Monday, 14 November 2016

#326: Monday Morning Takeaway

Late August found me in Amsterdam for a week, with a few day trips to Apeldoorn on the cards throughout. When I wasn't accompanying the Sober Destrier on those mostly searing hot commutes I, obviously, endeavoured to surround myself with delicious liquids.

The first of those is, almost predictably, Belgian. It's Oude Gueuze Tilquin, one of the big lambic hitters that I'd yet to indulge. I'm glad I did; opaque orange it appears, with a big beautiful white head. There's a real waxy, bitter-but-soft backing to the acidic wheaty fullness of the beer, but working and swirling the glass a little brings about plenty of farmy funk - think cowshed, hay and grist. The sourness seems to work the front and sides of the tongue and palate first before that waxed, lemon skin bitterness wades back in to offer immediate balance. Lovely stuff.

Staying with beers enjoyed on the balcony of the spacious apartment in Rembrandtpark is Jopen's Life's a Beach, a beautiful and sinkable session IPA. This drinkability lasts despite a touch of malty body that thankfully turns to clean grainy stuff allowing bright, fresh and simple grapefruit to stand alone. On such a hot day, it disappeared alarmingly fast.
As such, Oedipus' Mannenliefde saison was drafted in for support. Alas, it's got Szechuan pepper and lemongrass and turns out to be a spiced-up, minty, confected jumble that I don't understand the point of. What the hell did saison do to deserve this?

The sole American beer to appear in this post is a can of Aftermath IPA from Black Market Brewing in California, showcasing all the aromatic qualities you might expect; juice! Tropical juice! There's orange too and even a guilty pleasure streak of green rawness - a real brewday smell. On the palate it starts with a loud bang but fades pretty fast; the rich, juicy kick of marmalade and water-thin tropical juice is brief and becomes a nice, very light, fairly dry and quite bitter finish. Here at that finish is where the pith and zest of that fruit lives but ultimately it doesn't live up to the full-bodied and intense promise of the nose. And what a promise - that uncanny, powerful and unique smell of a freshly opened bag of C-hops.

No trip to the Bierkoning can be justifiably called complete without a bottle or two from De Molen, and the one I chose to open here is Counter and Attack, an IPA. Unfortunately, it's a rather dull one, and perhaps a reminder as to why De Molen's stellar reputation seems to be tied to the dark beers they produce. Despite a fresh nose there's a disconcerting fruit cordial sweetness that streaks through the entire thing, making it a particularly uninspiring glass.

Inside there was a new Dutch brewery to me, Oersoep, with Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's a cloudy, unfiltered and unpasteurised pils that proves clean, biscuity and leafy refreshment that's so easy to drink while remaining full, substantial and pillow-soft. Satisfying stuff.
From the same brewer comes Pulp Fiction, billed as a passion fruit pale ale. By pale ale, they must have meant in the Belgian sense, rather than the American, which was an initial suprise but it turned out to be a happy one. It's a tad funky, more saison or fresh Orval than anything properly wild, and there's a spritely dusting of white pepper and yeast contribution throughout. I can't find even a whispered rumour of passionfruit, or even anything like some fruit-expressive hops - this stays firmly dry, lightly bitter, slightly spicy and, despite not quite matching its billing, delicious.

The last beer to be opened in the apartment was Rodenbach Vintage 2012. Right from the first sniff, I was worried I'd gone too far down the sour path; balsamic vinegar is searingly intense at first and bounces terrifyingly off walls of thick, powdery chocolate. It is not so scary to taste, even though much of the experience is characterised by the mix of sweet and sour that elsewhere in life I avoid with an almost religious rigidity. It's acidic but soft, dampened and rounded and made beautiful by trustworthy and comforting wooden malts - think flecks of dark chocolate, vanilla and leather under a sky of overripe cherries and blackberries. Pure puckering pleasure.

That's it for take-home beer. Next up, drinking in the city.

Friday, 4 November 2016

#325: Haunted

Unexpected and unexplained hiatuses are the kind of things you always fear from a blog - it is most often the death knell of said blog, and for a while I toyed with the idea of simply listening to the wretched chokes and coughs of the Destrier as it passed through the portal into the grey wasteland of forgotten online materials. The longer I waited, distracted and weighed down by other projects, work and personal life, the more it seemed I could hear the virtual flies buzzing around the soon-to-be corpse of this blog. 

Thankfully, some spark did kindle the interest I had left in this endeavour and, more thankfully still, I had continued to drink beer and annoyingly take photographs and notes as I went. As such, I do have something to work with, though I've decided to simply leave behind a fair few notes from the last notebook (it has been that long) and start from scratch with materials I started gathering in late August. 

One of the few beers to make it from that last book is this - a few days too late to tie in with Halloween but a scary number nonetheless.

This is Fantôme. Fantôme is one of those (perhaps the archetypal) mysterious and often lauded breweries whose reputation seems to travel further than its beer; this brilliant profile of the brewer(y) by Belgian Smaak, however, explains that most of the beer does in fact travel far - more than 90% of it leaves Belgium. Recipes are ever-changing and shrouded in mystery, but the recipe for this 2015 edition of Printemps should probably be written down on a piece of paper and flung in the bin (shout out to my dad for this devastating put-down, best applied to the phone numbers of bad tradesmen).
The omens were bad; a stripe of skunky stuff is what first coils from the neck of the bottle, but this thankfully changes when you get the ghost into the glass. From here you get a pleasant if ever-so-slightly alarming shout of lemongrass with shades of lemon zest, mint and slightly acidic wheatiness. On the whole, though, it's a clean and cool leafy nose with a hefty smattering of prickly spice and an almost rosy perfume character. 

At this point I'm wary - there's no doubting that this is a heavily flavoured saison even if you didn't read the label - but still optimistic. I even concluded here that the aroma was a suitably summery, fragrant and fresh one.

There are fewer reasons to be joyful about the taste, though; cooling mint and lemongrass form the main effect with a sweet, syrupy lemon finish quickly and aggressively cloying and quashing any degree of drinkability. It's not refreshing, unsurprisingly, but it's also just not very enjoyable as a sipper, and despite being admittedly unique (it will certainly live long in my taste-memory) it's just not interesting enough as a novelty to justify finishing. The flashes of elderflower and lingering aniseed notes are cries for help, and after grinding through a full glass I decided to treat my sink to the rest of the 750ml bottle. 

This turned out to be an experience that started with just a wobble before gradually degenerating to the point where you have to assess the choices you have made and the options that now lay before you. Perhaps there is a reason this sort of thing doesn't fly in Belgium.