08 December 2019
I’ve been putting off opening my advent calendar of unfinished business long enough. With a new year - and indeed a new decade if you follow the Christian numbering - fast approaching, I’d love at least a cleaner slate. As I tear off the first week’s strip of doors, out tumbles, with ontological contradiction, the unwritten reflections on Belgium and Holland from that Europe trip.
Memory is faded, but I have at least my tasting notes on which to reconstitute experience. The line between fact and fiction is blurred anyway, in keeping with the subject, so we will not let that stand in the way too much. Though perhaps by leaning on the raw notes the immediacy of those times past may gain some, and I struggle with the word, verisimilitude. In that vain spirit I’ll not alter the tasting notes except for typos.
We were staying, for the first few days in Leuven (where I was attending the Heart of Clojure). That town being the home of Stella Artois, I quickly innoculated myself with some of the local, if maligned, brew. I’m far more familiar with its reputation (especially in the UK) than its flavour, so comparisons are difficult. But in our hotel bar, on the Martelarenplein, around a mile from the brewery, it was a crisp, refreshing draft with a good hop presence. Reader, I enjoyed it.
With some free time the next day, we ventured into Brussels. And late (well, lateish) morning, I put together a flight in the touristy (though very pleasant and accomadating) bar diagonally opposite that statue.
I wrote (my first time writing in Belgium!) of the brews I chose, all on draught:
Very hoppy, bitter end. Boozy but not too hot. Fine dtart to a morning!
Warm pale ale with subtle woody hopping. Slightly sweet with a vegetal finish and a touch of sour.
Big noble hop and yeast aroma. Dry, hoppy on the palate. Moderate carbonation makes for a smooth drink.
Very crisp and light. Yeasty sweetness gives way to a firm bitter finish
This country, as expected, even from the first (give or take) tasting had me hooked. We’re going to need to skip many details if we are to move forward - and indeed my notes are far from comprehensive.
One standout from many (and many good) bottles in Leuven was Cornet. It brought me some flavours I don’t think I’ve had in beer before, reminding my almost of single-malt whisky drinking days.
Slightly medicinal nose and very aromatic drinking experience. Strong but not boozy and fairly dry, hopped finish. Raisins, vanilla, fruit cake as it warms.
Ghent was rewarding in terms of beer variety. I don’t think there’s much of a connection to be made here outside of location of consumption.
Fresh and full of cherry without being cloying
Fragrant, spicy aroma. Refreshingly sour on the palate.
Grainy nose, with hints of honey and flowers. Firm and funky, full body with a bitter and dry finish
I sense at this point in the trip I was finally feeling I’d covered the better known bases and could branch out.
Very hoppy with a firm funk. Citrus edge as it moves over the palate, leaving a spicy hoppy finish. One of the best saisons I’ve tasted.
We took a day trip to Bruges. Around lunch time a restaurant serving pizza caught my eye and nose (right about here). They had a phenomenal beer board (the pizza was good and interesting too). I think I only had one, but if it was more than one, then this one really caught my attention:
Hoppy, bitter pale ale. Floral aromas, including some mint as it warms up. Yeast hop interplay. Fantastico.
That brew was definitley a fusion - it was all Belgian in terms of technique and finesse, but also cried New World in its hopping.
Later in the day, we took the tour of De Halve Mann brewery, which I can thoroughly recommend - it’s full of education, humour and climbing up and down through the old (but still used) brewery. Back in the tap room, I really enjoyed the unfiltered Brugse Zot - it was about as fresh as it could be - yeasty and hoppy but with a tinge of sourness. I followed it up with a couple more: the 2019 expression of their Straffe Hendrick Wild Fermented Tripel and their Straffe Hendrik quadruple. My notes on the latter read “Very malty but dry with a touch of roast and fruity notes - pears, apples”. I didn’t take notes on the former, but I recall loving the hell out of it.
Then we were in Antwerp for the last day of our time in Belgium. The whole trip had been a Himalaya of excellence, but somehow I found a few higher peaks on that last evening. It’s best just to let the notes tell the end of the story.
Almost wine-like balance of sourness with fruity sweetness. With a pleasantly bitter finish.
Apples and grass on the nose. Boozy and dry in the mouth. There’s a slight funk on the outbreath. Lasting fruitiness. And really quite bitter in the end.
Grassy, bready nose. Fizz, spice and dry bitterness in the gob.
Damn. Cherries. But then sour and malt and candied cherries in the back. Sweet, with a slight boozy edge but balanced by a Aeolus (sic - blame autocorrect or poetry) darkness. This is good. Thank you god.
Despite the problems typing, that last evening in Belgium was special. The Duponts were stunning. And I would like Flanders Red to be a part of my life.
And so to Holland. In Amsterdam, I enjoyed a couple of evenings at Harlem Soul Food which has a few taps of well-served ale and plenty of bottles (but I came back for the IPA).
Chewy, malty body. Tangerine and grapefruit on the palate and a lasting hoppiness. Slight spice from the Belgian yeast.
Sweet on the nose. More like a satay or masamam. Citric, herbal and spicy in the mouth. The chilli lingers in the throat. Hmm.
I’m not sure if I had the next at the same bar or not, but it is the same brewery - and it showed them in a good light.
Full bodied, juicy spicy bomb of fun. All kinds of thick orange and herbal, slightly bitter notes. Perfume on the exhale.
I’m going to finish this trip in Haarlem, a short train ride from Amsterdam. With a pint from one of the bigger Dutch breweries, Brand. Nothing big or special. In fact rather quiet and unnasuming. But perfectly brewed and with just the right combination of elements to satisfy a thirsty palate. And leave it wanting more.
Grass and gooseberries on the nose. Light, fruity with a very clean fresh finish and a delicate, morish, salty aftertaste.