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.

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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..?

Okocim Mocne – is it more than tramp’s brew?

A break from the Bel­gian binge write-up to blog about this while I remem­ber.

Most of the cor­ner­shops round our way stock a large selec­tion of fair­ly sim­i­lar Pol­ish lagers. We blogged about the sim­i­lar­i­ty of the light lagers (usu­al­ly called “piwo jasne”) in one of our first ever posts.

There are a num­ber of Pol­ish lagers describer as “moc­ne” or strong, which I’d always assumed were lit­tle bet­ter than tramp’s brew. This assump­tion was based part­ly from bad expe­ri­ences of War­ka Strong on tap in Poland, and part­ly on the fact that any British lagers with “strong” on the tin are only drunk by gen­tle­men of the road and binge­ing teenagers. But a com­ment by The Beer Nut a while back, togeth­er with pos­i­tive reviews of War­ka Strong on Beer­Ad­vo­cate, made me think that per­haps I’d been a bit harsh.

okocim_mocne_beer_small.gifSo, look­ing for a lager to go with my chilli, I took the plunge and bought an Okocim Moc­ne from the offy down the road. Described as “malt liquor” on their web­site, it’s7%. I was hop­ing for per­haps an Okto­ber­fest style beer, or at least a drink­able “doppio mal­to” like Per­oni Gran Reser­va.

Ini­tial aro­ma was promis­ing – app­ley and slight­ly hop­py. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the taste and body were very dis­ap­point­ing. It’s a very thin beer, not what you’d expect for this strength. And the only flavour I could detect was sweet­ness. No hops or any­thing else to note. It wasn’t even par­tic­u­lar­ly refresh­ing.

It’s not revolt­ing, but I can’t imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where I’d drink it again. Most cor­ner­shops stock­ing this also stock Lithuan­ian Svy­tu­rys, which is a bet­ter bet for cheap, con­ve­nient lager. And if I want to drink to drown my sor­rows, I’ll do as the Pol­ish tramps do and go for wod­ka instead.

How­ev­er, if you do spot Okocim Palone, or the even rar­er Porter, snap them up. In fact, does any­one know if the Porter is even still in pro­duc­tion? I haven’t seen it for years, but the Okocim web­site seems to sug­gest it is.

Cantillon at 9:30 am

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Does lam­bic beer taste bet­ter first thing in the morn­ing? Or have we final­ly “got it” with lam­bic?

Hav­ing had a great long week­end in Bel­gium, there was time for one last trip before the Eurostar trip home. The Can­til­lon brew­ery is very handy for Gare du Midi (5 min­utes away) so with lug­gage and rare beers stashed away in left-lug­gage, we set out into the Brus­sels rain to find out more about this lam­bic lark.

We knew a bit about lam­bics before we set out – we knew that the clas­sic lam­bic beer is cre­at­ed from “spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion”, matured for sev­er­al years and mixed with younger ver­sions of itself to make Gueuze, cher­ries to make Krieks, rasp­ber­ries to make, well, rasp­ber­ry beers and so on. Lit­tle baby lam­bics are called “Faro” and are sup­posed to be less “extreme”.

I think it’s fair to say that lam­bic beers are an acquired taste. Long mat­u­ra­tion and the dis­tinc­tive yeasts used eli­mate all of the sug­ar so there is absolute­ly no sweet taste – it is over­whelm­ing­ly sour, with some bit­ter notes. Can­til­lon has a rep­u­ta­tion of being one of the hard­est “tastes” to acquire.

We were still com­par­a­tive new­bies to lam­bics. You know: the stage where you drink one and say “hmm, very inter­est­ing; isn’t it sour” and then choose some­thing else next round. We’d enjoyed a cou­ple of Gueuzes from oth­er brew­eries, but our only brush with Can­til­lon was a “Rose de Gam­bri­nus” (Cantillon’s rasp­ber­ry lam­bic) at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val. It had tast­ed rather like a rasp­ber­ry vine­gar that my dad used to make. How­ev­er, we were not put off by this – many beers are not at their best in that kind of envi­ron­ment – and were deter­mined to give them anoth­er go. And where bet­ter than at the brew­ery itself?

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Despite know­ing the the­o­ry of lam­bic pro­duc­tion, it’s only when you see the equip­ment used (and par­tic­u­lar­ly the rows and rows of matur­ing bar­rels and bot­tles through­out the brew­ery) that you can pic­ture the pro­duc­tion process. (NB – you can prob­a­bly go one bet­ter if you vis­it between Octo­ber and April. Brew­ing stops dur­ing the sum­mer months)

You get an intro­duc­to­ry spiel (pos­si­bly from the head brew­er, Jean van Roy him­self) and an infor­ma­tive leaflet to guide your­self around. We learnt a num­ber of inter­est­ing things. We learnt that large amounts of hops are added for their preser­v­a­tive / anti­sep­tic qual­i­ty – but they’re aged for three years first to cut out the bit­ter­ness. We’d both assumed before we went that the beer was open to the ele­ments for a long peri­od of time, but actu­al­ly the win­dow for “spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion” is very small – only overnight, while the beer cools. Yet it (almost) always works. This is down to the appar­ent­ly unique nat­ur­al yeasts in the Brus­sels region.

The cool­ing room is real­ly atmos­pher­ic – an enor­mous (but shal­low) square cop­per dish in a dark attic, with shut­ters to con­trol the heat and light. Appar­ent­ly the roof tiles are orig­i­nal, re-installed after the roof itself was replaced to pre­serve the “micro-organ­ic equi­lib­ri­um”. Some­one should write a ghost sto­ry set in a room like that.

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We got to the end of the tour with some trep­i­da­tion about the tast­ing ses­sion to come. Tast­ing one of the world’s sourest beers at 9:30 in the morn­ing? (8:30 UK time!)

We were giv­en some Gueuze, and it was a rev­e­la­tion. For a start, we could taste much more than just sour­ness – a real full and fruity flavour with a sub­tle bit­ter­ness at the end which we’ve nev­er real­ly got with oth­er lam­bics. I don’t know if this rev­e­la­tion was due to us slow­ly becom­ing accus­tomed to lam­bics (in the same way that we only recent­ly “got Koelsch”); the fact that Can­til­lon is “bet­ter”; or just per­haps that our taste­buds were more alive at such an ear­ly hour. What­ev­er it was, it left us keen to try more.

They gave us a glass of Rose de Gam­bri­nus, which was also delight­ful. Where­as before we could only real­ly taste sour, the fruiti­ness real­ly came out and left a love­ly after­taste.

We left with as many bot­tles as we could car­ry, some glass­es and a t-shirt. We’re con­vert­ed.

I won­der what wild yeasts in the Lon­don area are like…

Notes

The Can­til­lon brew­ery is 5 min­utes walk from Gare du Midi Sta­tion (where Eurostar comes in), assum­ing you go the right way out of the sta­tion. Come out at Hor­ta Place (entrance/exit near­est the Eurostar arrivals with the taxi rank), go up the street you can see with the bus / tram stops, straight across the round­about (Bara­plein) up Lim­nan­der-Straat, then over the road at the top into Rue de Gheude. It’s at num­ber 56.

It’s open 8.30am-5pm Mon-Fri, and 10am-5pm on Sat­ur­days. At 4E, includ­ing two small glass­es of beer, it’s well worth a vis­it. They also run var­i­ous pub­lic brew­ing days. The next one’s on 10th Novem­ber 2007.