Friday, 4 May 2012

#25: Them crafty Belgians

For this one I've decided to break away from my usual reviewing style, and there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, of all the beer blogs that I read and enjoy, not a single one gives a full scored or marked review, and I realised that I prefer that style. I think my own formula of reviewing the beer in four categories and then awarding it a mark is enjoyable only for me, and no one else. As such, I'll try to be more inclusive and instead just write about my experience and stripped-down reaction to a beer. This way, instead of simply reviewing beers I'm sharing my journey through the craft beer world with you, which is what I wanted to do in the first place. Also, even though I won't be publishing scores no the blog, I still write them down in my notes. This way, when I read over my notes in months or years to come, I'll know exactly how I felt about the beer at the time. Sometimes your notes might sound more appealing to you than the beer in hand actually was, you see.

The first strong Belgian ale I ever had was Duvel (contrary to what I said earlier about La Chouffe). This shouldn't be a surprise because everyone knows and (mostly) loves the beer. I liked it when I first had it, and it pretty much started my love affair with Belgian ales and effectively ended my single-minded obsession with Hefeweizens. So recently I decided I'd get my hands on a few and see how they all compare.

First up is the Duvel. I had all these beers in the Duvel tulip, so the pillar of carbonation was always there. Also leaves a cool island of foam in the centre of the glass when the rest of the head has died down. Smells nice and fruity with hints of spice, with a good malty background. The taste is citrus and peach on the front, sweet malt in the middle and a long bread and nut finish. It's a fulfilling medium bodied beer and that famous dryness is always going to crop up. It's good, but it's not really mind-blowing. Will do some damage at 8.5% too. 

Next is a strong dark ale in the form of Gulden Draak. This one's from the Van Steenberge brewery in Ertvelde, the same brewery that makes Piraat, and comes in a bottle wrapped in white plastic, which in fairness looks better than it sounds. It's mahogany in colour with a very conservative head, and sweet toffee malt dominates the aroma, with elements of dark fruit sneaking in too. On the front I got a beautiful caramel flavour with bread maltiness and hints of spice and fruit following in the middle and finish. Really it's very very tasty, and I loved it, but I can see how people could find it too sweet - there's little in the way of bitterness here.Velvety smooth mouthfeel makes this one really enjoyable, and the 10.5% ABV warms you up. 

As I've said, Piraat comes from the same brewery as Gulden Draak, and I'm starting to think that the guys at Brouwerij Van Steenberge know their stuff, pretty damn well. Also, I promise I didn't buy this just because of it's name and label. Not just, anyway... It pours coppery amber, darker than the Duvel, more honey-tone. Interestingly, honey is in the aroma too, hidden beneath the bread malt, peach, yeast and spice. Also the 10.5% alcohol makes itself known, but not too much. The taste almost brings tears to my eyes. Peach and apricot, beautifully malty, slightly nutty, delicious caramel sweetness and hints, no, just a singular hint, of honey. I think. Either way, absolutely brilliant. It's full-bodied and very smooth, and easier to drink than it probably should be.

Overall, three good ales today. Duvel is always a reliable one, and is stocked in just about every decent off-licence in the country. The other two are a cut above, particularly the Piraat. It's one of those beers that I could happily drink exclusively for the rest of my life. Maybe Van Steenberge will sponsor that...

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