do” English beer
  • Cantillon brewery (if we get up in time tomorrow…)

L’Ultime Atome

caveoftrolls.jpg Andreea recommended this place which we checked out at lunchtime today. We had a few nibbles and tried three beers each, all of which were good, and a couple of which were great.

The photo is of Cuvee de Trolls — the 20th beer Andreea ever reviewed, back in February 2006. It looks great, and has a lovely glass (frosted, like the one Babar comes in). The beer itself was decent, if not mindblowing.

The highlight of the session was “Poperings Hommelbier”. Poperinge is the Belgian hop growing region, and “hommel” is the local word for hops. And how. Like the little guide to Belgian beer we picked up says, “this beer has about twice the bitterness of other Belgian beers”. The first thing we were reminded of was an English IPA.

  • Ale? Check.
  • Pale? Check.
  • Bitter? Check.
  • Strong? 7.5%.

For all that, though, it’s not quite in the same territory. For a start, there’s the distinct sugar taste and aroma which you get in a lot of Belgian beer. There’s also not much in the way of flowery hop aroma, which you’d expect in an IPA. Nonetheless, an interesting and refreshingly bitter beer which we’d recommend heartily.

We also tried Hoegaarden Grand Cru, Ara Bier and Moinette Blonde.

Had a slight hangover by 5pm. Urgh.

PS – Spotted some “bootleg” Westvleteren in one of the main touristy beer shops in the centre of town.  They weren’t making a big show of it but it wasn’t hidden either.  6.25EUR a bottle. Didn’t have the 12 though.

Notes

L’Ultime Atome is at 14 Rue Saint-Boniface, Brussels 1050. There are a number of interesting bars and restaurants in that area, including lots of African places. We may do a Google Map when we get back if we can be bothered.

Homebrew update: don't treat homebrew books as gospel

We may have found the answer to the stuck fermentation problem we were having.

Patience.

The last brew looked to be going the same disastrous way. We had an Original Gravity of 1066, which we would expect to drop to between 1017 and 1022. After an initial strong fermentation and then appeared to stop. We took a reading a week later, and were disappointed to find it had only dropped to 1032. Another week, and we were at 1028. We almost gave up but thought we may as well leave it. Good move, as after three weeks it had dropped to 1021, and was actually beginning to taste drinkable too. It’s now around 6.1% ABV! We’ve put it into secondary fermentation, and think we might leave this to mature in bottles for a couple of months.

Anyway, the point here is: don’t get hung up on what homebrew books / websites tell you. They all disagree with each other and often contradict themselves within a few pages.  We were getting worried because most sources seemed adamant that a week should be sufficient for a primary fermentation. We’d read that primary fermentation should be 2-3 days and also 3-5 days. In the same book. But then the book goes on to give recipes with up to 4 weeks primary fermentation.

Similar with mash temperatures – I’ve read that it should be 65degC, 70 deg C and even 75-80 degC. The thing is that all of these books are so dogmatic, and terrify you into thinking you will ruin your beer if you’re a degree or two out. Whereas in fact it may make the difference of a few grams of sugar BUT IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

Sure, if you’re running a microbrewery or more, precise temperature measures, careful water treatment etc might make all the difference, but by then you’ve probably moved on from “basic” homebrew manuals.

The trouble is, for amateur homebrewers like us, it’s very difficult to work out what advice is absolutely essential (possibly the sanitising stuff?) and what advice is just what works for that particular author, with his particular set up (it always does seem to be a “he”). It would be great to see more homebrewing guides a la Jamie Oliver (“just bung the malt in there, heat the water a bit, leave it a while” etc).

If I was into lazy gender stereotypes, I’d suggest the overly complicated and specific homebrew book is the natural result of a male-dominated hobby. Perhaps we need to think back to the middle ages, when most households (Read: housewives) would brew their own. I’m sure they didn’t worry about the hop utilisation rates, or the ph of the water.

Boak