Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Session 119 – Discomfort Beer

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This post is a contribution to Beer Blogging Friday where a host volunteers to choose a topic for bloggers to write about and then collates the responses.  This time,  Alec Latham has chosen the topic of “Discomfort Beer”, and contributions are focused on beers that challenged, disgusted, or changed the opinion of the writer.

Back in about 2011, I thought I ‘knew’ about beer, mainly because I’d successfully booked a trip to Brussels in 2006 and it coincided with the annual Brussels beer weekend – not that I knew it was on. My partner and I enjoyed it so much that we roped in a few others for a return trip the year after, and the year after that.
With these repeat visits, I had chucked back what I thought at the time were exceptionally strong beers, in a rather typically cavalier youngish Brit abroad fashion. We shared and tried a list of beers that I cannot recall in much detail, and I certainly didn’t really make any attempt to learn much about them at the time. Beer was beer, even Belgian beer. We laughed at the silly outfits of the brewers at the parade, and even made some jokes about the name of some bloke called Michael Jackson sitting in a tent with a load of books he was signing.

As the quote goes ‘the past is a foreign country’, and although in this instance that was literally true, it was my last visit to the Beer weekend in 2011 that demonstrates the figurative truth behind it, and which relates to the topic for this session.

‘One Boon Gooze please’, I said as I approached Boon’s stall. ‘Ok…coming up’ said the hesitant server who had obviously dealt with plenty of oblivious tourists ordering his produce that weekend, and pulling the same mystified/disgusted expression that was to wash over my face in approximately three minutes. My last few tokens of the weekend were handed over, and I looked forward to my last beer of the festival on a Sunday afternoon that had been mercifully dry, compared to the heavy showers of the other sessions.

One swift gulp later, I was wondering what exactly it was that I’d ordered. Was this beer? It smelt like sweaty cider and cheese, and it certainly didn’t taste like what I’d come to expect from Belgian beer – sweet and strong, with or without fruit. Even the Coconut beer we made our friends order as a kind of initiation tasted more palatable than this. Still, not being a person not to finish his beer, I persisted and finished my glass. I thought ‘I’ll take a photo of this, so I don’t order it again next year’, which is the photo above.

My perceptions and reaction planted the seed of doubt in my head – what was this? Did I just not ‘get it’? And so I started looking into the brewery, and then the style of beer, and who Michael Jackson was. Five years on and I know that what I was tasting was almost certainly Boon’s Oude Gueuze, which for a novice to the style was probably the worst introduction. However, it had the effect of prompting me to expand my horizons in a way that the Blondes and Bruins and syrupy sweet Framboises didn’t.

I’m grateful that the person serving me at Boon’s stall didn’t pause to ask ‘have you had this before?’ and recommend something less challenging from another brewer. It’s been much more fun learning about beer following that uncomfortable experience

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#12DaysofXmas – Day 10 – Pannepot Reserva 2012

The end is in sight, and we’ve got two barrel-aged old ales to drink before the finale on New Year’s Eve. First up is the second beer of this year’s selection from De Stuise Brewing – Pannepot Reserva.

Named after a type of fishing vessel, Struise say this pitches somewhere between a strong dark ale and a stout, and the 2012 reserva is aged on French oak barrels for 14 months.

Poured, the colour is almost as black as a Priest’s socks, and with a strong initial fizz which forms a caramel tinged head. The aroma immediately brings to mind both strong dark chocolate and tobacco. I don’t think I’ve had a beer for a while that has such a formidable sense of taste before I’ve even had a sip.
The flavour stands up to expectations, full of sweet dark fruits, coffee and bitter chocolate. There is also a delicate carbonation that gives a winey dryness, and this helps add to the sense of luxuriance that emanates from the glass. Even more so given that this was a relatively inexpensive beer.

Becky is eyeing this beer eagerly, and I’ve passed the second half of the glass over to her. ‘I’m going to try and be sensible but I’ve already had a large glass of red wine, and I’m laughing at ‘caramel tinged head’. Anyway here goes…. I am guilty of judging a beer by its label and when I go to buy my beer I very much base my initial beer buying decision on the look of the can/bottle. This bottle is the beer equivalent of those 99p classics they sell in The Works and I wouldn’t have been drawn to it had I been choosing tonight’s beer.

I know what Gareth means about the initial fizz. It’s almost like eating one of those shit cola bottles that is fizzy for one suck then you’re just into the ‘flat’ jelly. The overall flavour is delicious, almost like a combination of coffee and red wine. This beer just goes to show you should not judge a beer by its cover and I will endeavour to change my beer buying habits.’

There you go, I’m a source of constant fun in this house as you can tell. At least the beer wasn’t laughable. Another excellent bottle, looking forward to hopefully more of the same tomorrow.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 1 – N’ice Chouffe

Back again for another Christmas beer marathon, or should that be sprint? Definitely a marathon in terms of finding something interesting to say after a week or so, so this year my #12BeersofXmas will be a joint blog with the one and only @beckyboogaloo. She’s much more amusing than me and has really got into beer this year, so I’m glad to share her pearls of wisdom on here.

I have definitely had a Brasserie D’achouffe beer before, but it must have got lost in the foam of my memory as I don’t recall exactly when or where that was, or what I thought of it. For me, a lot of Belgian beer is on the peripheries of what I seek out, almost like it’s too familiar to spend money on when there is something more exciting and exotic on offer. Respected, yet overlooked. I’m well aware that this is a slighly dismissive, possibly juvenile attitude to some of the best beers in the world, and I’ll be rectifying this approach next year. Hopefully with my first trip to Brussels in almost 5 years.

N’ice Chouffe is a winter warmer, brown, but with plenty of orange peel and spices. It has the aroma of a Wit, but tons of liquorice. Christmassy would be the number one adjective that comes to mind, and in a relaxed, slightly pissed at lunchtime kind of way; ‘I’m feeling very Christmassy, Mum’ ‘Yes dear, it’s January now though, shouldn’t you be at work?’.

Becky is also feeling typically Christmassy – exhausted and full of cold, however, she is not one to be deterred from festivities and has a glass on the go.

‘This isn’t going to be my finest contribution to a blog due to the Christmas lurgy taking hold. I love the smell of this one and thought it was going to be a lovely rich flavour. Unfortunately all I got was a watered down sherry flavour with a metallic after taste. To be honest I’d rather have had a third of night nurse for more than one reason! I think it might be best to revisit this beer when everything doesn’t taste like illness.’

Well, we’re not off to the best of starts, I’ll pump vitamins and water into Becky and hope she begins to recover shortly!

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12 Beers of Xmas – St Feuillien Tripel

Happy New Year! Last night I decided to go large and crack open this mother.

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I’m regretting it slightly now, not just because of the hangover, but also given that this was a Jeroboam i had no chance of finishing it – even with the help of others. Still, I had a good go and because I did, this blog isn’t going to have much in the way of a review.

It had a blonde/straw coloured hue, light carbonation despite a thin head, classic Belgian yeast aroma and aftertaste and incredibly refreshing. A bit too moreish…that’s about it.

Now that 12 Beers of Xmas has stumbled over the finish line into 2015, I’d just like to say thanks for reading (and following/retweeting me on twitter), and here’s to more great beer and great beer people this year!

I’m going for a lie on the sofa now with a can of Fronch Layger and some crisps..

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12 Beers of Xmas – St. Bernardus Abt 12

Finally, a night in, just me and the wife for the first time in a week. Scary film on, beer opened.

Tonight, I’ve got for a big bottle of St Bernardus Abt 12. Brewing at the St Bernardus site in Watou has a relatively recent, yet interesting history. The premises were originally a Monastic Cheese factory left vacant by Monks returning to France following the end of unfavourable attitudes to Monasticism there, and brewing began in Watou following a decision by the Trappist Monks of Westvleteren to licence beer production under their name. The Westvleteren agreement came to an end in 1992, but production of the same recipes continued under the St Bernardus name.

So, with Westvleteren beer being frequently mentioned as amongst the best in the world, how does their near neighbours’ Quadrupel taste? The beer pours dark and stormy, with a lively head that soon dissipates to a bubbly froth. Spicy on the tongue with a tingly, dry finish, it has a dandelion and burdock sweetness but  also a boozy, warm aftertaste. Not having been able to access any Westvleteren, I can’t make a comparison, but St Bernardus beer reaches near the peak of brewing greatness.

St Bernardus’ motto is “Heavenly Nectar within Reach”, and as opposed to Westvleteren and other hard to get but highly regarded beer, their range is within reach of most of us. One of the strengths of a beer that is to be considered truly great is that it should be obtainable. We’ve all had one off tastes of a fantastic, mind blowing brew that we’ve never had another chance to try, and while the legend and memory of that beer is to be cherished and reminisced over, a sign of true greatness is something that stands out after repeat tasting, time after time.

For me, this is one of those beers.

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12 Beers of Xmas – Gouden Carolus Christmas

Had enough Christmas yet? Have you?! For me the festive season is pretty much over now. Work looms on Monday, I’ve got no NYE plans and 2015 looms over me. There, now I’ve cheered you up, let’s talk about Beer, baby.

Tonight’s offering is Gouden Carolus’ Christmas jollop, not having tasted their regular offerings before I have no comparisons to make’ nor insight into how they usually roll. I picked this up on a whim while visiting the Bottle Shop in Canterbury and I’ve subbed it in to my 12 beers in an equally whimsical fashion.

Enough whimsy, let’s drink it. This pours a dark ruby red, lovely aroma of liquorice and aniseed, slightly thin but with a warming finish and a good spritzy young tickle. 8 out of 10 Santa points.

Enough bollards from me, hope you had a good one, we’re on the home run now.

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12 Days of Xmas – Brouwerij Girardin – Gueuze (White Label)

It’s Christmas Eve! The street is quiet, we have returned from the Pub and put the bubba to bed. Something light and fizzy will set the evening off and luckily I have a Girardin Gueuze chilling outside under the clear night sky.

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This is the White Label version, so Oude Gueuze but filtered, resulting in a sufficiently tart but not overly complex sourness. The aroma is marmalade and sherbet with a passion fruit bite. This is a great Gueuze to incorporate into a session and I’d recommend it, but for a more serious sour profile I would get a Boon mariage parfait or something from Cantillon.

I hope your Christmas Day goes well, and that this lottery ticket was a winner…

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