Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Tale of Two Belgian Beers

This is a story about two Belgian beers. One was a beauty and one was a beast. I have to first say, that you need to expect this from time to time. A beer, like a person, has a off night. I believe that the beer I will describe later was bad. That is to say, there was something wrong with this bottle and not this beer in general. But first, some background.

I must have been giving off a Belgian beer vibe lately, because for my birthday recently, I received an assortment of Belgian beers from two different people. And, that is more than fine with me. I love Belgian beers for so many reasons, not the least of which is the unique taste. Unique for each one and unique in general for Belgian beer.

Belgian beer is like no other. Imagine a beer savant. Someone who, because of the particular wiring in their heads, could make fantastic beer, no matter what. They would be like the McGuiver of beer. Able to take any ingredients, and with a Swiss Army knife and a discarded potato peeler, could make incredible beer. Now, imagine that brewing genius was dropped into a Belgian abbey. Have to figure it out on their own, but like Midas turning everything he touches into gold, this brewer turns everything he touches into a fantastic, although non conventional beer.

For starters, Belgian beers can have an incredible amount of hop bitterness. This seems to be catching on more and more with modern craft brewers, but Belgian beers have been doing this for a long time. But, the hops are usually dried and aged prior to using them, so although they add a tongue tying bitterness, they add almost no aroma.

Next, where as most brewers have their favorite strain of yeast, Belgian brewers don't force that on their beers. Many Belgian beers are fermented in very large, shallow fermenters. After the unfermented wort is put into the fermenter, the yeast indigenous to the area is just allowed to blow through and have it's way with it. We are talking Wild yeast, and the results can be wild too. Sure, they have been doing this for a long time and the yeast in the area and in the brewery has pretty much evolved as the house band.

Finally, Belgian beers can be aged in barrels. These barrels develop a character of their own. The yeast and brettanomyces (a different type of yeast that gives a very distinctive taste) take up permanent residence in the barrels and help give the beer much of it's character.

So, I received all of these beers and I figured I would review them two at a time. Most of them are high in alcohol, so although I am reviewing them two at a time, I am having them on two different occasions.

The first one was the "8" or Green Cap from the Rochefort Trappist brewery. From the name, you might have figured out that this brewery has something to do with the Trappist monks, and you are right. Some of the Trappist monistaries began making beer in the late 1500's. There are only 7 that still do. And there isn't a runt in the pack. They all are known for the exceptional quality of their beer. That is why I think the bottle I hade was not typical of the beer. Although the beer had a high alcohol of 9.2% ABV and a lot of hops, which also helps to preserve. This beer was not drinkable. It has no detectable nose, it was bitter, but not sour, and had a very bad aftertaste. I will give it the benefit of the doubt, given it's lineage.

The second beer I tasted was the Black Albert brewed by De Struise Brewery. I am not completely sure on this, but all information I can find on it seems to indicate that although the De Struise team is Belgian, and they are based in Belgium, this beer is actually brewed in the US, in the state of Maine, for a bar there.

Since, I think of Belgian beer, more of a style than a place of origin, that is good enough for me. And, this beer knocked it out of the park. This was also a massive beer, weighing in at 13% ABV. You used to be able to find wines with lower alcohol. And, it had hop bitterness of 100 IBU. That might not mean much to you, but as a comparison, Bud Light clocks in at a hop bitterness of about 1/15 that in the 6-7% range.

But, there is more to this beer that the burn from alcohol and the bite from the hops. The first aroma to come across was a mixture of coffee and dark chocolate. Crisp and full, these aromas were not a surprise. From the exceptionally dark color, it was obvious the malt was contained a good amount of very dark roasts.

As I took a sip, dried apricot and concentrated cherry were there, along with new hop flavors and aroma. The flavors coated my mouth. The beer had significant body, smooth and silky. Even with the high alcohol, there was still quite a bit of unfermentable sugars that gave a touch of sweet and round taste. The hops stuck around a bit after the taste was done and quite floral. This was a wonderfully balanced beer.

1 comment:

Steve L. said...

Yup, that would've been a bad bottle of the Rochefort. Sorry about that!