RIP Michael Jackson

As we did our rounds of the beer blogs today, we were shocked to learn of the death of Michael Jackson.

We can’t claim any personal experiences, but he was extremely influential in developing our interest in beer.  His “Great Beer Guide – 500 Classic brews” is possibly our most-thumbed book — it’s been on holiday with us countless times.

We liked his eclecticism, and his enthusiasm — he talked about what he liked, and not so much about what he didn’t. We didn’t always agree with his comments, but they always gave us food for thought, and often made us think twice about a beer we’d never have considered otherwise.

He’ll be missed.

Dodgy Chinese Beer?

tsingtao.jpgThere’s been a lot of hysteria recently around Chinese food and drink. Some Chinese toothpaste poisoned people in Panama, and several American pets were killed by dodgy Chinese pet food.

On the back of that, people have been desperately hunting for more examples, and have even resorted to resurrecting some old urban myths. There is a whiff of xenophobia about it all (which is a bit distasteful) not to mention a bit of good old-fashioned tit-for-tat free market manouevring.

But I still find myself wondering: what about Chinese beer?

We had a party recently and told our guests there would be a prize for the most interesting beer donated to our cellar — we didn’t want to end up with 10 bottles of red wine and fifteen Kronenbourg Blanc at the end of the night. Someone brought a bottle of Tsingtao, which is now sitting amongst the stash. Is it kosher?

Well, Danwei, a website about media, advertising, and urban life in China, published this piece in 2005. It claims that up to 95% of Chinese beer contains formaldehyde. Eurgh. Before you panic, though, there is a later correction: it’s probably only about 65%. Phew!

As far as I can tell, formaldehyde is used as a cheap alternative to silica gel, which itself is used to clear beer quickly so it needs less time to mature.

Thankfully for my bottle of Tsingtao, however, the article also suggests that most Chinese beer made for export is made without formaldehyde. Tsingtao is also well regarded and has won awards worldwide. So, although I probably won’t like it anymore than the last time I had it, it won’t cause me severe pain, vomiting, coma or death.

Starring Sierra Nevada

knockedup.jpgWe went to see Knocked Up last night. We liked it, tut this isn’t a film review site — you don’t care what we thought about the movie. You want to know what the beer angle is.

Well, this is surely the first and only film to signal a character’s hipness by having him chug Sierra Nevada Pale Ale throughout.

Paul Rudd‘s character, Pete, spends one scene knocking back SNPA from the bottle like that mock product placement slot for Pepsi in Wayne’s World. Later on, its possible to see where his character has been by the trail of small brown bottles with lime green labels littering the flat surfaces in his house.

Does the fact that we even noticed this mean we’ve crossed some kind of line into obsession…?

Beer bars in Brussels: Chez Moeder Lambic and A La Mort Subite

Isn’t it funny how bad reviews of a place can influence you much more than good reviews? You can have a page of excellent reviews, and yet one bad review will give you serious second thoughts about whether to go.

Both Chez Moeder Lambic and A La Mort Subite seem to suffer from a few negative comments about the service. Not quite sure why, as we had a great time in both and have no complaints about service or anything else.

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First CML. This is a very small bar out in the “St Gilles” region of Brussels. It’s actually only about 5 minutes on the Metro system from Gare du Midi. Directions below, once again courtesy of Andreea. It has around 200 beers in bottles and around 7-8 on tap. No food other than several types of Belgian cheese (served with bread). We think cheese is a perfect snack to beer so we were more than satisfied.

It’s dark and cozy, and we found it very friendly. It wasn’t busy until about 10:30 (though this may be because an August weekend in Brussels is very quiet indeed!). The bar staff seemed happy to offer recommendations, and warned us about the Brussels cheese (it’s very salty and smelly).

We also loved the decor – it’s a real temple of beer, with hundreds of beer bottles, adverts etc tucked into its tiny interior. Also, less congruously, loads of mouldy comics in the windows. Fabulous place. Definitely recommended.

mort_subite.jpg

A La Mort Subite is cavernous by contrast. We almost didn’t go – freshly sore from the Restobieres experience, the idea of more rudeness / bad service didn’t appeal. Plus it was very busy. However, we did go, and we loved it.

Firstly, it’s really beautifully decorated – allegedly the original 1928 decor. We couldn’t stop taking pictures (no doubt contributing to its “touristy” reputation in the meantime!)

Our waitresses were both extremely friendly and attentive, so absolutely no complaints about service.

The beer selection is not huge (probably around 30 beers?) but a lot of these are on tap and in excellent condition. I had a couple of beers here that I’d previously not been impressed by – Chimay triple and Mort Subite Geueze – both of which tasted much fresher and tastier than I’d remembered.

This isn’t the place for the serious beer geek wanting to sample Belgian obscurities. However, it’s a lovely place to hang out for a few hours drinking good quality Belgian brew.

Notes

  1. Chez Moeder Lambic is at Rue de Savoie 68, 1060 Brussels. To get there, take the Metro / Pre-Metro to Horta. (The “Pre-Metro” is an underground tram). Once at Horta, left out the station down the hill to the crossroads / roundabout, left and left again so you’re going up a road almost parallel to the one you came down. You should see a huge municipal building at the top. Cross to the right hand side of the car park, and CML is about 10 metres further on (look out for the red neon sign)
  2. A La Mort Subite is at Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7, in the middle of town, around 5 minutes walk from the Grand Place. There’s a map on their website.

Fake English

speciale1900.jpg Why “fake English”? It’s a phrase we came across on a beer menu in Ghent, referring specifically to “John Martin’s Pale Ale”. JMPA is a well-known British-style ale brewed in Belgium. This post isn’t about JMPA — it’s about another beer that we thought better deserved the same description.

The beer in question is actually a very obvious clone of Palm Special, and other “Speciale Belge” beers. Nonetheless, we thought it was delicious. We admit to having a weakness for Sam Smith’s Pale Ale (despite it not being bottle conditioned, etc. etc.) and this was like a much more intense version of that. Orangey, hoppy, not at all sugary — which latter can be a real turn-off for us in Belgian beer.

And the hops were English, too — Kent Goldings? Kent isn’t far away from Belgium as the crow flies, after all.

Despite having all their own amazing beer, Belgian brewers obviously have a soft spot for British styles.  There are a number of “Scottish” brews around, for example, Gordon’s Scotch being the most ubiquitous. But until this trip, we’d never tried a Belgian stout. Now we’ve had three. One remains unidentified, despite Andreea‘s best efforts, but we can’t recommend Hercule Stout or De Dolle Extra Export Stout highly enough. De Dolle seem to have based the label on the Harvey’s Imperial Stout. Hercule Stout is a fake British stout named after an English author’s fake Belgian — Agatha Christie’s Poirot. How’s that for confusing. Both were what you’d expect — strong, gooey, chocolatey. And strong. So strong that our notes on both are useless beyond that.

Now, where’s that Belgian imitation of cream-flow nitro-keg bitter we’re all waiting for..?