“Nino-vation” – De Ranke

Nino Bacelle, takes the floor at “Beermoth” in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and after a brief introduction apologises for his slightly poor grasp of the English language, he’s here to talk about “De Ranke Brouwerij”, his brewery and the wonderful range they create. (The latter being my words not his, but nonetheless true). The apology is clearly not needed as the room is full of beer lovers glued to his every word, and he proceeds to deliver one of the most engaging talks of its kind that I’ve witnessed.

IMG_9317

Image courtesy of BeerMoth

On the table in front of us all sit six bottles, of that six only one (the XXX) is new to me, as I’ve been a fan of the De Ranke range of beers ever since I first began to explore what Belgium has to offer. XX was the first De Ranke I tasted and it was just so different to any Belgian brew I’d tasted  before, so dry, bitter and incredibly drinkable. I also loved the paper wrapped bottles and still do, unwrapping one to pop the cap adds a bit of theatre to the occasion every time.

IMG_9312Nino relays his story of the struggle to learn how to brew in Belgium many years ago at around 1981, experimenting with what he could get hold of at the time, the lack of information available and the often reluctance of established brewers to share their secrets. From there a spell at a Belgian “brew school” before cutting his teeth by offering his services to help out when and wherever he could to put those newly acquired skills to the test.

Once he was happy that he was able to produce something to produce commercially that would have some market appeal, the journey began in earnest as the first steps proper towards what we now know as De Ranke were taken. Taking hired brew days at Deca Brouwerij in Woesten and soon being joined by Guido Devos (the second brewer and joint owner of De Ranke), it was here the first production of Guldenberg, an abbey beer typical in style at least to other popular beers in the area and designed to appeal to the local drinkers was brewed.

IMG_9316It was what went on from there with these two guys is what I found really interesting, back in the nineties, deciding to buck popular trends in their homeland and produce beers that they wanted to drink rather than for market demands, a risky but quite a topical strategy considering what has happened here in the UK in recent years.

XX Bitter was the first of these “new-fangled” beers and caused a stir at Deca at the time, inspired funnily enough by British beer and the writings of “The Beer Hunter” Michael Jackson. Using cast iron and copper equipment dating back to the 1930’s as I recall, but modifying it so as to use full cone hops and not essences or pellets, fresh local ingredients, much to the astonishment of the resident brewing staff. “Why do you do it this way, it creates so much mess and makes the process so much more difficult”, the answer, simple, “better flavour, aroma and bitterness”. This insistence on using only the finest and local where possible ingredients continues to this day, as does their dedication to quality.

I could rattle on about Nino’s story, the history and description of each beer for pages but I won’t, partly because I probably wouldn’t do it justice with my pretty hopeless memory but also as I think more people should hear it from the man himself, only then would the enthusiasm for doing what he and Guido do clearly be evident.

What I will say though is what a joy it was to go through the range of beers in his and the company of folk in mutual agreement and appreciation. As I mentioned earlier, all but one of them on offer were new to me, that though, although delicious, wasn’t the highlight. For me, getting reacquainted with many of them that I had perhaps forgotten made the evening so much more pleasurable, Guldenberg and Noir de Dottignes in particular on that front.

IMG_9314To briefly recap on “XXX” before I close, Nino explained that it was brewed initially for an American beer festival, where the demand for their beers are high. Made using exactly the same recipe as “XX Bitter” but altered by the addition of 50% more hops alone. The result of this is not what I and my drinking companions expected and in fact splits the table in terms of which they prefer. It is bitter yes, but much fuller in body than its sibling and as such feels completely different, stronger in abv even when it fact it is 0.2% lower. I’d really recommend trying both side by side to see for yourself as we did, dragging the last bottle of previously devoured XX from our table.

If you read this in time, you may still have the chance of meeting Nino and sampling a few beers together this afternoon (Saturday 14th June 2014) at BeerMoth between 1-3PM. If not, please do try the beers and hopefully we can get him back across to the UK again sometime soon.

Thanks to Nino for your innovation all those years ago, and your clear passion to continue enjoying what you do, also to the guys at BeerMoth for really memorable night, I just hope I’ve captured enough here to do it all justice.

Cheers!

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The great Westvleteren “best beer in the world” debate…

A lot of “stuff” happened yesterday, and as I lay in bed last night, brain fuelled (distorted) mainly by Buxton “Jawgate” and Colin Stronge Extra Stout, it sort of all came together into this outpouring of thoughts, views and observations, some of which relate to a bit of a red rag to a bull debate and others of things still yet to come..

Image courtesy of CAMRGB

Image courtesy of CAMRGB

It was a quite inoffensive comment on a friends Facebook profile that started this off and linked to the events that fell before it, the comment (and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so), was written by Simon from CAMRGB and was as follows: “Westvleteren 12. Supposedly the best beer in the world. It Isn’t. It’s just f*ckin hard to get hold of”

Now this isn’t a dig at Simon, we are mates, he knows his stuff and goes on to write a balanced review of the beer itself which you can read here, apart from perhaps slightly falling into the old “best beer in the world” trap again at the end.

That small section though is what gets the hackles up, and being completely fair, Simon is not alone, far from it. For every person I hear that has sampled Westvleteren 12, I probably hear two more that say something along similar lines. “It’s not as good as beer X”, it’s not the best beer in the world”, very expensive for what it is”, “I think St Bernardus Abt is nicer”, “don’t believe the hype”etc. etc. But what most people don’t seem to grasp is that they themselves are the ones that perpetuate those myths, feeding the hype that will keep this beer on it’s perceived marble pedestal.

detail silhouet groenThe Trappist monks that brew this beer have never claimed this beer is the best in the world, they are I believe quite embarrassed by all the fuss it causes it to a degree, although clearly the mystique around it helps them survive. However you’ll see no Rolls Royces driving out of the Abbey gates, all money made is ploughed back into living costs, the monastery upkeep and or goes to charity.

Back in December 2012, BeerPulse posted an audio interview with one of the brothers, it’s half an hour long, but I feel it gives the listener a real insight into what goes on behind those monastery walls:

The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren’s Brother Joris speaks

In my view there is no secret GRAND MARKETING campaign at work to propel it to stardom (geek-dom). If there was, it’s rubbish, incredibly “slow burn” and surely fatally flawed, as surely the whole idea behind marketing is to make people buy more and more? If you visit the brewery there is no vast loading bay with truckloads of beer leaving the building, there is one man, checking number plates on vehicles as they pull up to his little hut and loading two crates in each, hardly Anheuser-Busch world domination, unless of course they have secretly bought it and the whole thing is an elaborate front.

Of course not all of those daily callers are collecting beer to drink, that same hype feeds a huge black market, but do you really think the Monastery see a penny of the additional revenue made from the often 500% mark up on the original sale price as it filters out to bars and shops across Europe and the rest of the world?

Westvleteren isn’t hard to get hold of either, it just takes a bit of effort. Get on a ferry, train and travel to the abbey and taste it there, sitting in the sunshine.

The first time I did that, it was the best beer in the world, for me, right then, it isn’t now, but that isn’t the point. On my first trip I was so excited to try some, that I had this leering moon-faced grin that I just could not suppress no matter how hard I tried. I love Belgian quads, and in my mind this one was going to be so special. The planning, the journey, the anticipation, the beautiful setting with my wife at my side, even that “hype” fuelled that moment and by god I was going to enjoy it. Last year I had a similar moment drinking Houblon Chouffe in Gent, it’s all relative.

Of course not everyone can make that journey or even want to, but don’t expect to always “get it” if you are drinking it at home or in a bar after shelling out £10 plus a bottle for the privilege.

What I really don’t get most of all though, is why Westie gets singled out so much for criticism just because they limit sales. The St Bernardus connection probably doesn’t help, is it the same, is it different yeast, one is better than the other etcetera.

pliny-the-youngerI wonder for example, if Russian River get the same treatment for Pliny The Younger, surely even more limited in it’s distribution and availability? Similarly much-lauded as the best Double IPA in the world or even as a challenger to Westvleteren’s mighty throne, I am absolutely positive it is amazing. If I ever make it to queue for my half a glass I’m sure too that I will again involuntarily don that ridiculous moon-face, just then in that moment, but it will wear off shortly afterwards and I’ll be back to my usual miserable grimace before I know it.

What I’m trying to say is that there is no best beer in the world, only the best beer in your mind or in the moment you drink it, so if you get your hands on a Westie, Pliny or perhaps a can of SKOL found at the back of the cupboard from 1987, put all comparative thoughts aside and enjoy it for what it is.

Cheers

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..

Potteloereke

Thursday was a bit of a milestone in my “Belgian Beer Challenge” mini-quest, to find all 100 beers as I reached beer number 60. This was Potteloereke by Huisbrouwerij Sint Canarus. I’d not come across this beer before nor any others from Sint Canarus and perhaps that’s not surprising considering the quote from their website:

“Homebrewery Sint Canarus, the biggest brewery between Deinze and Gent, is one of the smallest breweries in the world.The smallest brewery, but the greatest beers! Enter the world of Dr Canarus.”

First off, great label!

Potteloereke is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, when poured it is a deep rich redish auburn colour, with a thick creamy cappuccino head, minus the obligatory coffee bean stencilled in cacao powder.

The aroma is of fresh doughy bread, it draws you in like the smell as you pass a good bakery, some Christmas pudding fruitiness there too, that smell is gooood.

First mouthful of taste is warm doughy and very malt driven, a real full chewy mouthful, slightly syrupy in taste but not in texture. As the beer warms and opens up a little you get some sherry, dates, boozy soaked fruits with chocolate and toffee. Finally, the long warm finish really lets you savour the reassuring kick of booze at the back of the throat.

Although it’s a seriously malty beer, it does have sort earthy hop terroir if that makes sense. Nothing that hits you full on, it delicately mingles in the background to balance everything out nicely.

After having the usual Twitter chat about Potteloereke with a few Belgian beer enthusiasts it seems Sint Canarus have quite a few more beers in the portfolio, if this is anything to go by I’d say they are definitely worth the effort.

Thanks to Tomas Danko for the Ratebeer link below.

I am interested in the actual brewery though, has anybody been to visit?

If so drop me some photos (or comments) and I’ll add them in here as an update.

https://twitter.com/#!/TomasDanko/status/121159106303238144

Cheers

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

Back to back Belgians

I come to thinking the other day that I’d become distracted from my Belgian Beer Challenge. Not that I’ve gone short or been abstaining from a drop of the beery stuff, far from it in fact with some fabulous American and Danish beers in London, also a fine array from Kernel and Bristol Beer Factory amongst various others.

All have been great beers but I need to keep on top of the task and decided it was time to start exploring some of the goodies I sourced on the recent trip to Bruges.

The first beer of the night and beer challenge number 55 was Taras Boulba at 4.5%. Which is described as being an “Extra Hoppy Ale” brewed by Brasserie De La Senne. The brewery website also list this as being a blonde but the appearance in my glass at least made it look more like a wheat beer.

Mine poured a murky cloudy yellow with visible sediment freely floating around the glass. As I’d not had one before I can’t be sure whether that was just poor delivery by myself (I thought I’d poured it carefully) or whether that’s just the way it is, either way the appearance did not seem to affect it’s taste.

There’s not a great deal going on aroma wise here, maybe a little yeast and perhaps biscuit. Taste too at first was a little disappointing with it’s “Extra Hoppy” billing certainly sounding a little over optimistic in the current climate of uber hopped beer. Nevertheless it was still a very tasty refreshing brew, with more digestive biscuit and lemony citrus coming across nicely. The finish is very dry and bitter, maybe those extra hops are creeping in after all. It’s a good beer, I can imagine me drinking this on warmer days especially, just watch how you pour it..

For the more inquisitive amongst you who are wondering where the name Taras Boulba comes from or what it means, there is a description from the brewery that features on the Shenton Brothers webpage.

Next up was Bink Blonde from the Kerkom Brewery at 5.5% and beer number 56.

This one is definitely more like a blonde in appearance pouring a slightly hazy but bright yellow, complimented by a thick foamy white head with lovely citrus peel aromas.

Taste is quite full in the mouth, soft mellow malts with lemon, candied dried fruits and peel. The finish is dry and hoppy again but really smooth and without any hint of harshness in the throat.

Another great beer and worth putting on your “to Try” list.

The final beer for tasting tonight took me back to the beers of Brasserie De La Senne with their oddly named (see Shenton link again) Zinnebir, this took the challenge beers to a healthy 57 since Christmas. It’s another blonde ale coming in at 5.5%.

This one pours quite a deep shade of hazy orange topped off again with a thick white foam. It has quite a malty nose with hints of orange peel.

The taste is quite rich for a blonde beer, soft toffee with Seville orange marmalade mingling in the background. It has a real full on juicy mouthfeel that punches generously well above it’s weight.

Zinnebir is a delicious fruity ale and was most definitely the pick of the bunch on the night.

So there we have it, 57 beers done since Christmas is not bad going. I’ve got several more to go at so need to plan ahead, after all its my 60th soon…

P.S You may have noticed that I’ve made a few changes to the blog pages appearance, what do you think, easier on the eye, easy to navigate or better how it was??

https://twitter.com/#!/tdtm82/status/78556514071228417

https://twitter.com/#!/tdtm82/status/78562352286543872

https://twitter.com/#!/tdtm82/status/78566686428643328

https://twitter.com/#!/tdtm82/status/78568913822154752

https://twitter.com/#!/tdtm82/status/78570671764029440

Dog Gone Westie

This is a short tail of woe!

A short time ago you (hopefully) read with interest about my trip to Belgium and the highlight of the visit, when I finally made it to St Sixtus Abbey. It was a chance finally to taste and source some of the wonderful and oh so rare Westvleteren beer produced by the abbeys Trappist monks who live and work there.

Whilst there I brought home some supplies of beer, glasses etc, but also a gift set for my Belgian father in law.  He loves his beer and obviously is proud of his Belgian beer heritage in particular. He now lives in England, but is well travelled, including regular trips to his homeland where most of his family still reside, the thing is though he’d never been to that area of Belgium before and although knew about the abbey beer, had never tasted Westvleteren personally..

He was therefore understandably very excited when I presented him with the St Sixtus gift box. It contained one bottle of Westvleteren 12, two small branded sharing glasses and an insert written in Flemish explaining about the ethos of the abbey and how the pack was designed for the owner to share the beer with a loved one..

He decided that the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United was a fine occasion on which he was going to enjoy his prize. To make sure that the beer was served at it’s best he researched how to pour it and the optimum temperature it should be served for maximum flavour. As the game was about to start he took out the sharing glasses and carefully poured the beer, placing it on the coffee table in front of the TV and popped back to the kitchen for some match time nibbles.

When he came back a few minutes later, beer was not the only thing on the table…..

Now as the dog (Jess) had not done this before ever, (it would never get the chance again..), what can we deduce about Westvleteren 12, it tastes grrrrrrrreat maybe?

I’d be interested in your theories and comments?

The moral of this story is, you should always guard your beer doggedly….

De Garre – Bruges

To 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 approximately 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..