#344 Leffe – Radieuse

Name: Radieuse
Brewery: Leffe (Leuven, Belgium)
Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 8.5%
Source: Countdown Victoria St

You know how people love to use the word “busy”?
To complain and also brag about how frantically, painfully, wonderfully snowed under they are?

Well that’s me right now, I’m pleased to tell you – f l a t – o u t. As you can see from the nasty fluorescent lighting in the picture, I drank this beer at work. Drinking beer at my desk (outside of work hours that is, should my boss be reading this) has become an increasingly frequent practice of late, as I’m trying to catch up on posts and the unpleasantness of being at work  makes me type faster.

I picked up this bottle of Leffe Radieuse because it was one of the few single beers I hadn’t blogged from the city Countdown, and really just because I like the word Radieuse. True story.

It smelled sticky sweet and fruity. It may have been the label playing tricks with my mind, but I got berries and cherries and all things pink and purple. There was also toffee malt and that typically Belgian banana bread yeast.

In the mouth it was very sweet and malty, with a hint of tart cherry’s and licorice. At the finish it was quite dry, with a little raw alcohol note that reminded me that, oops! It’s actually 8.5%. No wonder I was slurring all through that meeting. (Just kidding. Outside of work hours – really.)

Leffe’s were my Belgian beer of choice when I was about 18, but I think I may be done with them now. They’re good beers I think, but a bit too sweet and alcoholic for this busy old-timer.

Published in: on July 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

#342 Westvleteren – 12

Name: 12
Brewery: Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus (Westvleteren, Belgium)
Style: Quadrupel
ABV: 10.2%
Source: The Beer Store

I’ve been sitting at my laptop for 10 minutes now, trying to think of a way to give this beer the grand entrance it deserves. Should I employ the dreaded caps lock? Exclamation marks? A video entry with me weeping into the camera as I describe it? Or should I simply remind you that it is The Best Beer In The World? 

I sound a little facicious perhaps, but this is actually the Holy Grail of Trappist, hell, of all beers, and I was very lucky to be given a glass of it. It’s the top rated beer by a sizable margin on Ratebeer, and is number two (after Pliny the Younger) on Beer Advocate. It’s also really expensive by the time it gets to New Zealand – $66 from The Beer Store – because the monks only make enough to get by on and don’t supply it wholesale to anyone. The only place you’re supposed to be able to buy it (except it isn’t, because people onsell), is direct from the abbey for about $2.50 NZD a bottle.

I’d intended to have a Westy 12 on a more significant day than this – like last Thursday when I got my Learner Licence – but when a free Westy comes along you don’t say “Thanks but can I learn the give way rules first?” you say, “10am is a great time for beer!”

Me, my Grandma and my Dad split the bottle, and Grandma took the first sip. I hadn’t told her anything about it because I wanted to get at least one hype-free opinion, so I was relieved when she said:

“I know I don’t know anything, but that is just ab-so-lute-ly gorgeous.”

I’d really struggle to define this beer – it wasn’t thick and intense like most quads are, but much more understated and elegant. It smelled of caramel, raisins, brown sugar earthy wet wood – or at least it evoked the idea of those things. In the mouth it was cleaner and dryer than I was expecting, smooth but with a lively carbonation that tingled on the tongue like sherbert. The warm malty flavours (sorry I can’t be too specific) expanded in the mouth, finishing with a dry but not at all bitter finish.

It was a lovely, classy drop, and easily my favorite quad so far, but I can’t honestly say it blew me away. People say the Westvleteren 8 (which I think I enjoyed more) has better sea-legs, so it’s probable that the 12 lost a lot of flavour in the passage to NZ. The other obvious possibility is that there’s an Emporor’s New Clothes situation surrounding the Westy, but I couldn’t really know until I’ve tried it fresh.

And now that I’ve blogged the best beer in the world, I feel it’s only fair that I try to find the worst. Anyone know where I can find a bottle of this?

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm  Comments (5)  

#309 Rodenbach – Grand Cru

Rodenbach Grand CruName: Grand Cru
Brewery: Rodenbach (Palm) (Roeselare, Belgium)
Style: Sour Ale
ABV: 6%
Source: Galbraith’s Alehouse

There are beers make wonderful husbands, beers that are only good for one-night-stands, and then… Then there are sours.

A sour is the absolute worst kind of lover. They’re the ones that live in mysterious and far-flung places, that never email or remember your birthday, that eventually show up unannounced on your doorstep with stories about how they’ve been held hostage in North Korea for the past six months and that’s why they never answered your Skype calls.

And even though you swore you wouldn’t, you’ll be charmed by his fancy European accents and exotic musky perfume, and once again you’ll let a sour into your home and heart. You’ll fall head-over-heels, just like every other time, and when you wake up in the morning he’ll be gone.

Goddamn those beautiful bastards.

What I’m getting at (with this analogy that seems oddly revealing/specific but actually isn’t, no really), is that sours to me are the most elusive beers of all. Every time I have a really good one it blows my mind, and then I spend the next three months wondering where my next sip’s coming from.

As far as I know no NZ brewery has ever made a sour (see comments section for inevitable correction), or at least none are making them right now. They’re tricky bastards to brew, apparently, because the wild yeast and bacteria that’s needed can infect all the other beer in the brewery.

Barely anyone stocks them either, so when I start getting a hankering for that mouth-puckering thrill that only a sour can deliver, sucking a lemon is generally my only option.

Imagine my delight then, when I heard that one of those good-looking rogues was not only in town, but hanging out at my favorite bar.

It was everything I’d been longing for. The aroma was intensely vinegary, with oak and a light waft of fresh cherries. In the mouth there was some sweetness, which I need in a sour, less vinegar than on the nose and more fruit. Despite the sweetness it was still thrillingly tart, to the extent that the memory alone is causing a saliva flood in my mouth.

I would have loved to try this beer in a year or more’s time to see what age had done to the young fruit notes, but do you think the bastard stuck around?

He arrived at Galbraith’s on the Saturday and by Monday night he was gone – leaving me with nothing but his photograph and a lemon to suck.

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm  Comments (3)  

#306 Green Flash – Rayon Vert

Name: Rayon Vert
Brewery: Green Flash (San Diego, California)
Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Source: Galbraith’s Alehouse
ABV: 7%

When I was little, someone told me about the green flash. Not the beer – I was only drinking the foam from my Dad’s Guinness back then – but the green flash of light that can appear just after the sun slips below the horizon.

It was probably Dad, and maybe I was drunk from the Guinness foam, but somehow I interpreted it to mean that every time the sun set there would be a green flash. To this day I have spent every single would-be romantic sunset looking for it, and not once, not bloody once have I ever seen it.

Thank you for nothing, science. 

The good news is that this beer (who’s name means Green Ray in French) was as wonderfully weird as that optical phenomina, although it did take me quite a few sips to properly warm up to it.

The aroma was strange – it seemed medicinal at first, but then I recognised it as that same dusty, horsey smell you get from lambic beers – caused by the wild yeast brettanomyces.

In the mouth  it tasted of fruity hops (lemon, orange and grannysmith apples) and of a horses stable (the leather saddle, the hay, and the horse itself). It wasn’t really sour – lightly tart perhaps, but bitter and very dry at the finish.

The Rayon Vert reminded me of one of my favourite beers, Orval, but it was a little more intense in both brett and bitterness. And speaking of bitterness, here’s a picture of the phenomena that I’ve wasted approximately 598 sunsets trying to see:

Green Ray

Not even that cool is it?
OK fine it is.

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm  Comments (2)  

#297 Bacchus – Frambozenbier

Name: Frambozenbier
Brewery: Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck (Ingelmunster, Belgium)
Style: Fruit beer/Sour Ale
ABV: 5%
Source: The Beer Store

I was saving this raspberry beer for a special occasion, because it came wrapped in pretty pink and white paper like a present. That special occasion came on Friday night when I found myself sitting in bed with a bowl of fejoa crumble watching 30 Rock. What an amazingly good time I am having, I thought. This calls for a celebration.

I vaguely  remember a time when I used to flippantly say “Oh I don’t like fruit beer, they’re all too sweet”, but now I realise I was stupid to judge an entire style, actually multiple styles, based on my one experience of Kriek at the Belgian Beer Cafe.

Now I openly love fruit beer, and I especially love the intense aroma and sour edge that raspberries impart. This version was a lovely accompaniment to my similarly sweet ‘n’ sour crumble (mostly because they both just tasted nice), and it completed the sense of pure indulgence that TV/dessert in bed had started.

The aroma was of freshly-picked raspberries, raspberries, and more raspberries. In the mouth there was a little burst of tartness that made my saliva glands jump, but then it was really quite thick and sweet, like raspberry jam. It wasn’t my idea of a perfect fruit beer – it wasn’t sour enough for that, but if I’d had it really chilled on a summers day I think it would have been excellent.

And so that you can see what the beer looked like before I unwrapped it, here’s a piccy I stole from the internet. Lovely innit?

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm  Comments (1)  

#258 St Bernadus – Abt 12

Name: Abt 12
Brewery: St Bernadus (Watou, Belhium)
Style: Quadrupel
ABV: 10.5%
Source: The Beer Store

I’m almost too scared to write this post, given that it’s likely to mortally offend at least one person and confirm to everyone else that I don’t know sod all about beer.

The Abt 12 was kindly sent to me by Daniel at The Beer Store, who describes this on the site as “an almost perfect quad, quite possibly my favorite.”

I see that it scores impeccably on Ratebeer too, with an overall score of 100 and 99 for style.

Well call me a philistine, but I just don’t get it.

It’s possible that I don’t really like quads – I never order them so I haven’t had enough to tell, but I found this too sweet and the alcohol burn too rough and raw.

The aroma was quite nice – very malty, with notes of raisins, dark fruits and yeast – but it wasn’t really that strong. In the mouth it was sweet and earthy, but instead of the syrupy smoothness I wanted it seemed harsh and alcoholic.

Given that my experience seems to be so at odds with everyone else’s, I’d say there are three quite likely things that could have happened:

1) It hasn’t travelled well, and has lost some of the flavour over time
2) I am a wimp and don’t like quads much
3) I just don’t know what I’m talking about

If I haven’t mortally offended Daniel or anyone else yet, wait until you hear this: after I had drunk half of it and decided it wasn’t worth the hangover, I proceeded to dispose of the rest of it down the sink.  

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!

I don’t think I’ll be getting any more beer from Daniel. 😦

Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm  Comments (5)  

#240 Van Honsebrouck – St Louis Kriek

Name: St Louis Kriek
Brewery: Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Ingelmunster, Belgium
Style: Lambic – Kriek
ABV: 4.5%
Source: Victoria Park New World

I spent my Easter the same way I’ve spent it for the last four or five years – drinking/eating too much and engaging in fierce competitions (Cricket, Pizza making, Charades, Scattegories, anything you can assign points to) with family at my Dad’s house in Greytown.

On the way out we stopped to stock up on beers at Wellington’s Thorndon New World. Would you believe I’ve never been there before? It’s incredible! I literally welled up a little bit, clutched my hand to my heart and staggered around the aisle for a few moments when I saw the selection.

In hindsight I feel like I could have perhaps made better choices. This Kriek for example, wasn’t really much chop. It was too sweet and had a fake cherry juice flavour rather than that real sour musty taste you usually get from Lambics. Granted it was kinda yum – but it didn’t feel like the real deal.

I also got a litre rigger of Sprig and Fern IPA, which I tipped down the sink after three sips. It was like chewing plants! Thankfully I had a Liberty C!tra on hand to wash the taste out.

And in case anyone cares (you know you do), I came second in the pizza competition with my Autumn-themed apple, gouda, bacon and sage and caramalised onion pizza. It was kinda like an apple tart – but better because it had bacon and cheese!*

*Recipe available on request in exchange for beer. 
Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 3:11 pm  Comments (4)  

#231 Hoegaarden – Verboden Vrucht

 Hoegaarden - Verboden Vrucht, Forbidden FruitName: Verboden Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit)
Brewery: Hoegaarden
Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 8.5%
Source: The Beer Store

Verboden Vrucht (or Forbidden Fruit, if like me you’re no good at guttural hacking sounds), is certainly one of the more enticing beer names I’ve seen, but it also rings particularly true if you’re a resident of the U.S.A.

I remember Yeastie Boy Stu telling me way back ages ago about the Forbidden Fruit, and how it was banned in the US because Adam and Eve were depicted (close your eyes kids) butt nekked on the label.

Americans sure know how to brew good beer, but Goddamn they can be prudes sometimes.

Anyway, they’re missing out big time because this is, in my opinion, the most delicious of all the Hoegaarden beers.

If you’ve ever tried the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, this is basically it’s evil alter-ego. It’s dark and wickedly rich, tasting  fruits (berries, dates, apples), banana, toffee, brown sugar, spice, and all things nice. It’s quite heavy and sweet, but with a little bitterness at the finish  to round things out.

I’m not sure if this insane ban still exists in the U.S or not (they’re wearing leaves for christssake – practically beach attire!) but if so, I’d say it’s worth building an underground tunnel to Mexico in order to smuggle some in. No really.


Published in: on March 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm  Comments (4)  

#218 Lindemans – Framboise

Name Framboise
Brewery: Lindemans (St Pieters Leeuw-Vlezenbeek, Belgium)
Style: Lambic – Fruit
ABV: 2.5%
Source: The Beer Store

You know how some people think it’s not cool to like fruit beer because it’s all sweet and girly and goes against the Reinheitsgebot and might even be pink sometimes?

Well, screw those guys (I used to be one of them), because lots of fruit beer is really really delicious, including this one which tastes like liquid rasberry sorbet.

Sure, it’s very sweet. But it’s also tart and tangy (like real rasberries) with that signature musty earthiness that lambics have. It is by far the richest, fullest, most flavourful beer I have ever had at such a low ABV, which is neat because it means you can drink lots of it.

Except you couldn’t, unless you’re one of those people who’s constantly swigging soda all day. It’s just too sweet. I think it would be best served in a little crystal wine glass after Christmas dinner, or maybe even (like a rasberry sorbet) as a palate cleanser between meals.

However you do it, do it. Embrace the pink fruity deliciousness and hell – put the pretty bottle up on your wall afterwards for all your mates to see. Fruit beer rocks!

Published in: on March 19, 2012 at 3:08 pm  Comments (1)  

#202 Het Anker – Lucifer

Het Anker Lucifer Name: Lucifer
Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker (Mechelen, Belgium)
Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 8%
Source: Belgian Beer Cafe

A few weeks ago I was at the Belgian Beer Cafe, looking at the menu and feeling a bit bored at the prospect of having a Leffe or a Hoegaarden or a Kreik, when I looked behind the bar and spotted all these other crazy beers in the fridge.

“What’s all that!?” I asked. “Have you got beers that aren’t on the menu?”

“Oh,” said the girl behind the bar. “Those are on our cellar list”.

And then she handed me, from behind the bar, this black menu that had six or so pages of beer on it – all a lot more exciting than the stuff in the main red menu, albeit a little more expensive.

Was that exciting enough to warrant a blow-by-blow reenactment? I don’t know, but the point is this: how long have the BBC had this ‘cellar menu’? Why do they keep it so hidden? And am I the only one that didn’t know about it?

But instead of asking all those questions, I ordered this Lucifer – it was a hot afternoon and a blonde that tasted of peaches (according to the menu) sounded just the ticket.

It was pretty good, but also kind of disappointing. It tasted like a fairly typical blonde ale – some yeast, cloves, banana, candied sugar, but quite dry and with a little lemony tartness at the finish. There was nothing wrong with it per se, but it was a little light in mouthfeel and the flavours seemed to fall flat somehow.

I will continue to plow through the BBC’s little black book, but I suspect people may be better off ordering the fresher beers from the tap. The cellar ones seem to have come via The Beer Store, and obviously aren’t being moved along quickly at the bar, so it’s hard to know how long they’ve been sitting there.

Or, another idea: we spread them word and get them moving along. Go forth and drink Belgian beer! (Tell your friends.)

Published in: on February 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm  Comments (1)