beer reviews Belgium Germany

European Beer, New World Hops

The only thing the two beers reviewed below have in common is that they are from countries where experiments with new world hops are a relatively recent development.

Should we pleased when Belgian and German breweries are inspired by American ‘craft beer’? We don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, as long as it’s about adding variety, rather than part of introducing an invasive species. Based on this experience, Belgium has more to worry about on that front than Germany.

Braufactum Palor pale ale.

All mouth, no trousers

We picked up our bottle of Braufactum Palor pale ale (5.2% ABV, 750ml) for £2.50 from the bargain bin at the National Brewery Centre in Burton-upon-Trent gift shop, so it’s likely to be another cast-off from the International Brewing Awards.

The packaging was gorgeous: nicely textured paper for the smart-looking label, an unusually heavy bottle with a slinky shape… a bit too much, actually, as if it is intended as an executive gift rather than a drink.

The beer itself (an afterthought?) smelled distinctly soapy: we’d like to say coriander leaves or Earl Grey tea, but, nope: soap. It had a copper-coin flavour we associate with Perle hops, though it doesn’t contain that particular variety (it has Cascade and Polaris). A slight hard-toffee quality also made us think more of a big, malty Festbier than, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Overall, we have to conclude that this is the worst of both worlds: the restraint of German beer with the rough-edges of something brewed in a bathtub.


Duvel Tripel Hop strong golden ale.

Duvel’s Brasher, Cooler Younger Brother

We bought Duvel Tripel Hop 2013 (9.5% ABV, 330ml) from Noble Green Wines online at £3.59.

It is fundamentally the Duvel we know and love (very pale, high carbonation, dangerously drinkable) but even stronger, and dry-hopped with Sorachi Ace (2012 used Citra) turning up the dazzlement a notch.

We don’t know Sorachi Ace well, but assume they were responsible for the weediness (as in drugs), the passing hint of chives, and the freshly-picked gooseberry quality, none of which are usually present in Duvel. Some people don’t like them, but we have absolutely no complaints.

Bright and raw-tasting, but surprisingly well-balanced, we concluded that Tripel Hop was damn near perfect.


World Beer in Penzance

Brooklyn Lager and Duvel at the Lamp & Whistle, Penzance.

It’s taken a while but, at last, we can now go to the pub in Penzance and drink Belgian and American beer, at the Lamp & Whistle, five minutes walk from the central station in the centre of town.

When we first moved to Penzance proper, we went to ‘the Lamp’ quite a bit, partly because it tended to have St Austell Proper Job in excellent condition, but also because it is one of the few places in the area not trading to some extent on the ‘cosy Cornish inn’ image. In fact, it feels as if it has been transplanted from a street corner in a trendy bit of South London. Then Proper Job disappeared, and we decided we preferred the atmosphere in the Dock Inn, and haven’t been back for a while, though we always peer through the window when we walk past.

When Tom Goskar tipped us off to the availability of Brooklyn Lager, however, we thought we ought to investigate, and we found quite a few changes. The ceiling has been fitted with what are technically known as ‘dangly stem glass holding rack things’, festooned with Chimay, Duvel and Bacchus branded glassware; a towering, ostentatious Brooklyn Lager font adorns the very centre of the bar; and there’s a brand-new-vintage Anchor Steam plaque fixed to the wall. It would seem that the James Clay rep has been.

These aren’t beers at the cutting edge of the import market (Chimay Rouge first hit Britain in 1974, Anchor Steam c.1979, at the start of the ‘world beer’ boom) but, come on, this is the wild west, and a town with a population of c.21,000, so they’re out on a limb going even this far. We’re delighted, at any rate.

We didn’t enjoy the keg Brooklyn Lager especially — it seemed less floral than the bottled incarnation with a lot of additional toffee flavour and, yes, actual rising, burp-inducing bubbles aka ‘fizz’. Chimay and Duvel, on the other hand, were a real treat, and scarcely more expensive than they are in supermarkets these days at £4.30 a bottle. (We paid £7.50 for a 330ml bottle of local ‘craft’ stout in Truro recently, so this question about the price of Belgian beer remains.)

There was also cask ale from the lesser-spotted Penpont Brewery, and evidence that the publicans’ real passion is for spirits in the wide selection of vodkas, rums and whiskies on the back shelf. (Żubrówka!)

If you’re in the area and fancy something a bit different, in terms of both ambience and beer selection, the Lamp might be just what you’re looking for.

We should mention that the Renaissance Cafe — not a pub! — also had Duvel with lovely glassware last time we went in.

beer reviews Belgium bottled beer

Duvel: no dumb blonde


There’s no more illuminating way to taste beers than to try three or four supposedly similar specimens together. When we found ourselves in possession of two notoriously blasphemous Belgian beers (Satan Gold and Judas) we thought it would be fun to drink them along with their evident inspiration, Duvel. The experience gave us a new appreciation for this old favourite.

Satan and Judas look, too all intents and purposes, identical in the glass. They have the same rich golden colour; the same loose, bubbly head.

Satan first. What a let down after the fun and tacky packaging. It smells of pear-drops, nail polish and alcohol. There are some tart apple flavours which might work if they were balanced with bitterness. Sadly, this beer is hardly bitter at all. The stingy hand with the hops is countered by an overgenerous helping of sugar. All in all, a bit like drinking syrup.

Judas is somewhat better, though similar. Sugary: check. Fruitily acidic: check. It tastes, in fact, like stewed rhubarb, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All in all, not a beer we’ll be hunting down, but definitely drinkable. Unlike Satan, this one didn’t end up down the sink.

And then onto Duvel, which suddenly looks and tastes like what it is — a very sophisticated, well-engineered beer. It’s lighter coloured and lighter bodied than either of its two imitators. The bitterness is refreshing and pronounced. Veritable hops indeed. Whereas Satan and Judas lost their heads almost immediately, Duvel has iceberg-like clots of foam all the way down to the last mouthful.

We have our winner. Just because it’s ubiquitous doesn’t mean Duvel isn’t brilliant.