Friday, 23 June 2017

The Blonde, The Blanche and The Ambrée: The Grimbergen range.

MURCIA, Spain. Few things bring me more joy than a nice bottle of beer, but if there's one thing that does, it's three bottles:

These bad boys and the chalice they were destined for came into my possession long ago when everyone in the northern hemisphere was in the throes of winter, and yet it's taken me until now to sip my way through the trio, starting with the lightest in a temperate April and ending with the darkest in the unrelenting heat of a Murcian June - perhaps not the most logical sequence as far as matching beer with season goes, although the colours did follow the same pattern as my ever toasting skin. 

Obernai's former region of Alsace
within France. (Part of the new
Grand Est region since 2016)
Grimbergen beer has been going, in one way or another, since the dark Medieval days of 1128 - although since starting its life as a monk-brewed abbey beer in Belgium, the periodic accident and conflict-driven destruction of the abbey followed by several commercial takeovers in more recent times means the beer, now brewed partly in Belgium and partly in France, probably differs somewhat from what the Norbertine monks of Grimbergen used to get sozzled on with their guests. Indeed, the Belgian and French breweries even brew completely separate varieties (those coming from Belgium being mainly Blond, Dubbel and Tripel), meaning that the beers in my box were sure to have come from the Kronenbourg brewery in Obernai, France. Just call me the Beer Detective.

But no beer is complete without a story, and as the monks' use of the phoenix would imply, rebirth is a significant aspect of this beer's identity - so if the legend at the very least has managed to be kept alive over the course of almost a whopping nine centuries, then all the better. 

Onto the beers:

Blonde 6.7%

She pours a perfect golden amber with a dense, bright fluffy head and, as with all of Grimbergen's beers, looks particularly fine in the beer's own purpose-made chalice. 
It had been a long time since I'd tasted the delights of a Belgian-style ale and the distinctly Belgian whiff of spicy clove that wafted up from my chalice's bowl was a stark reminder of where this brew was born. Along with these spicy notes there were plenty of hints of toffee and caramel malt on the nose giving me a clue as to what was to come. 
After a gulp or two, malty depth came through peppered with spicy clove, broken up ever so slightly by a hint of bitter citrus, followed by a floral, soapy aftertaste. 
For its high ABV it goes down nice and easily, and since it's got plenty of depth you can afford to sup on it chilled without fear of compromising on flavour.

Blanche 6%

The Blanche pours an opaque pale straw colour with a small head that fizzled out quicker than I could snap it.
There's plenty going on on the nose with fragrant, perfumey and floral aromas seasoned with herbal notes and spicy clove, overall making for a fresh and complex first impression.
The fresh flavours of zesty citrus fruits and a strong presence of coriander and clove come through after a sip, but it soon becomes clear that where it exceeds in flavour it lacks in body and depth, almost a diluted version of what it could be.
Rather than a sipper to savour I'd call this an introduction to the style to be knocked back.

Double-Ambrée 6.5%

The darkest of the three, this pours a dark mahogany with a thin beige head.
I picked up the aromas of dark stone fruits and berries, even if they were a bit hesitant in coming forward.
The flavour doesn't disappoint, with rich, fruity woodland berries backed by sweet caramel, a hint of treacle and a dash of bitter coffee - a sweet, fruity experience with the welcome addition of an added 6.5% alcoholic warmth. 
As the aroma hadn't been so forthcoming I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. A touch more body could have brought more depth to the flavours, but overall of the three in the set, the double-ambrée is the brew I'm fondest of. Santé!

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Grimbergen's Website
Grimbergen on Facebook

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Ilúnica Pale Ale (6.1%) - Cervezas Ilúnica, Castile-La Mancha, Spain

The clocks have sprung forward and the sun has started beating down with quite some vigour on my corner of southeast Spain. We all know there's only one way to adequately refresh yourself on such increasingly warm and sunny days, and what perfect timing it was for my local craft beer shop, Beer Shooter Murcia, to host a beer presentation and meet the brewers session on a splendidly sunlit Friday after work.

Hellín's province of Albacete
within Spain
On offer was a pale ale born in December 2016 that goes by the name of Ilúnica, the very first craft beer to hail from the small central Spanish town of Hellín - another little guy rising up in the face of the all-too-common mass-produced tastelessness that surrounds us all, with the mission of bringing character and flavour to people's beer glasses.

The label features a mystical red-haired female adorned with beer ingredients with the backdrop of a moonlit night sky - a nod to the town's ancient history as the Spanish word for "moon" and the town's name both share the same root. How romantic! 

My 2€ golden amber half-pint poured fresh from the barrel immediately showed signs of promise with fragrant, tropical notes on the nose which had my chops watering before the beer came anywhere near them.

Juan Carlos and Armentario started brewing
at home a few years ago before becoming
fully-fledged master brewers 
Using four different hop varieties it imparts juicy, tropical New World flavours of mango and pineapple along with some pine resin and a hint of citrus, complemented by a clean malty base. While it's packed mainly with New World hops it manages to remain easy-going, something that's well suited to the Spanish climate by being clean and refreshing but at the same time brimming with flavour and depth. 
Tapas prepared by David López Carreño
In fact, Ilúnica's quenching but laid-back character make it very drinkable despite its high ABV, which I only realised a number of glasses in when my legs were slightly wobblier than expected. As the brewers themselves noted endearingly on the night, we Brits like to drink a lot of low-strength beer - and fast - but it was hard not to knock these juicy 6.1% cañas back. 

Luckily on hand to soak up some liquid, in true Spanish style, was a selection of gourmet tapas prepared on site which were a source of intrigue in their own right for me: mince and broccoli pâté tartlets, couscous with cream cheese and crushed cashews, and toasted bread topped with salmon tartare and a drizzle of squid ink and mustard mayonnaise. That's how these guys roll.

Ilúnica pale ale is the first and so far only brew of these two Hellineros that's available, but I'm told they have a number of exciting ideas in the pipeline. Watch this space!

Cervezas Ilúnica on Facebook

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Nine Inch Ale (4.25%) - Redrock Brewing, Johannesburg, GT, South Africa

On a muggy and humid Christmas summer's day, a selection of beers was bestowed upon me and my face lit up with glee. If something about muggy, humid and summer doesn't sound right to you, that's because I spent it way down in the southern hemisphere on the green plateaus of Johannesburg, South Africa. 

With only days until my return to Europe and limited baggage allowance I was faced with the unenviable task of devouring as many of my newly-acquired brews as possible, but one that made it the 6,000 miles back with me was this local creation. 
Gauteng province within South Africa

Have a peek at Red Rock's website and you'll notice that crossing the rock-n-roll ram on the label is a pair of drumsticks, and yet mine, curiously, featured nails in their place. Either way, I was eager to tear off the precautionary explosion-preventative sellotape and see what it was about. 

Cracking the cap off the embossed, uniquely shaped bottle revealed a dark brown rusty-nail coloured liquid topped with an off-white head. On the nose I picked up fragrant earthy notes from the Simcoe hops, which, coupled with the sweet rich caramel malt aromas reminded me of an English bitter with a potent New World twist.

One swig later the hops and malts came at my tongue like drumsticks on a snare drum and mingled with each other like a party of rutting rams: juicy pine resin was joined by hints of smooth mango and lychee to the contrasting backdrop of thick treacle and chewy licorice, ending with a faint, lightly dry black tea finish. The ever developing depth of character and complexity had me making sloppy tongue-clicks the whole way through to savour every tang.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Nine Inch Ale. Rich and unique but very drinkable, it's a lekker dop that'll go a treat with some boerie on the braai.

Appearance 3/5
Aroma 4/5
Mouthfeel 4.5/5
Flavour 4/5
Overall rating 8/10

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Yankee (4.3%) - Rooster's Brewing, North Yorkshire, England

After my first review of 2017, a Yankee pale ale from North Carolina, I bring you an English pale ale called Yankee from North Yorkshire.

In the glass Yankee is a hazy, pale straw colour topped with a lively, bubbly white head that dissipates slowly, like an excitable chicken settling down on a bale of hay for a much needed roost... or a whisked egg white on a bed of yolks... okay, enough chicken analogies; the last one was a bit fowl. 

North Yorkshire within England
It has a gentle but fresh hop aroma with grassy and floral notes, and if you poke your beak about for long enough a faint, sweet whiff of honey adds a nice extra smidgen of depth. 

The floral character is as alive and well in the mouth as it is up the nostrils, along with fruity hints of white grapes and lychees. These delightful, understated hop flavours come together effortlessly, seasoned with some peppery notes, and end with a sweet, toasted biscuit malt finish that lingers around for you to carry on enjoying even once your glass is empty. 

A gentle carbonation leads to a smooth, juicy mouthfeel culminating in a medium-dry finish. Its balanced flavour and sessionable ABV make it highly quaffable, demanding masses of self-restraint, especially if it's to last long enough to take notes on.

All I want in a pale ale is something with character that's easy-drinking, and Yankee exceeded my expectations on both counts. It offers depth, complexity and harmony and yet remains laid-back and understated. Not only could I drink it all day, it left me clucking for more.

Appearance 3.5/5
Aroma 4.5/5
Flavour 4.5/5
Mouthfeel 4.5/5
Overall rating 8.5/10

Rooster's website
Rooster's on Facebook 
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Sunday, 22 January 2017

Dale's Pale Ale (6.5%) - Oskar Blues Brewery, North Carolina, USA

Hoppy New Year! And a hoppy first review of 2017 as I turn to this huge voluminously hopped mutha of a pale ale as it's modestly described on the can.

Yet again because the people around me know exactly what makes me happy, I've developed an almighty stash of craft beers following the Christmas period, hailing from the likes of Scotland to Belgium to South Africa to this one from the US which shot its way out of a Beer Hawk Beer Bullet and right into my sexy new Teku glass. 
North Carolina within the USA

Dale's Pale Ale pours a gorgeous orange-amber with a surging, bubbly off-white head that develops rusty hues on each swirl the likes of which I'd never witnessed before.

I found it surprisingly tame on the nose with nothing more than some citrus and earthy hop notes surfacing gently, which seemed all too Old World for something from the western side of The Pond. I put this down to the beer being excessively cold, having only just removed it from my fridge which on the very same day had managed to turn a pot of hummus into a chickpea ice cream that even the toughest pieces of carrot couldn't penetrate. Sure enough, as the brew warmed up some tropical mango and piney aromas came forward.

If there had been any doubt about the presence of hops, these were decisively quashed on my first sip when my tongue was overrun with zesty, citrus grapefruit and orange peel bitterness, with only a vague hint of the sweeter, tropical hops. The bitter hop flavours linger on the back of the tongue along with an alcoholic warmth and lead to a dry finish. The hops aren't the only star of the show as you might be led to expect, though, with a robust toasted biscuit caramel malt backing pushing through for some balance along the way.

This beer had struck me as a popular choice after seeing it pop up occasionally on my Instagram feed, so I was drawn to BeerAdvocate to see what the rest of the Beer World thought and it turns out that I'm massively at odds with most others on this one. 

For a moment I wondered whether 18 months of heavily limited access to top-fermented beers and their many new experimental varieties on account of my moving to Spain had deadened my taste buds so much that the exotic nature of Dale's Pale Ale had become too much to handle. 

In truth, though, I'm no stranger to brash, hop-forward American Pale Ales. Something about the combination of bitter citrus hops, the high ABV and used-teabag dryness just didn't make it the easy-drinker that I'd hoped for. An alright sipper that I'd gladly revisit, but I'm puzzled by the hype.

Appearance 4/5
Aroma 3.5/5
Flavour 3/5
Mouthfeel 2.5/5
Overall 6.5/10

What do YOU think of Dale's Pale Ale? Comment below, on Facebook or Instagram.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Pajiza Black (4.5%) - Trinitaria, Murcia, Spain

Just over a year since moving to the predominantly cold and wet northwest Spanish region of Galicia and after a brief stint back in Blighty, I've migrated back to a very different part of the Ibeerian Peninsula: the contrastingly arid and scorched plains of Murcia. 

My path to accommodation was a desperate one, one which involved me pacing the length and breadth of the city of Murcia in over 30-degree heat for no fewer than three full weeks. But once I'd secured a roof over my head, I had the chance to explore my new neighbourhood at my own leisure, and one particular establishment I was delighted to have found, a mere few minutes away on foot, was a shop specialising in craft beer. And what with all that walking, I had worked up quite a thirst.

My first and only, highly-disciplined single purchase was a deliberately local one in the spirit of celebrating my new region. Pajiza Black (or "black straw" as far as I can deduce) comes from a small Murcian town called Torre-Pacheco, and as the brewers are keen to point out is the very first dark beer, inspired by Irish dry stouts, to have hailed from the town (although that's perhaps not such a surprise being the town's only brewery).

As promised it pours an inky jet-black, although less expectedly an almighty, bubbling cappuccino-coloured head erupts before slowly fizzling down to a gorgeous, spiralling, creamy, foamy layer. To enjoy the spectacle again, a little swirl of the glass is all it takes to reactivate it for your viewing pleasure.

Having released the brew's aromas following all that swirling action, bitter coffee and dark chocolate are present on the nose from the dark roasted malts, subtle though they might be. 

Going in for a slurp, the bitter flavours of dark roasted malts are accompanied by a creamy backing that call to mind a café con leche, complimented by a hint of hazelnut that comes through gently. Just when you thought that was it, a potent, bright citrus hop lifts the palate bringing in a refreshing, fruity finish.

While it could do with being ever so slightly smoother, this medium-bodied dry stout remains highly quaffable, helped by the modest ABV.

In a climate with a year-round average daily high of 25 degrees it's a wonder that there could be any demand for dark, top-fermented beers, but the clever use of malts and hops give it a character that sets it apart from your typical stout, and on a muggy October evening as a first experience of a Murcian small-batch beer, it went down well with me. 

Appearance 5/5 
Aroma 2/5
Flavour 3.5/5
Mouthfeel 3/5 
Overall rating 7/10

Trinitaria's website
Trinitaria on Facebook
Trinitaria on TV:

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Lugo's 3rd Beer Fest: Feira da Cervexa Artesá 2016

On a summery Friday in May in LugoGalicia, Spain, in a region dominated by the mass produced Estrella Galicia, a tent is erected where more than a dozen breweries from the region as well as the neighbouring province of León set up and showcase nearly 80 artisan beers between them. 

This was Lugo's 3rd craft beer festival, and what with its relative youthfulness as beer festivals go it might seem as if the town of Lugo has been slow on the uptake where organising such an event is concerned compared with the rest of the beer-drinking world. It was obvious on approaching the bustling tent, however, that they've caught up at astonishing speed and there'll be no stopping them now.

The oldest of the breweries among them was founded as long ago as 2008, but the newest this very year. The explosion in craft brewing in this part of the world mirrors exactly what's been going on all over, and for such a modestly sized town as Lugo, it's impressive that five of the breweries alone hail from right here. It's clear that even in this unassuming corner of Green Spain the little man is rising up, and he's getting thirsty for something with flavour.

Even over a period of three days it would have been a tall order to sample all 80 brews; in the two days I went even more so. But by gum I gave it my best shot, and here is what I discovered...

Hipsteria Red Hoppy Juice (6%) – Cata Craft! GypsyBrewery – Ponferrada
The eye-catching branding from these guys caught my eye straight away and was more or less the reason why I dived into their offerings first. I’m pleased to say my unashamedly superficial approach paid off. Juicy piney aromas wafted up from this ruby coloured beaut. Its huge hop profile has the sweet juicy tropical flavours of mango and pine resin, but a blast of bitter citrus tears through leaving a distinct grapefruit aftertaste. This New World inspired brew is punchy but with style. 4/5

APA (5.5%) – Belecker – Léon
This pale ale pours a golden colour with a stunning creamy head. It’s exceptionally smooth on the palate and imparts a clean, gentle floral flavour. This is a sessionable quencher for a summer’s day. 3/5

Atlantic IPA (6%) – Faxilda – Vilaboa
This guy pours amber with juicy pine notes that achieve some balance in an otherwise bitter hop profile. The dry, bitter finish makes for a refreshing brew. 3/5

Castaña Asada (7.1%) – Santo Cristo – Ourense
This dark amber ale brewed with roasted chestnuts offers a whole host of deep, rich malty flavours. Nutty, caramel biscuit malts are accompanied by rum truffles owing to the combination of dark roasted malts and the high ABV. This is a warming treat that any brown ale fan should be happy to get their chops around. 4.5/5

Punch IPA (6%) – Ancora – Ourense
The clue is in the name with this one. With one sip the boxer on the label slides into your mouth and batters your tongue with his grapefruity gloves. Bitter, bitter, bitter citrus flavours with some earthy qualities and a clean finish. 2.5/5

San Diego Imperial Smoked Hot Chili Black Indian (8%) – Cata Craft! Gypsy Brewery – Ponferrada
This brewery seems to like throwing lots of words into its beers but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t pique my curiosity. This gorgeous stout-coloured beer with a cappuccino head delivers a prickle on the tongue, although not excessively, which will please you or not depending on your tastes and expectations. Further into the glass the distinct flavour of real chilis comes to the fore, although the smokiness doesn't quite emerge. If nothing else, it’s a stout with a kick. 2.5/5

Loura (4.2%) – Bubela – Lugo

This tame little guy is clean and refreshing with delicate herbal and floral hints but a tad lacking when it comes to depth. But if their beer doesn’t cut it for you, they also specialise in their own pasta... 2/5

Bitter Pan (8%) Kel’s – Coruña
With a fragrant citrus hop profile this strong IPA boasts a robust malty caramel base to match. The high ABV imparts a spirity alcoholic backdrop which compromises the quaffability. 2.5/5

Spelt Ale (5%) – Vacaloura – Nigrán
Spelt ale was a first for me. While this cloudy golden brew had some herbal and grassy notes, I noticed a lack of banana flavours you normally get from wheat beers. Then again, should I have expected that from a spelt ale? Either way, it was drinkable and refreshing overall. 2.5/5

Brown Ale (5.5%) – Saramagal – Pontevedra

Caramel biscuit malts are what you mainly get from this, just as you'd hope to from a brown ale, making it nicely sweet on the whole. 2.5/5

Faisca Irish red ale (5.3%) – Faxilda – Vilaboa

And lastly but not leastly, although note-taking was becoming something of a challenge by this point, my main observation seemed to be that it was very drinkable with a predominantly malty but balanced flavour. Not the most detailed of reviews, but I seemed to find it more pertinent to note that although the brewery is based in Vilaboa in Galicia, the brewer is Basque. How about that? 3/5

It was refreshing to see that while most of the breweries were from Galicia, the influences came from far and wide with inspiration from the US, Ireland and Scotland to name a few places. What remained strictly Galician, however, was the second most important thing at any beer festival: the food.

There was an impressive set-up in the grub department, with a selection that I'm willing to bet you wouldn't expect to see wherever you're reading from. Local pastries and empanadas (Galician pies), churrasco (barbecued ribs), lacón ham and Padrón peppers and - wait for it - octopus were all on offer. That's right, there wasn't a hamburger in sight.

The culinary delights on offer were expertly prepared in the traditional ways and served up in portions big enough for two. That's not because the locals are particularly greedy, but for the opposite reason that it'd be unusual to order a dish and not share it.

Hand-held food being something of an unseemly concept for Galicians (with allowances being made for churros and chips) the dining experience was very much a sit-down affair. A separate tent provided long tables for taking some time out from the beery madness, and lining your stomach for the next round.

I personally opted for the ribs, which went down very nicely with a Punch IPA. And yes, I shared them.

My Lugo journey will be over long before their beer fest turns four, but if I have any reason to return for a long weekend then I have a feeling that that'll be it. Watch this space! \~/