09 April 2007

Hymn to the Brown Café

I'm just back from a few days in the Netherlands, reacquainting myself with their fantastic brown café bars and the endless variety of Low Countries beer on offer.

This post is partly to introduce some new beers, but also to put in a proper entry on ones I haven't mentioned. Corsendonk Pater, for instance, is a fairly common abbey beer, deep brown with a slightly odd bittersweet flavour. St. Feuillien Brune is lighter, drier and fizzier, almost geuze-like, despite a full 7.5% alcohol and the characteristic caramel sweetness of this kind of ale. Affligem Dubbel, in my opinion, is a step down: a promising spicy foretaste is followed up with nothing much, just a dryness lacking any fruit flavour or the warmth of a well-rounded ale. Most disappointing of the abbey beers, however, was Maredsous 6: an amber ale which, by Belgian standards, is almost tasteless.

Last summer I visited De Halve Maan in Bruges and was surprised that they weren't selling Straffe Hendrik. I found it in Delft, however, featuring the half moon on the label but no mention of the brewery: the beer is made elsewhere by Liefman's. Straffe Hendrik is a fizzy, orange-coloured ale, fairly dry, but with fruity aromatic overtones. La Chouffe is actually made in a small brewery and is another golden ale. It's tasty but unchallenging at first, gradually building a peppery aftertaste as it warms.

St. Louis Kriek was a new one on me and quite a pleasant find. It's one of the lighter krieks, akin to Timmerman's, with a sweet kirsch-like aroma. Conversely, I knew Hoegaarden's winter beer Verboten Vrucht from old, but hadn't tasted it in years. I was a little disappointed, finding the taste of dried fruit a touch off-putting, especially since it lacked the roundness one would expect with a matured beer like this. Instead, it finishes up rather sharp.

On the subject of Belgian giants, I bought a Palm just to try it for the first time in ages. It's extremely ubiquitous in Belgium and the Netherlands and is really quite good. It's a frothy amber light ale (though at 5.2% not exactly light by most ale standards) and carries a fairly pleasant sugary aftertaste. It's not a beer that requires concentration, but it's well put together all the same. Palm also make a stronger version called Royale - the same colour but a richer sweeter, smoother taste. Perhaps a little too refined, in fact.

One of the big local breweries in the south Netherlands is Gulpener. They make a strong but easy-drinking superlager called Gladiator which has the same syrupy taste as most of this sort. Korenwolf (the name means "hamster", apparently) is their wheat beer, and rather better. It has a good nose and good spice, but finishes rather dry - not as dry as the French like it, but a fair bit drier than the Belgian witbier norm.

One thing I was really looking forward to on the trip was some oud bruin. I don't know what the target market is for this quintessential Dutch beer-style: oud bruins are very low in alcohol, deep brown in colour and candy-caramel-sweet. Brand Oud Bruin is rather poor, tasting of saccharine in spades, but slightly redeemed by a subtle smoke flavour. Heineken Oud Bruin is streets ahead: incredibly smooth and easy-drinking. I just wish it came in bottles bigger than 30cl.


  1. If you're looking to revisit some of those now your back home the Korenwolf can sometimes be found in Sainsburys, and must say I usually buy a few bottles when I see it. Lovely stuff. I think I've seen the Chouffe there as well.
    The Vineyard in Belfast, which I've mentioned before, had one of the Corsendonk ones.
    I just don't get these fruit beers so beloved in Holland and Belgium. Admittedly I've only tried the one but it really was one of the foullest beers I've ever tasted, a Belgian Kriek one.

  2. Alas we don't have Sainsbury's here. Even if we did they probably wouldn't stock interesting beer, given the abysmal selection of beer to be found in an Irish Tesco compared to the UK equivalent. Globalisation how are yeh...