De Garre – Bruges

Although it’s a couple of years old now, for some reason this post seems to be getting lots of hits at the moment, probably as folk plan Belgian beer expeditions. I like it as it brings back lots of fond memories, so I thought I’d post it again. Sorry for the self-indulgence if you’ve read it before…

P1010907To find this place you either stumble across it, or have to purposely search for it, for us thanks to the “Around Bruges in 80 Beers” guide-book and the map reading skills of “pathfinder Rachie” (the wife), it was the latter.

Although centrally located on the main tourist trail and only 100 yards from the main Bruges Markt square, De Garre remains discretely hidden from the less discerning beer tourist, tucked away down a tiny cobbled alley (De Garre) off Breidelstraat. Clientele ranged from the obviously regular local folk each having what seemed to be their own favourite chair, to beer enthusiasts and folk that were very probably lost…

The main room itself is quite small in cafe/bar terms, probably 18 feet by 18, with a small apertured high bar facing you as you venture up the ancient worn stone steps, a tiny winding staircase aside the bar leading to the upper drinking gallery.
Once inside the feeling is like stepping back in time. Being a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it reminded me of the scene in The Prancing Pony where the hobbits first met Strider, huge gnarled oak beams, stone floor, simple wooden tables clustered together all baring glasses of foaming ales.

Dating back to the 1700’s, De Garre is one of those places where the gentle atmosphere and ambience has your mind wondering how many people have sat here before you. What joys, tragedies, laughter, crimes or drunken buffoonery have these tine four walls witnessed in their lifetime?

Garre Tripel – 11%


Although they have a reasonable beer menu at De Garre, I was only after one in particular at the recommendation of Mark, co author of “real ale reviews” blog. This was the leg weakening De Garre house “Garre Tripel”, I was not alone as almost every table had at least one.

The Tripel arrived in two large goldfish bowl like glasses, with the thick white creamy head massively outweighing the liquid content by about three parts to one, there being only about three-quarters of an inch of beer sitting at the base. Either by sensing our unconscious looks of disappointment or by the daily experiences of newcomers to his bar, the barman softly whispered “wait, it will come”.

Each tray of beer is served with a small portion of chopped cheese, which I’m led to believe is a compatible match for most Belgian beer, it was soft, creamy and when finally, patience rewarded we got to taste the Garre Tripel went perfectly with the beer

The beer itself has aromas of yeast and biscuits with slightly grassy hoppy notes. Once through that thick long lingering head, the first thing that hits you is the smooth malty flavour that disguises the alcoholic strength better than some half the same ABV. Garre is quite sweet for a Tripel which I suspect is due to the heavy alcohol, it has a smooth full-bodied creaminess in the mouth which perfectly compliments the peach and light citrus flavours. The finish is easy-going with evidence of hop bitterness but lightly so.

Garre Tripel is only available on the premises so you really need to make an effort and find it if ever you visit Bruges, all in all a fantastic experience and one we repeated whilst in the city. The beer can be purchased in 1.5 litre bottles to take away but we refrained from buying one preferring to keep the memory of the visit alive.

A final word of warning, at De Garre I’m told they will only ever serve you three house Tripel beers in one sitting, I didn’t test the theory but probably suggest that it’s a wise move..

#BarleyCon13

Well there it was, gone!

Yes Christmas is well and truly over and hopefully the last of those generally awful generic Christmas beers should at last be jingle belling their jolly way off your locals hand-pulls, making way for something thing new. For most of us it will still be dark and strong winter ales with a smidgin of hoppy pales breaking up through the gloom, fighting for light like maples in a forest dominated by mighty oaks. (Neil Peart eat your heart out)

Time then I thought, to give your taste buds a run out in the form of another hashtag tasting session, this time exploring the much under rated Barley Wine. Still a winter ale some might say, but I’d disagree and say it’s an any season beer if the mood takes you.

Down-Deeperer-300x300I think barley wines get a bit of a rough ride with lots of drinkers. People are unfamiliar with them apart from the obligatory can of Gold Label that sits forlorn at the bottom of many a bars fridge and I think the high ABV scares them too, generally sitting upwards of 10% in a lot of cases. I thought the same I have to admit, until a couple of years ago when I started to explore beer more and I think that perhaps was because the only British beers I’d tried that were anywhere near that strength were like drinking Castrol GTX.

Like the British/World beer scene though I’ve moved on, higher strength beers are featuring more and more especially in the more forward thinking bars (refuses to use the c word) and whilst I treat them with respect, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at trying a new Paradox at 15% or so in somewhere like Brewdog for example.

9781862059146 copyAs a bit of a style introduction, I’m going to use a quote from Melissa Cole’sLet Me Tell You About Beer” and although as you’ll read, it doesn’t go into detail at this stage on what they (barley wines and Scotch ales), actually are like (she does later in the chapter), I think it speaks volumes about what to expect and how to treat them…

“If beer styles were people, then barley wines and Scotch ales would be someone like George Clooney: respected by men and loved by women, growing old gracefully, with an air of sophistication, but retaining a puckish charm that could get you into trouble but convincing you to jump on a jet to Vegas instead of going home for dinner”.

So to the uninitiated, a little more.

Usually malty sweet, but with any decent example, always with a glorious complexity of tastes that should stop them being cloying. Expect caramel, treacle toffee, oranges, marmalade, bitter chocolate, rich boozy liqueured orchard and vine fruits in varying combinations, with quite often a surprising amount of spritzy bitter hops bursting through to finely balance the heady malts in this delightfully warming elixir..

Think of a cold dark night, you are sitting in a high-backed winged leather arm-chair in a dimly lit room, the flickering glow of a roaring log fire warms your face and sets shadows dancing on the walls around you.

Sit back, relax and savour the flavour of a luxuriously sumptuous barley wine.

Date to be confirmed for hash-tag #BarleyCon13 as I’m working on a few ideas that hopefully will up the stakes a little, but I’m thinking late Feb to early March which gives you lot plenty of time to find some interesting examples. I’ll list a few suggestions in a few days.

Oh and did I mention that a barley wine was¬†CAMRA’s Champion Beer of the year in 2012? No, well watch this space on that front as I may have some interesting news‚Ķ.

Cheers

(Down Deeperer image courtesy of CAMRGB who also designed the rather spiffing label, check out his review of the beer here.)

#7point5 – The Office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s response

I received a reply from my MP today in reference to the letter I wrote expressing “concern” over the changes in alcohol duty for higher strength beer. My original post is here but there were plenty more folks writing similar stuff at the time and since.

Sadly the House of Commons staff had made an error when enclosing the full response from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith (which is to follow), instead sending me someone else’s reply referring to gift aid.. a¬†good start..

I do have the summary from my MP’s letter for now, which is detailed below and I’m assuming covers what it says anyway albeit¬†in brief:

“According to the Minister, health and homelessness groups have indicated that “super strength” lagers play a significant role in the consumption habits of heavy drinkers and that the changes to duty on beer will therefore encourage consumption of lower strength beers.

In regards to your point about specialist Belgian-type beers, the Minister states that as such beers are often served in small volumes, the increase in price will be comparatively small. The Minister also states that the government are to ban supermarkets selling below cost alcohol. ”¬†

So basically then, alcoholics, tramps and homeless folks are meant to stop drinking their normal Tennants Super, Special Brew etc and switch to lower strength cheaper versions to become healthy, responsible UK citizens.

Then in another display of pure genius, the government is going to pass legislation to stop supermarkets from selling the low-cost cheaper versions these groups are meant to gravitate to..¬†“Hmmm clever thinking”

For the rest of us who like a drink of something a little special from time to time above the 7.5% threshold, it doesn’t really matter because we don’t drink that much of it anyway.. So basically the message to you is “live with it‚Ķ”

No mention of the knock on effect to brewers, publicans, specialist beer retailers and importers etc so far, so you’re either insignificant or if you’re lucky detailed in the mystery letter…

Cheers!

Please sign the petition in support of #7POINT5 which unfairly targets high strength beers:

Please sign the Government petition against unfair taxation on beers over 7.5% ABV, click HERE

#7point5, what’s that all about?

Viven Imperial IPA – 8% abv – #7POINT5

I first discovered Viven Imperial IPA back in May 2011 when I visited Bruges for the first time, it was in a large spacious lounge style bar call De Republiek. This is what I had to say about it back then:

De Republiek –¬†Described as an American Diner meets Student Union, we had no idea what to expect when we made our way to De Repbliek. On entering it’s a large open plan room with small raised alcoved areas and a wooden floor, a large bar with details of cocktails, food and upcoming events dominate one side. This though was where I made my personal best beer discovery of the week (Westveleren aside), it was the Viven Imperial IPA… It’s a really outstanding beer, pouring a reddish amber colour with punch you in the face fruity American hops.

Now for a beer that I rate so highly you may be thinking that’s a pretty piss poor review and you’d be quite right, however this has to go in my top beers list so I plan to revisit again to revel in it’s full glory‚Ķ

So here we are almost six months down the line, probably a dozen or more bottles sunk and hopefully in a better place to comment on a truly outstanding imperial IPA.

Well here goes, it’s hazy reddish-orange in the glass with busy bubbling white head which lingers around the glass from the first sip to the last dregs.

The aroma, oh my goodness THE AROMA! Great big nose filling fruity aromas of Tomahawk and Simcoe hops, for a Belgian beer it’s very much in an American IPA style with tropical fruits aplenty. Lychee, mango, grapefruit tangerine all with a light strawberry undertone.¬†This follows through on the taste,¬†a real flavour bomb medley of citrus fruit, with hints of strawberry and lychee completing the 5 a day in a glass. A freshly cut fruit salad mouthful‚Ķ.

This beer is a real hop monster, but it also has a great mouthful of caramel malty balance, all of which hides it’s beefy 8% ABV dangerously well. A beer you just don’t want to end and definitely one of my favourite beer discoveries this year.

Available by mail-order from BeerMerchants or at least that’s where I get mine from, if you stock it and would like to be listed give me a shout.

Please sign the petition in support of #7POINT5 which unfairly targets high strength beers:

#7point5, what’s that all about?

Please sign the Government petition against unfair taxation on beers over 7.5% ABV, click HERE

#7point5

#7point5¬†– “What on earth is that all about I hear you cry?”

#7point5 came about as a result of discussions revolving around several blog posts at the weekend and the previous week. These all referred specifically to the recent changes in beer duty which saw taxation increased by 25% on beers over the 7.5% abv threshold.

Several ideas were muted, including an online petition to the Treasury, writing to local MP’s amongst other things.¬†We wanted though, something that could be used as an identifier on Twitter, Facebook and other social media when information was posted and after a few ideas were knocked about settled on¬†#7point5.

Personally for me, the aim is to write an ongoing series of blogged reviews featuring higher strength beers from the UK and international breweries. They are not going to be full of moans and groans about the woes of beer taxation, unless of course that is the post relates to something specific along those lines.

However they hopefully will serve to highlight the fact that not every beer affected by the legislation is drunk solely for it’s high alcohol content, these are beers to savour like a lover of fine wine or malt whisky would.

If nothing else it should help dispel the misguided belief that after drinking an 8% beer, most people are not compelled in any way to go out and mug anybody, do a bit of looting, or sleep rough around the back of the “offie”.

So, as from today, anything that fit’s the bill from me will feature the #7point5 tag over the next few weeks, months or as long as..

Ultimately trying to raise a wider awareness of the change, the potential impact it will have and the real reasons behind it.

Hopefully enough people will get behind the force for a change back to a sensible level of duty across the board. To a level of taxation which is fair to all drinkers and supports the beer industry, not a duty levied on the false premise of stopping the antics of high strength lager swillers.

To that end I’d also like to invite/encourage any fellow beer bloggers to either write a guest piece for Beersay, or to write a piece on their own blogs under the same banner if that’s preferable.

Even if you are not set up to blog yourselves, but fancy having a go at a guest piece, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

Cheers

Duty can “Do One!”

To your every day regular beer drinker tomorrow, Saturday 1st October 2011, will be no doubt as any other, it will come and go and Saturday night drinking will be no doubt unremarkable. You will buy your regular pint, grab your normal change and carry on regardless.

But to anyone who likes something a little different, something special, like a Belgian Trappist, an Imperial IPA or Stout, or basically anything “speciality” of higher strength though it’s going to be a bad day at black rock… ūüė¶

All because of government legislation passed late last year, weakly excused as a way to cut down on binge drinking and the Tennants Super or Special Brew street drinking brigade:

Changes to the beer duty regime ‚Äď The review of alcohol taxation in November 2010¬†announced measures to encourage the consumption of lower strength beers. The Government¬†will introduce a new additional duty on beers over 7.5 per cent alcohol by volume (abv) in¬†strength at a rate of 25 per cent of general beer duty. This will add 25 pence to the price of¬†a can of ‚Äúsuper strength‚ÄĚ lager.

A reduced rate of 50 per cent of general beer duty will be introduced for beers of 2.8 per cent abv or below and above 1.2 per cent abv in strength. This will reduce the price of a pint of beer at 2.8 per cent abv by 18 pence. These changes will come into effect from 1 October 2011. (Finance Bill 2011)

There have been a few debates flying around as the day of reckoning approaches, some supporting the change, some dead against as put so very well on Ghost Drinkers blog (to whom I owe homage as to the main influence to put finger to keyboard here) and finally some with complete indifference.

The thing is though regardless of which side of the camp you are on, should we just accept it, let it pass unremarked? After all it’s high strength now, but what’s next???

OK, I concede that generally most folk don’t drink beer of 7.5% regularly or should I say all the time.

When I go to the pub I’ll drink a 3.5% session bitter, mild or pale ale without issue as long as it’s tasty and refreshing. But sometimes at last orders or maybe midweek sitting at home or even when I just fancy something special, it’s usually the opposite. At these moments I want a beer to knock my socks off, not just in terms of alcoholic strength, I want depth and complexity of flavour too, something to savour..

There is an argument that if you are affluent enough to afford such luxuries, then you shouldn’t mind paying an extra 50p here and there for the privilege.

I say “I pay quite enough thank you” and in doing so help the British brewing and beer industries. Even if it’s a foreign import I still do my bit for the economy in terms of trade and duties too.

On the flip side though there is another side to that argument, what if you are not in a position to afford them, or can afford them rarely. Surely this will drive more people away and make them difficult for our beer establishments to stock, just when good beer is suddenly an exciting industry again with brewers trying more and more to tempt our palates with exotic tasty brews.

Tsar pic courtesy of Neil at Eating Isn’t Cheating

So to make my own personal stand I’ve written to my MP to express my discontent and ask a few questions.

I understand that in the grand scheme of things it may be a feeble, pointless exersize. I’m sure too that many of you could have put it a lot more eloquently than I, plus no doubt have included some inside industry insight, but it’s my point and at least it’s said..

I’ve copied a link to it below, it may draw scorn from some quarters (although I hope not), I really hope it drives debate and discussion. But most of all I hope it drives you to do likewise and let the powers that be know you are not happy.

It’s easy to do and can be as short and direct or long winded and detailed as you like, just click HERE, type your postcode and your MP’s contact details will appear with a link allowing you to say your piece..

Whatever you do, find out when your local retailer be it pub, supermarket or specialist beer store is putting up the prices and fill your boots. Lets make this not just a party as Ghost Drinker suggests, make it a full week of indulgence..

Cheers

You can read my letter by following this link!

Naked Beer anyone?

I was given the opportunity on Friday to join the judging panel for the Nantwich CAMRA Beer Festival Champion Beer of Cheshire.

Approaching the day I was really excited about the prospect, as it was something I’ve wanted to do for a good while.¬†I also was I have to admit, a little scared about what was to come (#judgedredd¬†as¬†Broadford¬†Brewer¬†quite rightly put it), as selfishly it’s a test surely of¬†one’s ability to¬†seek out¬†flavours and aromas in public arena, or at least I thought it would be.

It’s more than that though, it has a deeper importance, you are forming part of what will beer the final decision that could be a real boost to a brewery, casting a vote on their pride and joy and ultimately their livelihood. After all, what if one of these anonymous beers went onto be¬†voted as Champion Beer of Britain?

For anyone who has not seen or been involved in this type of thing, to set the scene youare sat¬†around a table with a sort of mini Chairman who leads you. It’s¬†that persons job¬†to prepare you¬†as to¬†what’s to come, beer styles, the criteria you¬†are expected¬†to pass judgement on and the rationale behind the marking system.

When the beer finally arrives you¬†are told¬†only what style it is, Best Bitter for example and what the¬†ABV¬†should fall between. From there on in it’s your job to mark the beer out of ten for¬†each of¬†the four categories:

Appearance
Aroma
Taste
Aftertaste

What is really strange about tasting beer in this way is how different it becomes when the beer is stripped bare, naked as the day it was first given life by the master brewer.

You have no flashy branding, quirky pump clips or labels.

You cannot refer to any previous experiences you may have had with either that particular beer or the brewery it came from and therefore no preconceptions on which to base your decision.

It’s just beer, in a plain glass and you‚Ķ.