For the uninitiated, Bosteels Brewery's Pauwel Kwak beer can be quite a confusing beer. Even for connoisseurs, Kwak is decidedly, well, different.
One glance at its signature drinking glass with its wooden stand and handle is enough to tell most that they are in store for a unique beer. I tried Kwak about a year back for the first time in the 330ml bottles, and now the 750ml corked bottle, brought back from Brussels in 2004. The two tastings differed quite strikingly, the corked bottle giving much more carbonation and alcohol in the taste, and less of the distinctive maltiness from the large bottle as well. 4-packs of Kwak are available in Alberta, some coming with the glass, designed so that Belgian coachmen could quench their thirst while remaining in the coach. Looking through beer reviews seems to show quite a wide range of opinions on this beer with no middle ground - people either praise it highly or harshly criticise it.
This much is certain: Kwak must be tried. And tried again. I admit I was not overly satisfied with my first glass of the stuff; when I tried it a year later I wondered at myself for not buying it more regularly. Antitypical, unique even by Belgian standards, and highly complex, this rates highly.
I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body's liquid reserves.
I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young's and Fuller's, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.
Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young's local on a side street. Young's have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature - what critics of British beer call "warm beer", this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer.
A few minutes walk to the Fuller's pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I've been there before). The new ale from Fuller's is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller's, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller's, this is "brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish."
It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with "zesty" being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young's launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont't want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.
If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi - if it's not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on http://www.youngs.co.uk and http://www.fullers.co.uk, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young's even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert's Beer Blog.
Good use of a sideboard - click the images
A real surprise was in store when I hit the LCBO the other day preparing for a dinner party on a stinking hot summer Saturday. They had actually brought in a bunch of extra hefeweizens, southern German wheat ales with a measure of yeast left in.
- Rogue Half-E-Weizen: a loose rich white head falls to a white skim leaving generous lace over a slightly cloudly yellow straw body. Corriander and hops balance well, their bittering leaving some astringency while the lightly creamy yeast with its presence of banana intercedes. A medium light version of the style without the German committment to full bore clovey creamy goodness. $5.05 for a 22 oz bottle.
- Erdinger Weizen: I am a little unsure if this is a real hefeweizen as the labelling is "weissen" but the little neck sash says "mit feiner hefe in der flasche gerfeift" which in my hack German I take as "with fine yeast left in the bottle". Even with that the nature of this beer still leaves me wondering a bit. White foam over cloudy yellow leaving no lacing. Light body without the phenols of banana or spice that indicate the style. A clean cream yeast without complexity but very refreshing.
- Schneider Weisse: This is the business. One of my favorite beers that for some reason screams "lunch" with a cold cut sandwhich. How many things scream that in life? It is rich and creamy good with lots of cloves and banana. A fine white head over medium brown with almost a greyish tinge. As befits the style, very moreish and heat-wave cutting.
- Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen: this hefeweizen pours a tall egg white meringue over cloudy straw ale. A layer of hop astringency cuts and to a degree hides the yeasty phenols of banana and clovey nutmeg. Not as rich as others from Germany in the style though richer than the American cousins here. Lemony grapefruit in the finish.
- Edelweiss Weissbier Hefetrüb: white foam over dark yellow or light brown cloudy ale. Simply lovely. Lighter than the Schneider Weisse with a lemony brightness it does not share. Clove aroma and banana-clove in the mouth. The brewery has had only 530 years to get it right. Clean finish with a nice drying hop astringency.
- Saranac Hefeweizen:I am quite surprised by the quality of this beer. Not as creamy a yeast strain as the others but much truer than the other US version of the style from Rogue above and Harpoon's version tasted in April. It would be worth comparing to Paper City's Cabot Street. White fine rocky head over cloudy straw coloured beer. Quite pronounced clove over banana. Worthy yet the label says limited edition.
- Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse: The last of this set, perfect on a summer warm evening with a game from Fenway on the tubes, soothing to aches and pains from old timers soccer. Niether lemony or particularly creamy, this is quite a grainy rendition of the style with both banana and clove as supporting class. Massive rich white head over cloudy dark straw beer verging on orangey. There is something savory as well in the palate, making me thing of soaking a pork roast in this one. Of the selection above, most like the Rogue with that beer's untraditional use of corriander but the notes of spice here are in the yeast. Another amazing expression and, for what it is worth, one of the best logos in all of commerical trade.
Sibling to the Floris Chocolate that Myrick ran into in Shanghai, cousin to the Delirium Tremens I had at New Year's, this 4.5% Belgian white ale is what you imagine mead would be like. A white lacey head over pale yellow. Very rich milky yeast with antique sweet green hop melding with profound honey and a slight edge of grain. Really quite astoundingly full of honey. Click pic.
New this week at the LCBO along with a raft of hefe-weizens soon to be reviewed.
We visited the Sackets Harbor Brewing Co. in the North Country of New York State last weekend. Sitting at the eastern end of Lake Ontario in the bay that once saw one-half of the US navy located there around two hundred years ago, the brew pub is in one of the prettiest settings around for a glass of real ale. It is also one of the smallest brew pubs I have ever seen. The building set on the waterfront next to a marina is divided into a pub side and a dining side with their DME brewing equipment set up in the front with a view from the pub. There is also a patio on the marina side.
We really didn't take in the full range of the beers offered as we were in the middle of a day long Father's Day upstate road trip with two little kids in tow but that is ofter a good measure of the capability of a pub. It was kid friendly if only because of the active harbour out the window of the dining room - count the boats, kids. While that was going on, I had their stout which I was really pleased with - full of flavour with a bit of chocolate and a bit on minty hops over a clean milky yeast. We also tried a half pint of a cherry wheat which was clean and refreshing with a solid cherry flavour which leaned a bit towards cherry pie as opposed to cherry picked off the tree.
Three advocatonians have visited and reported.
¹ 29 Dec. 2006: I have two left in the stash now and can confirm they are quite lovely session ambers. I will do a proper review soon.
This is an interesting motive for creating a new beer:
Protestors hope a new beer will boost their campaign against night flights at Nottingham East Midlands Airport. They have launched a beer from Belvoir Brewery called Nightcap to raise awareness of their concerns. New flight paths were introduced at the airport in May after a consultation process, but some residents say noise is still a problem. Steve Charlish says the beer is another way to put forward their concerns in "a serious but simple manner".This is an example of "contract brewing," a far more common practice than is usually thought. Brewers with excess capacity will take on the brewing and packaging of the beers of others for a fee. In theory, we each could have the beers we want made to our own specifications for sale to ourselves.
Another from the 100 Barrel Series from Harpoon of Boston, this Maibock is a nice malty expression of the bock without a heavy level of hops...and without that nice goat usually found on the label of a bock. The beer pours a nice caramel with a rich thick tan head that leaves an inordinate amount of lacing. Great sweet malt nose becomes greater apply raisiny sweet round malt mouthful with a faint fog of smoke.
Even cold from the fridge there is a strong cutting bitter hop edge with some green but no metallic. Like the Salvator, something of a Scots heavy feel to it, even in the sense that there might be some roast barley there in that bittering edge but without that tell-tale accompanying red tinge to the brew.