Wayward Wine will soon cease its waywardness. I promise. For months now this wine blog has chatted up German, Dutch, and Belgian beer. Why? Basically because beer reigns where we toured in the cold north. So, next Monday, we will return France and surround ourselves in wine. But Bruges is our last stop in Belgium. Last Monday we explored its sights and sounds and barely survived the countless geese (read post here). We even released a Belgian saison last Wednesday (read here).
Today, we warm back at our hostel with beer. Over eight days in Belgium, we have enjoyed 45 bottles of beer. Before Belgium, we never realized beer could match the intensity and complexity of wine. Here are Bruges highlights:
Let’s start with a familiar cliché, Delirium Tremens: that pink-elephant-ed, gateway drug into Belgian beer for British college students on vacation, when they’re not getting high on weed. Consider it a palate cleanser between smoke breaks.
Brasserie Huyghe Brewery, Delirium tremens, Strong Beer, Triple Fermented, Melle, Belgium. €1.26 33cl APPEARANCE: looks a clear, mild yellow, with small fast fizz, and a cm white head. AROMAS: smell ripe with watermelon, nice musky sweat, malt, and vanilla extract. PALATE: feels somewhat sweet, nicely tart and bitter, but with a warm lump of 8.5% alcohol, a medium body, and kicky fizz. FLAVORS: taste strong surprisingly precise with melon, grapefruit, green, fresh herbed hops, and vanilla that last a medium plus length.
Ok, ok, look past the silly label. Delirium tremens showy but very good (4 of 5).
Let’s try a local Bruges brewery: De Halve Maan. Since 1856, the Maes family has brewed in Bruges. In recent years they have expanded and modernized, yet remain family owned. We bought four.
Brouwerij De Halve Maan, brugse Zot, Bruges, Belgium. €1.35 33cl APPEARANCE: looks a hazy, moderate gold, with medium fizz, and an off white head. AROMAS: smell of salt, lemon, honey, and pot-like hops. PALATE: feels dry, with medium plus acidity and hop bitterness, a warm 6% alcohol, and medium body. FLAVORS: taste very grassy, green, lemon, something salty oddly like beef blood. Medium length. Brugse Zot is hoppy, green, and good quality (3 of 5).
Brouwerij De Halve Maan, brugse Zot Dubbel, Bruges, Belgium. €1.58 33cl APPEARANCE: hazy again, but a fairly rich ruby color with amber highlights. AROMAS: smell ripe and full of blackberry jam, caramel, and rye. PALATE: feels more subdued with medium acidity, fairly high bitterness, a bigger 7.5% alcohol, and a fuller body. FLAVORS: taste of red apple, rye bread, salt water taffy, and black licorice that last a medium plus length. This is punchy, spicy, rich beer and also good quality (3 of 5).
Their second tier, Straffe Hendrik, features more traditional Belgian styles, including their Tripel Bier 9, Bruges, Belgium. €1.65 33cl
APPEARANCE: Their Triple looks a hazy, medium intense amber, med fizz, and off white head. AROMAS: smell more intense and of orange liquor, vanilla cream, and dry leaf. PALATE: feels dry, pretty tart, moderately bitter that cancels the higher 9% alcohol creating a medium body. FLAVORS: taste moderately of green, grassy hops, licorice, and sweet ethanol that lasts a medium plus length. Their Triple has a bit more going on and is very good (4 of 5) and needs bar food to cool the palate.
Finally, De Halve Maan’s, Quadrupel Ale 11, Bruges, Belgium. €1.65 33cl
APPEARANCE: looks a hazy, pronounced ruby amber, with a cream color lace. AROMAS: smell of pronounced black cherry, cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. PALATE: feels dry, with medium acidity, bountiful bitternes, a high, caffeine-like 11% alcohol, making for a full body. FLAVORS: taste ripely of fruit with a bitter coffee character, think of cherry cobbler cinnamon, lingering tart apple, and drinking chocolate that last a long length.
Their Quad is outstanding (5 of 5), probably because it’s the last beer of 5+ like every night and it can stand above other fairly big beers.
So De Halve Mann makes solid beverages. Let’s try a Gruut or herbed beer:
Steen Bruge, St Peters Abbey, Blond, enriched with Gruut (herbs from Bruges), Steenhuffel, Belgium. €1.39 33/cl Founded by the Saint of brewers, St Arnold in 1084.
APPEARANCE: looks slightly hazy, with medium intense gold, medium bubble, and an off white 2cm head. AROMAS: smell moderately of caramel, orchard fruits, and nuts. PALATE: is all balance with medium acidity, tannin, body, and a tick higher alcohol at 6.5%. FLAVORS: taste of medium intense apple pie, dry white flower, finished with a light lemony hop twist of medium length.
Steen Brugge’s Blond is very good (4 of 5) because it is mild, easy, but secretly complex. It tastes brilliant with pancakes from Bruges…proving that synchronicity of places and flavors matters more than the classic pairings.
From that light, lovely beer lets shift to some wild, earthy and funky. A barrel aged, wild fermented, lambic, Gueuze from Mort Subite:
Mort Subite, Original Gueuze Lambic Beer, barrel aged, Asse, Belgium. €1.69 33cl APPEARANCE: looks clear, medium amber brown, with an off white cm head. AROMAS: smell of medium intense lemon, grilled garlic, and coffee. PALATE: feels moderately sweet, but tart, mildly bitter, and only mildly alcohol at 4.5%, with a medium body. FLAVORS: pounce with orange, lemon, followed by clove and moss, turning to café latté (lactic?) and lasts a medium plus length. Mort Subite’s Gueuze is complex, bright yet soothing and very good (4 of 5). It mellows massively with olives.
Because Belgians get bored easily, and seem to have been experimenting way longer than today’s craft brew scene, let us try a beer made with peaches.
Timmermans, although now brewed under license, still claims to being the world’s oldest lambic brewery: 1706. Here is their Pêche Lambicus, Itterbeek, Belgium. €1.24 25cl
APPEARANCE: looks clear, mild in amber color, with medium fizz, and a cm high white head. AROMAS: smell of…well…peach, but rose and barely aromas help it. PALATE: is medium sweet, with medium acidity, and lower bitterness and mild 4% alcohol, making for a medium minus bodied beer. FLAVORS: do not overwhelm either with light peach juice, citrus, and odd mocha of medium length.
This peach beer is delicate, trying to be a real beer and not peach cobbler, which merits a respectable good (3 of 5).
Timmermans’ Bourgogne des Flandres Bruin Bier (Iterbeek, Belgium. €1.33 33cl) is a more serious suitor.
A richer ruby amber color, with a caramel colored head. It smells of peat smoke, feels drier, tarter, and tastes fairly fully of tart red apple, toasted graham crackers, salt, and dark chocolate, with a medium plus length. Wild, zippy, toasty, even if under license, their Bourgogne des Flandres is very good (4 of 5)
We buy a bottle of Corsendonk, because it has a funny name and a cool looking bottle.
This is their Agnus-Tripel Blond, beer, Turnhout, Belgium. €1.04 33cl APPEARANCE: It looks a hazy, medium intense gold, medium fizz, with off white head. AROMAS: smell richly of pine forest, hoppiness, and honey. PALATE: is dry, tart, tannic, quite alcoholic at 7.5% abv. but still medium bodied. FLAVORS: taste of medium intense lemony hops, grass, wheat, and apple that last a medium plus length. Corsendonk (tee hee) is very good (4 of 5) intense but not overwhelming Belgian Tripel.
For some reason, either we bought many blonds or Belgium brews a few.
Van Steenberge, Augustijn (under license), Blond, Ertvelde, Belgium. €.98 33cl
So Augustijn. APPEARANCE: looks a hazy, medium intense gold, with medium fizz, white 2cm head. AROMAS: smell of honeycomb crunch cereal (no really) and light caramel. PALATE: feels dry, twangy, moderately bitter, with medium plus alcohol 7%, and a medium body. FLAVORS: ratchet up a bit rich with honey-drizzled graham crackers, corn flakes, and butter. Med plus length. Easy, too much to be very good. Good, round, but dull and under focussed.
Van Steenberge, Piraat, beer, Ertvelde, Belgium. €1.20 33cl
anno 1295, Hazy, med intense amber brown, med bubble, off white head. Clean, burnt creme brûlée top, molasses, dry, med acid, med plus bitter, high alc 10.5%, full body, med plus flavors of alcoholic figs, raisins, evergreen hops, malt. Med plus length. Very good. More hoppy and bitter than their Dracon. 45 belgian bottles in 8 days.
Belgian beer defies generalization. They range from light to near Port. Anyone who claims to hate Belgian beer needs to keep drinking. There is a style for every palate. Each brewery has a unique character to it. Equally the complexity and intensity possible with their beer is astounding.
We look forward to France and returning to the land of wine with next Monday’s post. But damn it, Belgium surprised us. Luckily many we tried today exist in the states.