Thursday, 1 February 2018

#345: Octoberfest 2017

Lost behind the sofa of time were my notes from Franciscan Well's October Beer Festival, and it's here that we start 2018's blogging proper.

The October Beer Fest is an interesting one in the Franciscan Well; in contrast to the other two annual beer festivals hosted in Easter and (just last weekend) in January/February, all beers for October are imported. This keeps the beer list relevant even now, months later, as the festival afforded me the opportunity to try a number if imports I'd seen around in bottled form, but had yet to investigate.

First among these is St Bretta from Crooked Stave, this version apparently brewed with pomelo. It arrives a slightly hazy yellow-gold with a thin slice of foam and, as is probably worth considering de rigueur for any wild ale, smelling of citrus and sour wheat. It's rather easy to put away too; that squeeze of acidic lemon juice plays of slightly waxy citrus bitterness and pear drop sweetness to give it a soft drink approachability, albeit with a wonderfully dry finish. With some time and warmth these characteristics meld to form a rounder sort of melon flavour, but the whole thing stays light as a breeze. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff that's well worth picking up in the (better priced) bottle.
Duchesse de Bourgogne

Duchesse de Bourgogne
is one that I've conspired to miss for much longer, a beer that often gets mentioned in the same conversation as the likes of Rodenbach and Liefman's Goudenband. Like those beers it's a dark red-brown pour with a surprisingly thick nose; sweet, perhaps creamy, maybe even edging towards diacetyl nuttiness. This makes more sense - and is more pleasant - on tasting. There is no sharp vinous fruit at first, but chocolate, leather and tart blackberry and raspberry jam. It's quite delicious actually, and that first impression on the nose dissipates quickly. Again it is shockingly easy to drink with its mild tartness and excellent stewed-apple dessert stylings, and once again I am sold that this is a bottle to consider. It may lack the seriousness and complexity of its perhaps more decorated Flemish counterparts but Duchesse is a lot of fun.

Staying wild we get to Buxton and Stillwater's Superluminal collaboration. A sour IPA from the producers of the wonderful Trolltunga and wild ale producers with the pedigree of Stillwater Artisanal? Sign me up. In the event, the beer is more determined to be sour than anything else, consisting of binary threads of citric acid and sweet grapefuit syrup. It's soft and squeaky clean, and doesn't really offer anything else besides those two threads, so I am not inspired to reinvest. 

Queue de Charrue (not a tripel)
The next trio were all new to me, beers that can't readily be got in this country in any form. First up is Queue de Charrue, I'm guessing the 'vieille' or 'oud bruin' version. I don't know quite how 'oud' or 'vieille' this is, but it's certainly brownish. In fact, it's more red, and this is true of the flavour too; it's an intstantly sort-of weird cherry and marzipan thing with that sweet-not-sour sherbert you get in a Double Dip. Bizarrely, this is called a tripel, of apparently 9%. A check of RateBeer listings for Vanuxeem (the brewer responsible, a client brewer) only lists one such beer and that is indeed a Queue de Charrue Tripel of 9% that is characteristically blonde. There is a Queue de Charrue Rouge, which is at least close to the ABV at 8.7%, while the Oud Bruin is a mere 5.4%. All this goes to say that I have no idea what I drank, and the Franciscan Well had no idea what they were pouring. Annoying to say the least.

Boulevard Tank 7 has a sort of fame of its own as a classic American Belgian-style farmhouse ale. I receive it with trepidation, as it looks wan and smells of lager skunk. There's more interesting things happening on the palate, with weak Belgian vagueries giving way to TCP and Cuvée de Medicine Cabinette. It's also kind of slick and sticky, smothering any chance that the admittedly attendant soft spice and esters had of expressing themselves properly. Poor enough stuff.

Though nothing was as poor as the Gulden Draak Brewmaster's Edition, aged in whiskey barrels no less. I still have a soft spot for regular old Gulden Draak and Piraat from my earlier beer drinking days as simple and pleasant beers but sweet Jesus this is awful. A stonking buttercream festival of dismay; a sugary booze bath without the hedonistic joy; a masterclass in diacetyl sadism. Just don't.

The accumulated experience of those last three beers drove me out of the Well's yard and down the quays to the Bierhaus for some palate cleansing. There was a festival happening here too, focused entirely on sour and wild beers.
First up was Oud Beersel Oude Vieux Lambiek, not geuze. Although, unsurprisingly, it tastes and plays rather like geuze. It does have a light sparkle, as well as a powerful whack of sour lemon sherbert and wheat. Simple, top quaffing stuff.

There was savage value to be had, especially with a Beoir membership card, from the cask engine, pouring Otterbank's Salubrious Summer Stout. This 10.4%-er came appropriately slick and smooth and oozing (in a good way) chocolate mousse, hazelnut praline, wood and milk chocolate. It doesn't hit the heights of their Brett Brux stout (I don't know if it's even been bretted or aged so comparison may be unfair) but it's terrifyingly easy to drink. There's no tartness, so I needed to get back on festival spec with the last beer of the day.

This was Barbera, from Hof Ten Dormaal, a wild ale with grape must, presumably from Barbera. The bones of this are Payottenland-ish; that typical sour-citrus-wheat thing, but there is a definite vinous thread running through, with whispers of blackcurrant and twigs hiding in the background. It was quite delicious, but as my only experience with a grape-must beer (big in Italy, I think) comparisons are impossible to make.

The glass empty, I left.

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