Experimenting with dodgy homebrew

We made a ludicrously strong pale Belgian-style beer last summer.

Perhaps because we used too much sugar, or maybe because the yeast (Wyeast 1388) was too inyerface, it didn’t really live up to expectations. It tasted of alcohol and little else, with a very harsh finish. It was “only” 8.3% but tasted much stronger, and not in a good way.

We left it alone for a few months (some in bottles, some in a carboy) to see if time would heal it. It tempered the alcohol flavour a little bit, but there still wasn’t much else to it. We stashed a few bottles away in case it does magically develop some complexity, but we used most of it to experiment, in the hope of discovering what it was missing.

We spiced up five litres (in a polypin) to make a Christmas beer, using 3 cloves, a piece of star anise, and the zest of a satsuma. I tried it on my family at Christmas. My brother went back for seconds, but he still has a bit of a skint student attitude to free booze. The rest of the family made polite noises. I reckon it was a definite improvement on the “raw” beer, and the spices worked well and were not overpowering, adding a touch of complexity. I’ve paid for worse beers in my time, and we’ll use that spice mix again on a better beer. But it was still short of about seven layers of flavour, and I didn’t have the appetite to finish the cask.

We added about half an ounce of Cascade hops to another five litres. This was interesting, as we were expecting it to make it taste weird and “un-Belgian”, but the Cascade flavour didn’t really come through. It added a nice balancing bitterness, reinforcing the conventional wisdom — the bigger the beer, the more hops you need, just for balance. The raw beer had definitely lacked hops, so the dry hopping helped. It still wasn’t enough to make it a beer we particularly wanted to drink (especially not over the bottles of Westmalle Tripel we have in).

So, not a wasted batch, as we learnt a number of things from it, but it would be nice next time to produce something that actually tastes nice!


beer reviews

Boozy birthday

The Brugse Zot jester clown gremlin thing grimaces from a beer glass
The Brugse Zot jester clown gremlin thing grimaces from a beer glass

It was my birthday recently and naturally I celebrated by consuming a lot of very nice beer at various venues, with various people. We didn’t take detailed tasting notes but here are some summarised thoughts:

  • Westmalle Triple is my current favourite trappist beer. I like the way it combines the interesting “horseblankety-ness” of something like Orval with a beautiful rounded malt sweetness and fruitness.
  • Or maybe Rochefort 10 is my favourite? Gloopy chocolate in a goblet.
  • Brugs Zot Bruin (currently on tap in the Dove) impressed with its heavy body and fruity flavour. And at 7.4% it’s a lot lighter than its impact might suggest.
  • Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine doesn’t age that well, or perhaps we didn’t age it well. We’ve enjoyed it in the past, but we drank a bottle that’s been in the “cellar” for nine months, and the hops were just way too overpowering. Where did the malt go?
  • Similarly, an aged bottle of Cantillon Gueuze didn’t live up to expectations. We bought it this time last year when we visited the brewery, where we sampled the Gueuze and found it fabulous. It was nice enough, but just not as special as you want from something that’s come out of a dusty old corked bottle.
  • Crouch Vale Brewers Gold really is a wonderful drop. If we hadn’t excluded cask-conditioned beer from the selection, it would have been right in there in our beer tasting for beginners.
  • Estrella Damm is still our favourite mainstream Spanish lager, because you can actually taste the malt and hops. Estrella de Galicia is still too sweet for me (sorry, Chela).


pubs Spain

Belgian beer in Burgos – La Espiga

Burgos is the kind of place that guidebooks describe as “likeable”. It has some nice old buildings including a stunning cathedral, and lots of bars and pubs. You probably wouldn’t go out of your way to visit, but it’s handy for travel in between Madrid and the Basque country.

As I had only chosen it for a stopover based on the rail connections, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover La Espiga, a genuine beer lover’s paradise. I’ve been to a number of places in the last couple of months in Spain that claim to be “beer paradises” or “beer temples”, only to discover they’re yet another weapon in Heineken’s Spanish armada, and that the exciting international beers on offer extend to Adelscott and Desperados.

Trois PistolesNo, this was the real deal. Around 10 beers on tap, including La Trappe Dubbel, Spaten Bock, Kwak and Liefman’s Kriek, and between 50-70 more in bottles. The selection was mostly the usual Belgian big boys – the Trappists, the Abbeys, the Deliriums, the Hoegaardens, but there were some more unusual offerings, such as the Unibroue range from Quebec.

There was a guide to the various beers, and the staff were knowledgeable and prepared to make recommendations. Beer menus are something I’m very keen on, as they help and guide the budding beer enthusiast – it’s amazing how many good pubs with big selections don’t bother with this step.

Best of all was that it was absolutely heaving with locals of all ages, enjoying a range of beer. Perhaps there is hope for the beer scene in Spain afterall. Maybe the Spanish beer revolution will begin in Burgos – I also noticed a German bar, and the internet cafe I visited had Barbar Miel and Kapittel Watou in the fridge.

In the meantime, here’s to you, La Espiga. I put this up in the hope that another beer lover who winds up in the area will google “beer + Burgos” or perhaps even “cerveza + Burgos” and will discover you too.


  1. Cerveceria La Espiga is on Calle de San Juan, right in the middle of town. Cibercafe is on Calle del Pueblo (?) which meets Calle de San Juan at a big arch.
  2. Burgos is about 2.5 hours from the French border and 3.5 hours from Madrid on the train.
  3. French keyboards are the most annoying in the world. All the letters are arse about face. It has taken me an hour to type this.

Boak (homeward bound…)