Belgium revisited

belgian_flagAs anyone following me on twitter or here on Beersay will know, I visit Belgium pretty regularly and as such I often get asked for suggestions and advice on where to visit and stay etc.

Not that I am the font of all knowledge on the subject of course, as most of the information I have is gleaned from experience myself, after taking suggestions from friends, books etc.

I made such a visit a few weeks ago, making two-day stops at Gent and Antwerp both of which were new to me, plus Bruges which is a place I’ve revisited three times to date. Before my trip I set about gathering suggestions as usual for the virgin territory and for anything new on the old ground and thought it may be a good idea to start a bit of a reference section with a links page and hopefully a map for each city I’ve visited and created reviews for.

P1020647This then is basically a bit of a precursor for the above. Over the next few days/weeks/months, I’ll be posting a series of mini/full reviews of places to drink and places to stay, followed by the final reference page for each city or area which can then be added to by me, or as guest review slots. (If you have any you’d like me to include drop me a note in comments or via twitter etc)

Hopefully something useful and more importantly useable will be the end result.

Watch this space

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..

SupSaison wrap up

Wow time has flown, the #SupSaison weekend is almost a week old and I still haven’t posted a wrap up. I haven’t posted at all to be honest I’ve had a crazy few weeks with work and after long hard days I just couldn’t face another few hours tapping away at a laptop, so, I’m sorry…

I know the guys at the venues I mentioned last week had a real blast and I thank them and everyone else who joined in, wherever you may be, most sincerely.

At “Chez Hardy” I hosted a tasting night that lasted quite a bit longer than normal, it lasted way after midnight as it happened and well past Saisons too as it goes.

I opted for a mix of various styles, traditional well-tested standards, international attempts at mirroring the style, home-brew, flavoured, hybrid variations using saison yeasts and an Imperial. The results were quite surprising as none of the real favourites voted for were what I’d consider bang on typical style with most having a twist of some description in the mix. I’ve added a full list further below which includes descriptions not of my writing, this info gleaned from brewery websites etc and presented as a formal beer list to guests on the night. (Glamorous eh?)

We had seven tasters all of varying experience and all with slightly different personal tastes in beers and styles, each had two votes each and this is what came out as a top 5

  1. Red Willow – Faithless XIV Gin and Tonic Saison (Macclesfield) 4 Votes
  2. Baird Brewing Saison Sayuri (Japan) (Equal first place) 4 Votes
  3. Brasserie de Silly – Saison (Silly – Belgium) 3 Votes
  4. Belgoo – Saisonneke (Brasserie La Binchoise, Binche, Belgium) 2 Votes
  5. Green Flash – Saison Diego (San Diego – California) 1 Vote

So there you have it, the top two most enjoyed Saison beers of the night came from Japan and Macclesfield, who’d have thought it..

The night didn’t end there though, as because we were in such good company, I decided to open my long overdue bottle of Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, closely followed by a bottle of Stone Double Bastard. Thankfully as this was after midnight and SupSaison had unofficially closed the top five remained as they were otherwise the Roosters would have swept the board, it was absolutely stunning even though it was a year old.

We had a blast on the night, I hope you did too. I’ve already had requests to get another started, with suggestions of either Barley Wines or Lambics as the featuring beer style, what do you think, it’s of course open to further suggestion/debate??

Cheers

Note: There were no real tasting notes taken as this was supposed to form part of the wider twitter tasting event and therefore any comments made would have been live on the night, but here is the beer list:

Order of beer service ~

Traditional Belgian/French styles

St-Feuillien – Saison (LE ROEULX – BELGIUM)

St-Feuillien’Saison is what the Belgians call a beer of the terroir,
A traditional farmhouse ale with all the rich savour of the fertile land of southern Belgium. Saison, a warm golden blonde ale, is a top-fermented classique. Thanks to secondary fermentation in the bottle, Saison has an unmistakable flavour full of rich nuances and a slight tang.

Belgoo – Saisonneke (Brasserie La Binchoise, Binche, Belgium)

Dry hopped Saison, A really refreshing flowery hoppy beer with not that too much of bitterness going on. The hops are really more of a kind of flowery-fruity-citric aromas.

Brasserie La Chouffe – La Chouffe (Ardennes – Belgium)

LA CHOUFFE is an unfiltered blonde saison beer, which is re-fermented in the bottle as well as in the keg.  It is pleasantly fruity, spiced with coriander, and with a light hop taste.

Brasserie de Silly – Saison (Silly – Belgium)

Its taste is remarkable, light and favourably combined to offer a tone that is both modestly sweetened and fruity, leaving the mouth with a refreshing feel as is constantly asked of it.

 Brasserie Fantôme Saison (Soy-Erezée, Belgium)

This is a tremendously delicious, textural, and fizzy county ale, bright gold colour, citric and sour, reminiscent of a good champagne or lambic but in a class all its own.

Fantôme – Golden ale, 8% alc. by volume, with a wonderfully musty and characterful aroma. There are many drinkers out there who believe this is the “Nectar of the Gods.” Certainly no other brewer makes beer like this, in Belgium or anywhere. How many beers of 8% plus offer such fresh fruitiness? A solid Belgian saison beer at its base, with an unusual overlay of fruitiness.

International Efforts

 Green Flash – Saison Diego (San Diego – California)

Unfiltered golden farmhouse ale, brewed with Seville orange peels, Chinese ginger and grains of paradise. Light, bright, spicy aromas, lively carbonation and earthy flavors co-mingle with musty notes that add funky complexity.

Baird Brewing Saison Sayuri (Japan)

A fascinating mixture of down-to-earth simplicity and understated complexity. Brewed entirely with pale base malts and Japanese candy sugar (except for a hint of roasted barely for color contribution), Saison Sayuri is relatively light in body and sprite in flavor. The nose is an immensely complex amalgam of aromas – bubble gum-like phenolics from the Belgian yeast, floral and fruity notes
from dry hopping, and a subtle hint of citrus and spice from the addition
of Japanese daidai peels (daidai is a very sour type of Japanese orange). A splash of sour daidai juice also was added to the wort which manifests itself in a stealthily citric-sour finish.

Leeds Brew – Saison de la Maison  (Neil Gardner – Leeds)

Very classic, dry Saison, medium bodied with fruity yeast and peppery phenols dominating.

A massive thanks to Neil from LeedsBrew for sending me this at his own expense (I owe you one). It was not at all out on it’s own and I’d guess with some certainty that if I hadn’t said it was home brewed, nobody would have known.

Flavoured and style variations

Red Willow – Faithless XIV Gin and Tonic Saison (Macclesfield)

This isn’t just a Saison with a splash of Gordon’s and a glug of Schwepps added to it. The G&T flavours are provided by use of juniper and lemongrass respectively.

Flying Dog – In de Wildeman Farmhouse IPA

Brewed for Bierproeflokaal In de Wildeman’s 25th Anniversary. This brand new brew is an unfiltered American IPA hopped with Citra and fermented with Saison yeast.

 The Bruery – Saison Rue

Saison Rue is a unfiltered Belgian/French style farmhouse ale. This is a beer of subtlety and complexity, with malted rye, spicy, fruity yeast, biscuit-like malt backbone and a slight citrus hop character.

Cigar City – Guava Grove

One of Tampa’s nicknames in addition to the CigarCity is the Big Guava. It earned the moniker from local newspaper columnist Steve Otto in the 1970’s. The nickname eventually gave rise to one of YborCity’s most popular annual events, Guavaween. We brew Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa’s fruity nickname. Guava Grove is brewed with a French strain of Saison yeast and sees a secondary fermentation on pink guava puree. Slightly tart with a dry finish this is a refined beer that is perfect for sharing. Pairs well with a wide variety of cheeses, seafood and light fruit salads.

 Brasserie Fantôme – Pissenlit

Dany, the offbeat brewer at Fantôme, will try anything, and the results are always interesting. A beer made from dandelions would be worth a try if only because no one has ever brewed one before, but the great news is that this is actually a very good beer.
Dany and some cohorts get busy every spring picking bushels of dandelions that grow in the fields around the picturesque farmhouse brewery. The yellow flowers are removed and dried in the sun, then soaked in water for a few days. The thick, dark dandelion “tea” that results is the basis for the Pissenlit, which is made also from traditional barley malt and hops. It resembles a classic saison beer – golden spritzy brew, strong and very flavorful, with a good hop bite. You may have to strain to taste the dandelions, but you know they’re in there.
It should be noted that uncooked, the dandelion has a diuretic effect and is known in France as Pissenlit (literally, “wet the bed” – this also happens to be the British folk-name) for precisely this reason.

Imperial Saison

Marble – Special Imperial Saison (Marble & Dark Star colab, brewed in Manchester)

Imperial Saison brewed in partnership with DarkStar. Classic spicy yeast notes with with a warming alcohol kick.

Fin…

Twissup and an impromptu beer tasting..Sharing the love – #7point5

Arriving late, we made a bee-line for Bacchus

Twissup, what a fabulous thing. Pick a city, spread the word and get beer lovers from all over the country to gravitate towards Newcastle upon Tyne (in this case), at a set date and time.

Then get some of the country’s finest brewers and breweries involved, so that they too can use the occasion to showcase the best they have to offer to an eager captive audience.

Finally, get local beer geeks, enthusiasts, bloggers and publicans to arrange a top notch itinerary, making sure that the finest establishments the city has to offer are stocked and visited to complete the mix, making it a day to remember.

LOVE IT! 🙂

The view from The Free Trade Inn

That’s where I was on November 12th, where I had too many fine brews to mention.

However two in particular stuck in the mind because they were particularly special, in fact they were two of the additional reasons why I was really looking forward to going so much.

These were Summer Wine Brewery‘s “Cohort” and Hardknott Brewery‘s “Vitesse Noir“, both new additions to each breweries range, two big bold beers and both available for I believe the first time anywhere, on the bar of The Free Trade Inn. Each one was as I expected, fabulous, so good in fact that I had three Cohorts, but sensibly stuck to one glass of the seriously savour-able Vitesse Noir.

Being at Twissup, sharing and talking about fabulous beers, rekindled a spark of an idea, it’s something that I have wanted to do and hopefully progress for quite some time. That is introduce some of my friends, drinking buddies and general Stoke on Trent pub going folk to something new, beers that a good proportion of them probably would never have heard about yet and probably never would. To share the love of geek beer if you like.

I’d very kindly been given a bottle of Cohort from Andy and James from SWB at Twissup, also as part of the BETA test team of Hardknotts new online store too, I’d been allowed early access to bottled Vitesse Noir. So fast forward exactly one week from Twissup and I’m setting up a mini tasting session in my local, The Bulls Head. Nothing official, formal or fancy, just a bottle of each spread out over three glasses between three small groups. (After all we all have to start somewhere)

Up first was Cohort, a roasty “Double Belgian Rye PA” at 7.5% abv.

Pouring a black is pitch you could see a few folks doing a double take and giving me the “I know I’m not going to like this” look. Then they took a sniff and the first sip before that expression changed to a sort of perplexed “I thought I wasn’t going to like this” face, then finally (after lot’s of OOOH’s and HMMM’S) we reached critical mass, the smile broke out and I got the reactionary comments, “WOW”, “what the bloody hell is that”, “SOOO much flavour”, “it’s lovely”, “I want some”. Popular then I thought, you get the picture…. 😉

We then progressed to Vitesse Noir, a Triple Imperial Vanilla Mocha Stout at 11% abv and a very different animal indeed. I had tasted both and in my mind I thought Cohort was always going to be enjoyed by a wider audience. The former being lighter in both alcoholic strength and easier to drink, whereas Vitesse Noir is in my opinion a beer to be savoured at length, perhaps late in the evening or after dinner (or with desert), having an intensity and alcohol levels that would perhaps simply frighten some people off

Therefore as this was by no means intended to be a test of one against the other, when serving I wanted to make that distinction clear from the outset, so this time I opted to serve the beer in brandy bowl style glasses. Basically as this was how I imagined myself drinking it at home at my first tasting, slowly warming away in a cupped hand as an indulgent treat.

The tasting passed in a similar fashion to Cohort, only this time I think people were ready for me. There were one or two that screwed their noses at it, too strong, too sweet, to much chocolate and coffee, but that was to be expected, this is a BIG beer and just a step too far for some. Generally though another resounding success, with lots of contented oooh’s, aah’s and extremely happy faces.

In truth I could have taken half a dozen bottles of each and still not had enough to go around as each went down equally well for different reasons, with folks asking where they could buy them or would I get them some when next I ordered. Of course I’ll oblige as I want to keep that interest bubbling away. We’ve already got a food and beer pairing night in the planning stages, I have big ideas for beer and cheese too.

Above all though I want to get something regular like this going, whether that be more informal tasting sessions or if possible a bring a bottle night where folks bring along new and interesting beers that they want to share in return for friends doing likewise. I see that happening all the time in other cities like Leeds, London, Manchester and indeed the Newcastle-upon-Tyne AKA “The Toon”, where everyone has a great night out whilst chatting over really interesting beery treats.

So what about it Stokies?

You can order Cohort and other beers from Summer Wine Brewery’s online store HERE.

You can order Vitesse Noir and other beers from Hardknott Brewery’s online store HERE

Incidentally, if you are in Manchester tonight 23 Nov 2011, Dave and the Hardknott gang will be at Port Street Beer House for an official launch of Vitesse Noir, entrance is free so get yourself on down there, details HERE

The Cumberland Arms, our Twissup accommodation and a great friendly boozer too.

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

CHEERS!

Westvleteren 12 available in the supermarket!!

Those lucky Belgians have all the luck..

I had the heads up on this from a friend whilst away on holiday. We were hoping we could get our hands on a few of these “building stone blocks” special cases, but looking at this piece from Flanders News I suspect they have long since been snapped up.

Ah well, gives me another excuse to visit St Sixtus next year 😉

On Thursday 3rd November, Belgian shoppers had a unique opportunity to stock up on Westvleteren 12, the Trappist beer that is usually only sold at the gate of the West Flemish Abbey. The monks have struck a deal with one of the big supermarket chains that means that a limited amount of the Trappist brew Westvleteren 12 is available in Colruyt supermarkets.

Usually this fine brew is only sold at the gate of the Saint Sixtus Abbey in West Flanders requiring dedicated beer lovers to make the journey to West Flanders province. The Trappist monks are now making an exception because they need to raise cash for renovation works in their home.

VRT

People who are interested in making the purchase do require the voucher published in Wednesday’s edition of the Christian daily De Standaard and the weekly Knack. Armed with this voucher they will be able to buy what is called a “building stone box” that includes six bottles of Westvleteren 12 and two dedicated glasses. In all some 93,000 boxes are being sold.

The voucher has also been sent out to Colruyt loyalty card holders.

The renovation work is needed after the abbey was confronted with subsidence a decade ago. Works started in 2008. The money raised by the sale of the boxes will help to fund the operation. After the renovation work is complete the Trappist monks will be able to return to their old quarters.

In February the American beer lovers’ website RateBeer selected Westvleteren 12 as the world’s second best beer.

Flandersnews begs to differ…

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

Boon Mariage Parfait Kriek – #7point5

You may remember a post I wrote some time ago about Boon Mariage Parfait, it was a beer I really liked from a stye that I sometimes struggle with.

Anyways some time after that, my good friend Mart Ridgeway,  ( aka 6TownsMart ) kindly brought me the Kriek version back from one of his many ventures into Belgium.

At the time Mart mentioned it was “a bit special” and quite rare, but I hadn’t quite recognised just how special it really was, only being brewed in small batches every two years.

I popped it in the fridge before stumbling across the review below which includes the following quote:

“Exceptional indeed. It has a drink-by date of 2030, and I’m wondering if I should have put it down in the cellar for a few years first…” Andrew Stroehlein – 40 Beers at 40.

Unfortunately for me I’d already severely chilled mine before I’d read that or I too would have put mine aside for a a year or twenty.. Freakily, the only other person to comment on Andrews blog post was…

So anyways on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weekends back, whilst enjoying the last remnants of the extremely late British Indian Summer I cracked it open at last.

The beer poured a deep claret red with an initial lively pink head that soon died away to nothing. From the glass comes an amazing aroma of sour cherry and what I’d describe as a sort of rich Christmas spiciness.

As you take a first sip the taste is sharp but not screamingly so as with even some of the more fruitier lambics. Then as you swill it around the mouth to release the hidden character the flavours develop further, there is still some sourness, but it is balanced by a big old sweet hit of cherry pie fruit, there is a sherbet note too with a subtle but earthy oak backbone.

Quite fizzy on the tongue which probably accounts for the sherbet feel, but the finish is warm with alcohol and refreshingly dry. Very more-ish indeed..

It’s just the perfect beer for a hot afternoon and one that you could just keep going back to again and again as there is nothing sickly here at all, nor is it too lambicly acidic. Sadly due to it’s rarity not many of us are ever going to get that chance, but if you do come across any BUY SOME, it’s the law!

P.S Please get me a couple of bottles too… 😉

Cheers

#7point5, what’s that all about?