Category Archives: Belgian Beer

How to get women drinking beer?

One of the great issues facing British brewers and beer marketers is how to get more women drinking real ale. This is happening gradually, but still the majority of beery types are men with beards who spend too much time indoors of an evening. Casting a glance down our BeerCast panellist mugshots does little to disprove this theory – only Jess (of Andy and Jess) represents the fairer sex – a paltry 7% of podcasters. We have had other lady guests in the past, but even so we’re unfortunately still following the stereotype.

On a wider scale, CAMRA have an annual FemAle Day as part of Cask Ale week, to attempt to entice more women into the real ale family. Brewers also have tried to direct styles or certain products at women. This is one of the holy grails of brewing marketing – if they can entice women away from wine and spirits then potentially there are huge sums to be made. Even the giant macro-producers are interested – SABMiller recently launched Essa in Russia – a premium lager flavoured with pineapple and grapefruit.

Rather than attempting desperate tactics, beer producers could do far worse than look at one country where female drinkers are respected, encouraged, and totally welcomed – Belgium. My girlfriend and I were there a few months ago, and both of us were struck by how different the drinking culture is there compared with the UK. Whilst having a late lunch in a bar in Brussels, we watched two young women sit down at a table outside for a chat and a cigarette. At the same time, they were both drinking beer – one Früli and one a Trappist.

Obviously two women in Brussels isn’t a representative sample, but there are several things about the way drinking is done in Belgium that clearly encourage female beer drinkers. Over a couple of hours in the fantastic Bierbrasserie Cambrinus in Bruges, we came up with a list – at the top of which is Atmosphere. There are far fewer stigmas attached to beer drinking in Belgium – it is part of the culture. Nobody looks at you differently, we always found a good atmosphere in the beer halls, and were never rushed into making a decision about what to drink.

Related to this are the wonderful Menus. They may be a touristy addition, but having a detailed list of types and styles that also lists the strengths really helps. So many times over here we’ve got to the bar and my parter has turned to me and said “What would I like?” or “Pick something for me!”. Having it all arranged by style made it much more likely for her to try something different, rather than taking a punt on a pint of Spoolman’s Old Skirtlifter, or whatever.

Leading on from that is the fact that size matters. I’m sure my girlfriend isn’t alone in preferring a 33cl bottle served in matching glassware over a soapy pint plonked onto the bar’s drip tray. Belgian bars may have the wide and interesting range of ales that encourage experimentation, but they also know how to serve the beer when it arrives. Bespoke glasses, seats and table service really make the difference. Admittedly that’s the norm for a ‘continental style’ establishment as opposed to the plasma-screen chips n’ music pub – but it definitely helps.

The final thing the Belgians do better – and all this is subjective of course – is the Beer. From the many fruit beers to the all-singing Trappist ales, there’s just so much choice there compared to here. Also, without wishing to be patronising – women also appreciate design more, so attractive bottles of beer stand out (before the emails start pouring in, my partner suggested most of the items for this post). If you want to encourage more women to drink beer, you need to start by making the experience better and the choice more interesting…

BeerCast #51 – MrB’s Brasserie Cast

BeerCast panellist MrB was lucky enough to visit southern Belgium and Alsace in July, and returned to the UK with almost fifty beers (not to mention a case of wine). He also managed to squeeze a few podcast-worthy beers in, before inching his groaning car onto the ferry back to Blighty. All of his chosen beers hail from Brasseries – the first being a duo from the Brasserie la Saint-Pierre in the Alsace town of the same name:- La Blonde de l’Oncle Hansi (5.6%), and La Saint Pierre Brune (5.6%). Following those we go to Belgium for La Médiévale Ambrée (6.0%) from the eponymous Brasserie in the Wallonian town of Bouillon. Our third beer this episode is the Queen of trappist ales – Orval (6.2%) – from the brasserie inside the Cisctercian monastery near the French border. Our final beer is the hop-smacking Houblon Chouffe (9.0%) from Brasserie d’Achouffe. We end the show with a bonus – the traditional northern French aperitif Picon (18.0%), the orange-based syrup traditionally added to local lager – which means an unexpected debut BeerCast appearance for Kronenbourg 1664 (5.0%).


1. La Blonde de l’Oncle Hansi (5.6%abv)
2. La Saint Pierre Brune (5.6%abv)
Brasserie la Saint-Pierre, Saint Pierre, 67140, Alsace, France.
330ml glass bottles

Jean-Jacques Waltz was born in German-occupied Alsace in February 1873, where he eventually became an artist and then satirical cartoonist under the pseudonym ’Hansi’. Charged with treason in 1914 he escaped to France and joined the army as a translator – by this point he had become a national hero. When war again broke in 1939 he fled again, this time to Vichy France where he was attacked and badly wounded by the occupying Germans, eventually dying from his injuries in Switzerland in 1951. Thirty miles from Hansi’s birthplace of Colmar is Saint-Pierre, home to the Brasserie la Saint-Pierre who produce a range of local beers named in honour of this famous Alsace artist. MrB and Grooben sampled their blonde, while Richard and Shovels got to try their brune.

What They Say
“Une bière franche et typée au nez épicé, ronde et persistante en bouche, à la mousse veloutée, abondante et fine. Une amertume agréable et une belle couleur d’or soutenu.” (Blonde) [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Some cloudy business, more fruity than I thought 6½
MrB – Very tasty, close to a wheat beer, refreshing 6
Richard – Hints of bitter choc and liquorice, not too sweet 8
Shovels – Not bad but I wouldn’t drink it again 4½


3. La Médiévale Ambrée
(6.0%abv)
Brasserie de Bouillon, Grand Rue 22 Bouillon, Belgium 6830.
330ml glass bottle

In October 1994 a foodie couple called Nathalie Louis and Jacques Pougin decided to open a local foods market in their hometown of Bouillon, in the far south of Belgium. ‘Marketplace Nathalie’ initially focused on fruit and veg, but then added a healthy number of Belgian trappist ales – targeted to the nearby French. These sold so well that Jacques decided to learn how to brew, with an eye on stocking his own beers. This is pretty much what happened – in February 1998 they installed brewing equipment into the market, establishing the Brasserie de Bouillon. By 2004 demand had soared to maximum capacity of 620hl, and the company had to secure extra backing from Luxembourg to move to larger premises.

What They Say
“La Médiévale Ambrée is the second brand marketed by Brasserie de Bouillon. With its rustic character and brassy, it bears its name perfectly. The character on the label is actually a caricature of Jacques’ father, long gone too soon. This is a very nice way to perpetuate his memory. La Médiévale Ambrée is 6% alc vol, and is a pure malt beer, unfiltered and fermented in the bottle.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – On holiday in France in the sun you’d drink it 5
Grooben – Close to a lager, but with a slightly sour undertone 5
MrB – Mine’s very fizzy, smack bang in the middle 5
Richard – Tastes 3%, not 6% – how can it have so little flavour? 5


4. Orval Trappist Ale
(6.2%abv)
Brasserie d’Orval, Villiers-devant-Orval, Belgium 6823.
330ml glass bottle

The Gaume region of southern Belgium borders France and Luxembourg, and is about as far south as you can get in Wallonia. Nestling amidst the Belgian Ardennes is the small town of Villiers-devant-Orval – home to a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1132, and Belgium’s most distinctive trappist ale. Orval (6.2%) has been produced inside the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval since 1931, alongside the lesser Petite Orval (3.5%) for the monks. The distinctive skittle-shaped bottles are found in beer shops all over the world, with the fish symbol depicting the legend of the abbey’s founding – a helpful trout plucking the lost wedding ring of Mathilda of Tuscany from a frothing spring (the grateful Lady exclaiming “truly this place is a Val d’Or!” before supplying sufficient funds for a monastery). Orval ale is dry hopped with Hallertau, Styrian Golding and Strisselspalt., and then at bottling wild Brettanomyces yeasts are added to give a tarter flavour than other trappist ales.

What They Say
“Young Orval is characterised by a bouquet of fresh hops, with a fruity note and pronounced bitterness, light on the palate and a less firm collar than a beer of six months. The latter will feature a bouquet consisting of a blend of fragrances of yeast and old-fashioned hop. The bitterness is more diffuse and the taste has moved to a slight touch of acidity accompanying yeast and caramel flavours.” [Official Website]

What We Say
MrB – Outstanding, I love everything about this beer 9
Richard – Very different from other Trappists with the tart sourness – the most sessionable 6.2% beer you will ever find 8½
Grooben – Sour lambic thing but not too overpowering 8
Shovels – I just can’t get with Belgian beers 5½


5. La Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel
(9.0%abv)
Brasserie d’Achouffe, Achouffe, Houffalize, Wallonia, Belgium.
750ml glass bottle

This podcast sees our second La Chouffe beer in a row, following the appearance of their mighty magnum Big Chouffe (8.0%) in BeerCast #50. For this podcast, we have their IPA tripel Houblon Chouffe (9.0%) – which is only found in 750ml bottles and 20litre kegs. Houblon is French for Hops, and as you’d expect the Brasserie d’Achouffe have packed plenty inside their creation, giving a very different taste to their flagship blonde ale. The first is Tomahawk, then Saaz hops are added late for aroma, before the whole thing is dry-hopped with Amarillo.

What They Say
“The Houblon Chouffe was brewed for the first time in 2006. It is an ‘Indian Pale ale’ type of beer, with a harmonious balance between a marked bitterness (three types of hops are used to make it) and a pleasant fruitiness.” [Official Website]

What We Say
MrB – I love highly hopped things but this doesn’t compete, as it’s almost a different style 8½
Richard – So floral, like drinking shampoo – doesn’t taste 9% 7½
Grooben – With the extra addition of hops this is really good 7½
Shovels – A nice beer until one point when it goes “I’m Belgian” 6


6. Sirop de Picon
(18.0%abv)
Distributed by Diageo Ltd.
Drunk as an addition to Kronenbourg 1664 (5.0%)

Picon was invented in 1839 by Frenchman Gaétan Picon – who had served with the French army in Algeria. Prior to joining up he had completed an apprenticeship at a distillery in Aix-en-Provence, and the north African flavours he had experienced prompted Gaétan to invent his sirop – which he first called ’African Bitters’. In 1872 he returned to his homeland and established the first Picon distillery in Marseilles (which is still operational today). At that time it had a healthy 39%abv kick, but these days it reaches only 18%. Designed to be added to local beer as an aperitif, the dark, orangey syrup is most popular in northern France, which accounts for 70% of sales.

What They Say
“Picon is made from a base of fresh oranges which are dried and mixed with a solution of alcohol which is distilled. Picon also contains gentian and quinquina in equal measures. Sugar, syrup and caramel are added last.” [Wikipedia]

What We Say
Richard – There’s a dark blood orange taste to it
Shovels – Alternates between orange and burnt orange
Grooben – Later on the burnt orange really lingers
MrB – One of the best things about going to Alsace was discovering Picon


Panellists
– (clockwise from top left) Grooben, MrB, Shovels, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Brasserie d’Orval Orval Trappist Ale (31/40)
Brasserie d’Achouffe Houblon Chouffe (29½/40)
Brasserie la Saint-Pierre Brune (12½/20)
Brasserie la Saint-Pierre Blonde de l’Oncle Hansi (12½/20)
Brasserie Bouillon La Médiévale Ambrée (20/40)

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #51 – MrB’s Brasserie Cast
  • Subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or our Site Feed
  • Our next BeerCast podcast will be episode #52 – involving a selection of dark beers Grooben managed to source from the excellent Utobeer stall at London’s Borough Market…

    BeerCast #50 – Half Century

    We never thought that we’d make it all the way to fifty podcasts – and if you’ve listened to our first few then probably you didn’t either – but here we are. Three years and 181 beers later and we’re having a mini celebration in honour of our half century. We thought long and hard about what to do for a 50th show, eventually deciding on the popular ‘bring a beer’ theme, only with a more explosive feel to it. Podcast regulars Richard, MrB, Shovels and Grooben were tasked with sourcing an unusual, rare or liver-trembling beer to put to the panel, and the results were pretty spectacular.

    We ended up with (literally) some real corkers, as we begin with Grooben’s offering – Neuzeller Anti-Aging Bier (4.8%) from Germany, containing specific ingredients to actually make you younger. Apparently. Next up was Richard’s choice – the limited edition BrewDog Abstrakt AB:01 (10.2%), a vanilla bean-infused Belgian-style quad from Fraserburgh’s finest. Third on the podcast was Sierra Nevada Estate 2009 (6.7%). Provided by Shovels, this wet-hopped ale is pretty rare this side of the Atlantic. Finally MrB rounds things off in enormous fashion, unveiling Brasserie d’Achouffe’s Big Chouffe Anno 2010 (8.0%), a magnum of their famed La Chouffe blond ale. Thanks to all for providing, and special thanks to everybody who has downloaded, listened to, or commented on one of our podcasts over the years. Here’s to fifty more!


    1. Neuzeller Anti-Aging Bier (4.8%abv)
    Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle GmbH, Neuzelle, Brandenburg, Germany. 500ml glass bottle

    There are well-established health benefits of drinking good beer – the high levels of Vitamin B6 can protect against heart disease, for example – but the claims on a bottle of Neuzeller Anti-Aging Bier (4.8%) take things even further. Several bizarre-sounding adjuncts have been added, resulting in an elixir of youth – this beer actually claims to make you younger (although this may be as a result of the beer acting on the antioxidant Vitamin E in the body). Flavonoids are naturally found in hops, but by adding more in their beer Klosterbrauerei are really pushing the anti-carcinogen properties of the nation’s favourite drink. But just when you’re sold on the idea, discovering the beer has algae added as well sounds very strange, and when a quick check of their website reveals Klosterbrauerei also make a Badebier – ‘bath beer’ – ”for outside application as bath salts and for internal application as a beverage”, then the mind really boggles.

    What They Say
    “We have now formulated an “anti-aging” beer. Having consulted with several universities and health institutes, our beer contains: Water from hotsprings, rich in minerals, flavonoids, beer (malt, water, hop, yeast), and spirulina (Algae).” [Official Website]

    What We Say
    Shovels – I quite like that, it reminds me of Erdinger Dunkel 8
    Grooben – I wanted to find something completely different! 7
    Richard – Smells a bit portery but with that extra vegetable hint that must be the algae 6½
    MrB – Presumably all other beer is pro-aging? 6


    2. BrewDog Abstrakt AB:01
    (10.2%abv)
    BrewDog Ltd, Fraserburgh, Scotland. 375ml glass bottle

    BrewDog are without doubt the most talked-about brewery in Scotland, with their charismatic press releases and wacky ideas. Not afraid to experiment, at times they produce some fantastic beers – and at others some pretty duff ones. But there’s no denying they always elicit strong opinions. What is often overlooked amidst all the hoo-hah over 41% beers and Portman Group-baiting is that they have only been going for just over three years. The first BrewDog brew rolled off the Kessock plant lines in April 2007 – which by a rather neat co-incidence was the exact month the BeerCast began as well. So with that in mind, and given the numerous BrewDog beers featured over the years on these pages and podcasts, it would be remiss of us not top try their newest (at time of press) offering – the limited edition Abstrakt AB:01, the first of a new concept brand from the Aberdeenshire duo.

    What They Say
    “Abstrakt will only ever brew and release a beer once. BrewDog’s Abstrakt is about exciting, progressive and conceptual beers, beers which not only push the boundaries but smash them up completely.” [Official Website]

    What We Say
    MrB – The first taste was lovely, it’s like a Belgian tripel 8½
    Richard – Sweet full mouthfeel but the alcohol balances it out 8½
    Shovels – Subtle for BrewDog, not much aftertaste apart from alcohol 8½
    Grooben – It’s got sweetness but I wouldn’t have guessed vanilla 7


    3. Sierra Nevada Estate (2009)
    (6.7%abv)
    Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, California, USA.
    710ml glass bottle (24oz US)

    Sierra Nevada are one of the cornerstones of American craft brewing, and as a result have almost unrivalled access to types and strains of hops. Hailing from California, their mighty reach spreads all the way to the hopgrounds of Washington State, where they conduct research into new strains and varieties. They also like to experiment, and a few years ago came up with the idea of brewing a seasonal ale using only freshly-picked hops, rather than waiting for dried or using a combination of dried and fresh. This ‘wet hop’ ale is produced every Autumn, and as you’d expect has a pretty hefty hop whack about it. We sampled the 2009 Estate vintage, purchased from the excellent UtoBeer stall in London’s Borough Market, which only contains ingredients sourced from the Sierra Nevada estate in Chico.

    What They Say
    “This Estate Ale is rich with the flavors of the valley—featuring hops with earthy, grapefruit-like flavors and layered spicy aromas and barley with mild sweetness and smooth, toasted flavors. Together, these crops grow alongside the brewery to make a truly unique brew.” [Official Website]

    What We Say
    Richard – It’s wonderful, there’s a little bit of a spicy edge to it 9
    Shovels – More IPA than double IPA, really hoppy but not overpowering 9
    MrB – Has extra bitterness compared to sweeter Torpedo IPA 9
    Grooben – There’s no way I’m not going to like this 9


    4. La Chouffe Big Chouffe
    (8.0%abv)
    Brasserie d’Achouffe, Achouffe, Houffalize, Wallonia, Belgium.
    1500ml glass bottle (magnum)

    Grape lovers will possibly know the fact that a magnum is 2 standard bottles of wine, or 1½ litres for the metric types amongst us. In Belgium – as pretty much every grain lover knows – they do things just a little bit bigger and better, so why not have a magnum of beer? Brasserie d’Achouffe’s bending gnome (‘Chouffe’ in Walloon dialect) grins out from beer fridges and bottle-shop shelves throughout the beery world. Their flagship 8% blond ale La Chouffe is released every year in a hefty magnum, which is branded Big Chouffe, and has a customised alternate label drawn by a famous comic artist. The 2010 vintage collected by MrB (from the Brasserie itself, in person, no less) was illustrated by Johan de Moor, son of legendary Belgian cartoonist Bob de Moor.

    What They Say
    “La Chouffe is an unfiltered blonde beer, which is refermented in the bottle as well as the keg. It is pleasantly fruity, spiced with coriander, and with a light hop taste.” [Official Website]

    What We Say
    MrB – Had it on draught and liked it, it’s just as good in the bottle 8
    Richard – I can taste the coriander and cloves in there 7½
    Grooben – Doesn’t taste 8%, I give it an extra point for the bottle 7
    Shovels – I usually have a problem with Belgian beers because of the alcohol strength, but it’s drinkable for a wheat beer 7


    Panellists
    – (clockwise from top left) Grooben, MrB, Shovels, Richard

    BeerCast panel verdict
    Sierra Nevada Estate 2009 (36/40)
    BrewDog Abstrakt AB:01 (32½/40)
    Brasserie d’Achouffe Big Chouffe (29½/40)
    Neuzeller Anti-Aging Bier (27½/40)

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #50 – Half Century
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  • Stay tuned for our next podcast, as we get back into the more regular swing of things with BeerCast #51, an episode revolving around some of the other things MrB brought back from his trip to Alsace and Belgium ….

    In praise of…Delirium Café, Brussels

    After the refinement of classical Bruges (or Brugge as it’s referred to when you’re there), we travelled the short distance inland to Brussels. There are even more beer opportunities here, as befits a major European city with a pretty rich history. We visited the Cantillon Brewery (see previous post), and also several bars and cafés – the most notable (and famous) being the Delirium Café, hidden in a backstreet to the north of the Grand Place. The street address is Impasse de la Fidélité 4, but it took some wandering along alleys populated with tourist restaurants before we found it, even with the street name.

    There are three floors to Delirium, the top one is non-smoking, and this followed the pattern of every other non-smoking area we saw in Brussels – in that it was almost totally deserted. Coming from the UK, it was a shock to the system to be surrounded by smokers again – of course we’d forgotten how much it affects those of us that don’t – so we started up the top, joined only by a couple of middle-aged American men clearly on a beer holiday. As the place was so empty, the barman was chatting to them and helping them choose, then bringing each drink to their table – no wonder they were enjoying themselves. He even let them go behind the bar and pose for photos. In their honour I had the only non-Belgian drink to pass my lips during the holiday – a Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA (7.1%), which was predictably hoppy and alcoholic, and very nice.

    But we’re here to talk about Belgian beers after all, and as there was a complete lack of atmosphere upstairs, we descended into the bottom-most bar. Things were much better here, we got a seat at the back in the raised area and picked from the ’select beer menu’ that was on the tables. Delirium is renowned for it’s enormous range – they were in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most beers on sale in the world (I think it was over 2000 in all). Those larger menus were at the bar, and as the table versions had about a hundred Belgian ales on them, that was more than enough choice!

    La Guillotine (9.0%)
    Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle

    We’ve featured Delirium Tremens on the BeerCast before, and surprisingly it didn’t do that well. I attribute this to the early days of our beer journey when we reviewed it – as it’s become one of my (and my girlfriend’s) favourites. I’d never tried La Guillotine before – which is essentially a stronger version, so gave it a go at Delirium. It pours a dark golden amber colour, and gives off deep alcohol aromas. The taste is wonderful, it really is a darker, punchier, DT. It really doesn’t taste 9% either, so could be very dangerous. Aside from the Van Steenberge Tripel de Garre I’d had in Bruges, this was one of the beers of the trip for me.

    Queue de Charrue Brune (5.6%)
    Brasserie Vanuxeem, Ploegsteert

    La Guillotine was a tough act to follow, so I figured a change of tack was the best way to go. Sour Flemish ales are an acquired taste – possibly the hardest to acquire in the beer world (you need only look to the bottom of our beer rankings). Having not had much experience with the style – and certainly none that were pleasant, I nonetheless went for one to counteract the rich grassy fruit of the last beer. Picking a total random beer I’d never heard of (always one of my favourite things to do) landed me Brasserie Vanuxeen’s Queue de Charrue Brune, from Ploegsteert. The bottle looked old and battered, but the beer was actually pretty good. Crucially for me there was just a touch of sweetness that counteracted the more acrid flavours from the tart yeasts. It was in no way as bitter as something like Rodenbach Grand Cru, although still being quite puckering. It made an impression on me, that not all sour Flemish reds are the same, and was actually pretty refreshing.

    Bobeline Blonde (8.5%)
    Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle

    Keen to try as many types and styles as possible in what was sadly a limited time in both Delirium and Belgium, next I went on to a blonde ale. I’d tried one before – the really rather good Bruges Zot Blonde, in the city of the same name – so went for another from the minor menu in the café. Bobeline Blonde packs a punch at 8.5% (the small menus in Delirium don’t have abv contents listed), and comes in a nice-looking artistic bottle. I found out later it’s actually produced by our old friends Brouwerij Huyghe, so I actually had two rarer ‘house beers’ in the Delirium Café. Bobeline was very sweet and rich, with a peachy taste. It poured a hazy golden colour, with a dense pillowing head. It kind of reminded me of champagne, with that carbonated sweet/dry palate and fruity tinge (although the tinges were more ripe stone fruits than tart green ones). Again, it didn’t taste anywhere near it’s weighty abv. These Belgian brewers know how to craft a good beer, of that there is no doubt.

    Delirium Cafe website

    Brouwerij Cantillon, Brussels

    Cantillon are the last remaining lambic brewery in Brussels, and on my recent trip to Belgium I managed to make the trip to where it all happens and have a look round. For a few Euros you get a self-guided tour around their facilities and then have a taste of two of their beers. Guides only take around pre-arranged tours, but fortunately for us there was one of those going on, so we did a bit of eavesdropping to augment the ten-page booklet given out. Established in 1900, they use the same equipment (see photo below of the original red copper cooling vessel, still going strong), and traditional methods. Continuing in the hands of the same family, Cantillon and their distinctive ‘man overbalancing on chair’ logo are found throughout Belgium.

    Obviously I’ve been to a few breweries in my time, but never a lambic producer – only a small corner of Belgium can claim to produce this distinctive style of aged beer (the Senne Valley area south west of Brussels is the heartland). The mash tuns look like any others, the process is the same until the wort has had the hops cooked and removed, when it is pumped into what looks like a giant pie dish for the magic to happen. Here it is cooled (during the night and only between October and April) with window shutters open to allow the airflow to bring naturally-occurring windblown yeasts into contact. Then it’s placed into wood barrels for the fermentation to take hold. In truth, there are more microorganisms in the barrel wood than arrive on the breeze, but it all helps. The beer is then aged for three years once the barrels are sealed (they are left open for three days to vent the carbon dioxide in case of explosion). But what does it taste like? The samples we were given were their Gueuze and their Framboise, Rosé de Gambrinus.

    Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic (5.0%)
    A blend of one, two and three year old lambic, the Gueuze is their stock beer and is a classic Belgian style. It’s also famously something of an acquired taste, particularly for a Brit like me raised on bitters and stouts. It was poured for us at the brewery serving area, and was (as you can see from the photo) totally opaque and extremely hazy, almost peachy in colour. A vinegary tartness dominated the aroma, with gooseberries and other sharp fruit coming out. On the palate it was colossally sour, extremely bitter with an acid tartness. My girlfriend gave up after a couple of sips, so I had both and managed to get through them, but I’m not going to deny it was a struggle. I can see why lambics are revered, but I’ll clearly need to drink a lot more before I get a taste for them.

    Rosé de Gambrinus (5.0%)
    The other Cantillon we got to sample was their blend of two-year old lambic and raspberries. The fruit is added for between five and six months, then before bottling more young lambic is added to promote refermentation. This one was unsurprisingly a deep, cloudy pink colour with a tart raspberry sourness on the nose. This comes through on the taste as well, which is predominantly the sour lambic with a rising bitter fruitiness at the end. It’s like mistakenly eating a green raspberry from a bush – but the fruit gives it a more forgiving finish than the straight Gueuze. These are challenging beers, no doubt about it, and ones that any beer lover should try – even if they aren’t immediately accessible like other styles.

    In praise of…Staminee de Garre, Bruges

    I realised very quickly just how good Belgium is for beer drinkers – every restaurant or bar has a local selection that really cry out to be sampled. Most of them have a decent selection on draught, many are even house specials or are renowned for one particular type or style of beer. One place such as this is Staminee de Gare in Bruges, tucked away down a narrow passageway between the two focal points of the city – the Markt and Burg squares. In researching the drinking options beforehand, the house tripel here – Tripel De Garre had been mentioned numerous times. I’ll say right now that every single one of these people who mentioned it were absolutely right – it was the nicest beer I tried the whole time I was in Belgium.

    Brewed by the Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Ertevelde the menu leaves you under no illusions as to the strength of the Tripel – at 11.5% it warns that they will only serve a maximum of three per customer (although I have since read that if you sweet-talk the barman he’ll let this slide, as long as he ‘keeps an eye on you’). As I was sampling at midday on an empty stomach I left it at the one, but the large chunky glass arrives on a doily-draped tray with a small dish of cubed cheese (kaas, in the Flemish). This turned out to be so good, we ordered a cheese platter to accompany – and compliment – the beer (my girlfriend having ordered a Huyghe La Guillotine on my recommendation, before I realised it was 9%). Anyway, it made for a pleasant lunch.

    Tripel de Garre is poured from a wooden barrel on the bar, and so comes with a colossal pillowy head, at least a couple of inches. The aromas are amazing – alcohol esters, rich citrus, wheat beer notes, some mild spices from the hops. The mouthfeel is as good as I’ve ever got from a beer, strong warming alcohol mixed with the sharper hops and mellow sweetness. This mellowness continues into the aftertaste, where the strong witbier flavours come to the fore along with some flowers, and then finally the punch of the 11.5% alcohol, which remarkably is never overpowering. It was astonishing, I was genuinely amazed. Truly one of the nicest beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling – and quite simply a must if you find yourself in Bruges.