It's certainly a dilemma that I have, trying to record and describe the taste characteristics of beer objectively. Those familiar with British TV and with the wine journalist Jilly Goulden might be tempted to inject some of her spirit into the proceedings and use adjectives like 'rubber tyres' and 'sweaty socks' but for me such outlandish descriptions never quite work, so I was very glad to discover the Beer Academy's Beer Flavour Wheel. The Beer Academy, started by The Beer Education Trust, offers courses on a wide range of beer education topics:
"Beer is a wildly sensuous brew, but most drinkers fail to appreciate the massive range of colours, styles, flavours, textures, carbonations and abvs now available in Britain. This is something the Beer Academy is determined to help change.Over 100 different flavours, in beers from around the world, have been identified by flavour experts. These flavours have been arranged in the form of the Flavour Wheel. A sort of cross between a pie-chart and a list. I hope that, like me, you will find this a useful tool. The wheel can be found at the website of The Beer Academy.
These flavour terms are used by beer tasters internationally to describe the beer flavour and to control product consistency. In fact it was such a good idea that is has now been stolen by the wine and whisky industries who have developed their own flavour wheels!
Like rich earthy select late vintage riesling...but not. A triple fermentation leaves a bare and hot drink like a medium bodied cider...but not. These five bottles challenge the ability of a sipper to find a place in the beer pantheon for them. Rajotte describes the style in his book Belgian Ale as folllow:
It is pale in colour usually only made with only pale, Pils-type malt and a judicious addition (up to about 25 percent of the total extract) of either glucose or candi sugar in the brew kettle. Its alcholic strength will vary between 7 to 10 percent v/v...These beers have a light, malty nose that can at times be neutral or have a faint aroma of hops.
- La Fin Du Monde: 9%, 750 ml from Unibroue. The first impression this big beer gives is of candy floss and while pepper. A big snowy foam head fills the glass and falls back leaving tracks of foam. There is a slight empire biscuit suggestion of cherry in the heat - a hint of kirsch which could also be orange peel. Then the white pepper opens up to a nice white grape juiciness with castor sugar and a fresh french bread stick with the pale Belgian malt and the fine yeast. A swirl of the last pour of from the 750 ml gives a boost to citrus notes, lemony like witte. Beer Advocators call it a strong pale and praise.
- Petrus Triple: From Bavik in Belgium. Massive candy floss smelling merange head collapses back. Not as finely beaded as the Fin Du Monde. The first taste is malt, hop and candied sugar and under it, where the Fin Du Monde had cherry, the one has pear. Not as hot and peppery. Balanced and sneaky. Light for the style at 7.5% in a 250 ml bottle, Michael Jackson notes that a very small amount of corriander is used in combination with Czech Saaz hops. Nice (often a curse): a good enough introduction to triples but not particularly profound. Advocatonians are not thrilled.
- Bornem Triple: 9%, 330 ml. This brew again surprises as it is better than the Bornem dubble which was much better than the Bornem amber. It is the most witte like triple I have had - even at this level of alcohol there is comparatively less heat and more spice and orange peel than the previous triples discussed above. Something of a dried peach note in the middle. It has fairly active carbonation and a nicely balanced bright mouthfeel. The finish has a very pronounced pale malt graininess which is no doubt enhanced by thoughtful hop selection. I appear to be at odds with the beer advocate consensus but I find this quite good, if perhaps a bit too flavourful and not candiflossy enough for the style. The brewery has a useful webpage on this brand of theirs which explains:
A 'triple' means that the brewer uses three times as much malt in the brew kettle as for a regular beer. A Triple used to be reserved for the Bishop or for Father Abbot. And you can bet they knew a good thing when they tasted it.Useful wisdom I had not picked up before.
- Augustijn: 8%, 330 ml. By the same brewer as Bornem which says that is has been brewed since 1295, taken over by this commercial brewer only in 1982 - "at which time the flavor was also adjusted"...oh, good. Why not jig a recipe that has lasted a mere 687 years? It may not quite qualify as a triple, though fairly favouring reviewers at the Beer Advocate classifies it as such.
So what is it? There is little candiflossiness that I would think required for being called a triple. There is a much bigger pale malty profile than in the other triples. It is, however, very moreish even at this strength. I suppose when your country requires an ale to be over 10% before it will be called "strong," this sort of beer is a bit light...ok - lighter. It is a really pleasant sip: quite actively carbonated, lemony, spicey and tart, dry and fruity pale malt core. The yeast is creamy but subordinate to the malt. Nicely laced glass.
- Chimay Blue: 9%, 330 ml. The error is entirely mine. Not a triple. I recall two years ago, in February 2003, after over 2000 km driving from the Maritimes to Kingston and half way back in about 48 hours, I had three small bottles of Chimay bought in the excellent Riviere du Loup SAQ: one red, one blue and one white. I had recalled wrongly that the blue was the triple. It is in fact a dark strong Belgians which I discussed a few weeks ago. I will add my notes there.
One of the cornerstones of my enthusiasm for brewing comes from the fact that I have brewed for years, though I am on a break from it now that I am a happy apartment dweller. One of the best ways to pick up some of the information that the homebrewer gets through hands on experience with the zymurgistic is to find a copy of J.S. Hough's short book The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing a 1985 text by a University of Birmingham (England) professor. This is no laugh riot or a exciting romp but a lightish scientific work which tells you all you need to know to start understanding how a continuous fermentation brewery works, why one barley is better than or different from another, what happens when water is softened or hardened. Who can pass up a book with a figure 8.2 called "the tricarboxylic acid, or Krebs, cycle used for aerobic meabolism of the products of the glycolytic pathway". It's like Organic Chemistry for Dummies illustrated entirely in beer-related drawings, a crash course in that BSc nerd-world which you will again be assured was well worth skipping in favour of a drifter arts degree. It will make you smarter about your brew.
What a busy day or so. You come fourth in the blog awards and the world is your oyster:
- Two new authors have asked for admittance into the collegium that are the correspondents to this blog, Michael in Atlanta, USA and Matthew in Osaka, Japan. As always, the demands of correspondents are at their own leisure so we look forward to contributions when the moment is right.
- Word has been passed of the operations of Church Key Brewing of Campbellford, Ontario, about 125 km to the west-north-west of Kingston. This may bear investigations - especially of their their chocolate porter.
- The Spitfire Arms Alehouse of Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada has contacted us and we may be able to arrange a visitation by our man in Halifax, Mike. The Spitfire Arms has 17 lines in total, including two Handpumps featuring cask conditioned real ales from the Granite Brewery, Halifax and normally stocks 80-120 different beers from around the world. Look for reports in the next wee while.
- and one kind reader wrote just to tell us of three great pubs - two in Toronto and one in the UK. The first is C'est What in Toronto and their cask conditioned Best Bitter and County Ale by Wellington. The second is also in Toronto, the Rebel House which has a decent variety of micro brews. The third is the best pub for cask conditioned ale he's ever come across - the Wenlock Arms in London, England with its ever-changing list of Cask conditioned ales and farmhouse cider and really good salt-beef sandwiches.
A big thanks to all of you who voted for A Good Beer Blog which came fourth in the non-political blog category in the 2004 Canadian Blog Awards. Next year, the podium!
I received an email from Jim Curtis of Chicago who writes:
Hey beerbloggers,As a lapsed rural Canadian homebrewer of some note in the circles whose thirst I fed and no farther, I was dependent on beer making mail order supplies which I shipped in from either 150 miles away or even 2000 miles away. My main supplier was Saskatchewan's Paddock Wood and the shipping of quality goods made all the difference - especially PWB cleaner and San Star sterilizer. I notice that Jim stocks both - that's good. I quite like the set up of the web page which allows, for example, one page buying of a large variety of grains as opposed to use of a page per item. Mmmm....Vienna malt...120L crystal malts. I could grind up some of that to sprinkle on ice cream right now.
My name is Jim Curtis and I'm a homebrewer from the west suburbs of Chicago. I have a general beer and brewpub info site at www.beer100.com. I have just quit my government job and opened a brewing shop in Wheeling, IL. The site for that is www.perfectbrewing.com
Just thought you might be interested in a guy who quit a job that was easy money for life to sell bags of hops and barley.
Reports from the frontlines, Jim. Send us a story about a trip to the wholesalers or your efforts to build client base. It is all good and interesting stuff.
This is a very pleasant pastime this comparison of Belgians which is already into its third month. To say pacing is required is more than stating the obvious. These are big big beers with two of today's selection coming in at over 10%. Good reason to have a get together.
Just as one observation on the photos I like to add to these posts, this was a very hard grouping to shoot as the paint on the Terrible by Unibroue is actually mirroring silver while the bottle is black glass. There was no way around using the flash, which I do not think provides you with the best photo of glass. So that being noted, here are my notes on the three examples of this style I have gathered:
- Gulden Draak: A true Belgian, 10.5% 330 ml from a variety six-pack from Van Steenberge sold during the pre-Yule rush by the LCBO. The first thing you notice is the malty heat from the dark candi sugar - tastes of fig, pepper and prune. Also, it is surprisingly juicy very nice, grapy and there is a bit of milk chocolate truffle in the centre. Unlike a dubble there is no burlap or oaken notes or orange peel and spice. This is all about the malt, like a barleywine stripped of the English hops. The yeast is prominant as well, butter pastry and cream. It is all like a tart of prunes with whipping cream dolloped on top. The hops balance rather than cut the malt, providing structure but it is all about the malt. Advocates say yeah.
- Dogfish Raison D'Etre: An entry from Dogfish Head of Delaware in the USA, this beer is 8% and 12 oz. sold by the single bottle at the LCBO. This one is lighter and somewhat reliant on the addition of grape juice to the beer but the result is surprisingly similar to the Gulden Draak. The yeast is bready rather than pie crusty and the hops are even more subdued. The rich core is more about dried apple more than prune. With its fairly soft water profile and relative simplicity it is still very pleasant. I am coming to think that these beers are also like Scotch heavy ales without the smoke of the barley and that northern strian of ale yeast. Soft blankets of malt. Some advocates disappprove citing poor head and thinness yet it was awarded American Beer of the Year 2000. Can't we all just get along?
- Unibroue Terrible: Canada's entry is again fantastic - lush, juicy and more-ish. Amazingly, at 10.5%, there is no heat. I am recalling that Terrible is less complex as well than the Unibroue's Trois Pistoles, their other Belgian dark strong ale. [By the way - imagine a brewer in North America selling two Belgian dark strong ales. I hope Sleeman knows what it bought.] There is some orange but it is more as juice than peel. Big malt but the least signs of dark candi sugar than the Gulden Draak or Dogfish. A little figgy, a little leathery, smooth. Some dried cocoa like a can of powder for baking - dusty and light. Perhaps a recollection of black cherry. The yeast is milky rather than butter or cream - not rich and it adds to the juiciness. Hops again are structural rather than bitter. BAers approve as all but one.
I will leave this up top for a while. You can vote for A Good Beer Blog at the 2004 Canadian Blog Awards. Please do. And you are right..it is 2005. But think of all the good we did up to a few days ago.
Update: Please also add your nomination for A Good Beer Blog for the 2005 Bloggies as Best Topical blog. Many thanks.