Chouffe’n N’Ice

Brasserie d’ Achouffe, beers instantly recognisable by their beautifully animated labels featuring the chouffe, which roughly translates or at least relates to a gnome or goblin.

“Chouffe, the lone survivor of a colony known as the Dwarves of Achouffe”.

Whatever the translation the beers are all as stunning as the branding implies and if you see one, try it, you won’t be disappointed.

I picked this bottle up from the Beerritz shop in Headingley, Leeds just about a year ago when I paid Zav Avery and co a visit, to my shame it’s the one and only time I’ve been due to proximity soon to be rectified by the upcoming European Beer Bloggers Conference.. It’s been one of those beers I’ve picked up and put down too many times to remember thinking “no, not today”, then on a rainy grim night a few days ago I decided sod that and to get stuck in.

N’Ice Chouffe is a dark strong winter beer spiced with thyme and curaçao designed to “warm you up on cold winter nights”, don’t hold yourself to those restrictions though, you should drink any beer at any time you like in my opinion (like late April).

Once in the goblet I’d selected it’s a dark ruby-red to brown colour and slightly hazy as it’s unfiltered, the head is a thick tight mass of dense creamy foam and sticks to the glass limpet-like to the bottom of the glass. Sticking your nose to that Irish coffee topping you get aromas of black treacle dates and fresh granary bread, there’s more background fruit too, leaning towards a fresh-cut warm banana loaf but soaked in heady alcohol.

First taste was not what I expected, either from preconceptions or the aromas I’d detected as there was no real sweetness and my mouth was alive with an attack of lip pursing bitter chocolate and black pepper sharpness. As the flavours developed sip by sip though, that awaited boozy sweetness came to the fore. The over-riding thought that kept popping into my head was of high quality dark chocolate cherry liqueurs, bursting open in the mouth revealing black cherries suspended in cherry brandy, there’s more fruit to come too with caramelised banana lurking somewhere in the background.

What surprised me a little though was how thin this all felt for such a big strong flavoured beer, the finish too having a really dry bitterness, quite metallic in a way like the taste on your fingertips after handling old coins.

The last thing I scribbled down as a tasting note was Cinzano Bianco, which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing. It just sprang into my head as a memory of something I’d tasted years back during family Christmases as I was growing up, not something I’d particularly enjoyed then nor something I’d expect to enjoy now but it was there nonetheless, somewhere in the aftertaste.

Reading back these notes one could be forgiven in thinking I hadn’t enjoyed this beer, “bitter, old coins, supermarket vermouth” etc, forgiven but wrong as it is really N’Ice but slightly unusual. Perhaps it was a case of misplaced preconceptions on my part, I’d seen the beer, made my mind up about what it was going to taste like and been largely proven wrong.

Not unpleasantly so, just different.

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