About 10 years ago my GP advised me to cut back on the beer and start drinking wine: it was healthier and the size of the bottle put a natural curb on consumption. I followed his advice, became quite fanatic about wine, and was blissfully unaware of the Beer Revolution that started happening all over the world. A complete generation discovered this beverage, started looking around for it, started brewing it and started tasting the beers from beer's home countries: Belgium, England and Germany. It is easier to get to the materials (hop is sold dried, grapes not) and this Revolution was quick to spread over the whole North American and European continent, and as styles started being copied everywhere everybody seemed to learn from everybody and soon you could drink locally brewed Belgian Trappist- or Saison-style in small towns in North America, and were Belgian micro-brewers working on IPA's or Stout's. It was during a recent trip to British Columbia in Canada that I became aware of it, and was amazed about the quality and the taste of beers by breweries like the Granville Brewing Company, Steamworks, Banff Avenue and Jasper Brewing Co, to name but a few. Back in Belgium I was so curious to see if the same thing happened in Belgium itself, and I went to the specialised store's to quench my thirst and my curiosity. And though I found some great IPA's and a lot of experimenting, i was most amazed by the Porter's (or Stout's).
To be honest with you Stout or Porter was never really my favourite, and I bought these bottles out of curiosity: how could i say something about this Beer Revolution if I skipped one of its major expressions or styles ? But these beers amazed me and were responsable for a learning moment: I suddenly realised how beer can be as complex as wine, and how much it is a result of someone's personal choices when he blends his malts and hop's. These three were all excellent but they were also so different that I have become very interested in the style.
Stouterik, Brasserie de la Senne - Prince N°1
The unfiltered and unpasteurised beers from this Brussels Brewery are hard to find, even in Belgium, but are allready famous for their quality and their artwork. They started brewing in 2003, in the De Ranke Brewery, and only moved into their own premises in 2010 in Molenbeek, in the heart of town. With 4,5% alcohol it is not a strong beer. It is made with barley and the hops used are East Kent Goldings. Nice aroma's, with toasted malt and also something sweet and caramalised. In the mouth it packs more punch and is very direct like a Guinness. The bitterness of the hops is quite clear. The coffee and caramel of the malt arrives at the end. Very nice. "Stouterik" means naughty boy, the Senne is the small river that ran through Brussels (now underground). 15/20
Zwet.be, 3 Fonteinen - Prince N°2
3 Fonteinen (3 Fountains) is one of the most famous Gueuze breweries of Belgium. Gueuze is a unique beer and is a blend of lambic's. Lambic's are brewed with the help of all other brewers nightmare: wild yeasts. These only occur in one part of Belgium, not far away from Brussels, and here brewers open their fermenting vessels to tempt it in so that Brettanomyces bruxellensis can start it's work. Today most of these are residential in the brewery. This beer is even more special as it is the result of what is called mixed fermentation, a mix of top-fermentation as usually used for Stout and spontaneous fermentation as used for lambic's and gueuze's. Armand De Belder, the owner and master brewer of 3 Fonteinen, created it because he was not so fond of traditional Stout's, and it is brewed in the Proefboerderij, a brewery where everybody can experiment with small batches. The beer has a very strange smell that changes very quickly. It starts as a sour lambic beer, but with undertones of Guinness, and then went very quickly from armpit smell to very exotic perfumes, very complex and interesting. The taste combined the acidity of a gueuze with the touches of chocolate and coffee usual for a Stout, but in a very complete and interesting way. Great beer ! The name zwet.be is pronounced in Brussels as zwet bee, or black beer. 16/20
Created by the Wychwood Brewery in Witney, in the Cotswolds, where the famous English Hobgoblin ale is made. Brewed with four malts (Pale, Black, Crystal and Oats) and three hops (Fuggles, Progress and Challenger). The smell is exotic and female, with perfumes but also sigars, like a high-class 19th century brothel, and with some nice bitter hop-elements. The taste is absolutely fun, with bitters hidden behind fruit and freshness, popping up as you swirl it in your mouth. Extremely drinkable, and a porter for people who don't like porter. 15/20
All beers were tasted in Beer Sommelier glasses designed by Ben Vinken, Flander's Beer Sommelier.
I have to admit that even big companies can sometimes do surprising and original things. The Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize has allready developed a quite nice beer offer, but now they even start pioneering ! Tasting beer some questions frequently come to mind, and one of them for me was allways this one: can I taste the hop variety ? I smell the difference when I visit a brewery and the brewer lets me smell his different hops, but most beers are blends, and than I get hopelessly lost.
About a year ago Delhaize listened to the hidden wishes of many a Belgian beer lover, and created a series of three Single Hop beers, around the idea that if the brewing process was identical the character of the hop variety used would stand out, a very interesting concept. This limited series was a great succes, sold out very fast and was rebrewed at least once (I think). The new Xtrem Hop series goes a step further and concentrates on hops that deliver lots of bitterness.
The quantity of hop is allways exactly the same, so you can taste what the hop variety adds to the beer. I just love the idea, and for once I pity you non-Belgian beer lovers ! Of each variety 4000 bottles were made, and the beers have all 7.1 alcohol. All three hops come from Washington State.
I started my tasting experience with the Columbus, normally the most bitter variety of the three. I loved it. It has the extreme but well-balanced bitterness that I adore in a beer, and that I can also find back in for example an Orval (though I don't think they use Columbus). I do however recognise the taste from the beers I drank from the Jandrain-Jandrenouille brewery. This is not so suprising if you know the owner is the biggest European importer of American hop. This must (is!) a lovely beer on a hot day, quite dangerous as it is one of those you can quaff all afternoon, never getting tired of it. I absolutely love it.
By the way, all beers were tasted in a glass from the Belgian Beersommelier so there is no influence from the shape of the glass. This really excellent beer tasting glass is by the way also availalable in Delhaize, with a book (in Dutch) and some Belgian beers in a nice pack with two glasses. The glasses were developed by Ben Vinken, Belgium's first and best known beersommelier, and I'm very grateful for this.