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.


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.

Belgium so far: no beer worth mentioning

Eurostar has two beers: Kro­nen­bourg 1664, and Vedett Extra Blond. Nei­ther are very excit­ing. Our hotel, at which we arrived late last night, offers Stel­la Artois, Carls­berg (!) and, in a slight nod to the fact we’re in bloody Bel­gium, Leffe. But I know things are going to get bet­ter.

Homebrew update: don’t treat homebrew books as gospel

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


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 & Bailey’s Belgian binge

We’re off to Brus­sels for a long week­end in a cou­ple of days. We’ve been a cou­ple of times before but this time we’ll be armed with lap­top and cam­era for instant blog­ging.

We’re putting togeth­er some plans for what we’re going to try but won­dered whether any of you had sug­ges­tions for how to nav­i­gate the enor­mous uni­verse of Bel­gian beers. Are there any beers you think we should def­i­nite­ly “try before we die”? How about some themes for beer crawls (per­haps a geuze night, or a night on beers less than 5%…) Or are there some amaz­ing beers you’ve nev­er tried that you want us to attempt to track down and review? We like a chal­lenge…

We’ve found that Bel­gian Beers is a use­ful place to start – as well as reviews of Bel­gian beers, one by one, Andreea lists brew­eries and bars. Nice pho­tos too.

We’ll be based in Brus­sels but plan to do some day trips. We have three com­plete days, and pos­si­bly an extra night depend­ing on how late we get in on Thurs­day.

Any ideas?

Do not try this at home (or anywhere else): Mongozo coconut beer

When we set up this blog, one of our unwrit­ten rules was that we would not be over­ly neg­a­tive about beers. If we didn’t like some­thing, we would move on and blog about some­thing we did like.

I’m going to break this rule now to warn to fel­low beer lovers, par­tic­u­lar­ly you exper­i­men­tal types. Do not try Mon­go­zo coconut beer. It is pos­si­bly the nas­ti­est thing I have ever tast­ed (yes, that means worse than the polio vac­cine). I’m not the only one to be dis­gust­ed – see reviews on Rate­Beer. coconut-beer.jpg

One of my locals has been stock­ing this stuff for years, with increas­ing­ly des­per­ate signs (“Have a refresh­ing, unique coconut beer!”). I should have heed­ed the warn­ing, but I was in an exper­i­men­tal mood. Oh dear. Hav­ing had a cou­ple of sips and vis­i­bly reeled from the shock, I tried my usu­al tac­tic in these cir­cum­stances of pre­tend­ing it wasn’t beer. That didn’t work either.

The sad thing is that I like the idea in prin­ci­ple. The Mon­go­zo beers are brewed by Brouw­er­ij Huyghe and use fair­trade coconuts. I’ve noth­ing against coconuts in beer, and think they could work quite well. Lew Bryson (“Seen through a glass”) has a review of a Coconut Porter here which sounds right up my street.

The prob­lem with this one is the sug­ar. It is just so sweet, you can feel your teeth rot­ting as you drink it. I can for­give many flavours in a beer, but excess sweet­ness is not one of them.

Sor­ry Mon­go­zo. I want­ed to like you, I real­ly did. If it makes you feel bet­ter, The Beer Nut has had some oth­er Mon­go­zo prod­ucts and is cau­tious­ly polite about them.