15 December 2008

Belge-yum

Saison Dupont is one of those beers that gets mentioned now and again in connoisseur circles as a reference point for its style. I happened to pick up a bottle for the princely sum of €1.60 last time I was through Amsterdam and I opened it yesterday. Pouring was a struggle, with uncomfortable quantities of foam disappearing down the sink before I got a glass near. This undid any settling work that had happened over the past few months, and the pale amber beer was rife with suspended yeast bits which never really got round to calming down again.

For all the fuss, it's quite an ordinary beer at the end: a little thin and laced with mildly sour, typically Belgian, ale flavours. One of the best features is a warmth that rivals much stronger beers, despite it only having 6.5% ABV, but there's no real dominant or domineering flavour. I guess there would be something wrong with a traditional rustic "farmhouse" beer that was mind-blowing, however I still enjoyed this, understated and all that it is. I'd pay more than €1.60 a bottle anyway.

From saison to lambic, and one from the Cantillon stable. I do love the way their small bottles feature both a cap and a cork -- ain't nuthin' getting out of there until you're ready for it. Standard Cantillon Gueuze is one of my favourite beers and I spent a while trying to figure out what makes Iris different. It's sharper and earthier but I couldn't figure out how this was achieved. A little research tells me that Iris is made using fresh hops, rather than the dried, aged, tame ones in the Gueuze.

It's still far from anything you'd call "hoppy", though: the end result is still sour and lip-smacking, but instead of a smooth and genteel buzz, the effect is much more intense. Blending is everything with gueuze, rounding out the intense flavours. I'm sure Iris is blended too, but the edges are very much still on here. On balance I think I'd go back to the mellower version next time.

Last up is something darker and stronger. My bottle of Pannepot Grand Reserva is dated 2005 (it's the same beer Alan enjoyed a couple of months back) and claims 22 months of wood aging, 8 of them on calvados barrels. All that sitting about has created red-brown ale with just a faint fizz to it. The aged boozy apples are definitely present in the aroma and into the first sip. Otherwise this is quite a sweet candy-caramel ale with definite fresh wood overtones amongst the echoes of cherry liqueur chocolates. The fruit and sugar sweetness go a long way to hide the 10% ABV: it's neither a warmer nor a cloyer. If it wasn't so intense I might even go so far as describing it as light. However, it's definitely a taste sensation, and not the kind of thing I associate with Belgium at all.

Another observation from the Obvious File, perhaps, but it's great that Belgium's beers continue to educate and surprise me, even after I've had quite a few of them. I'll keep going, I think.

6 comments:

  1. I think the Iris has about half aged hops and half fresh hops. It also has an all-barley grainbill, while the Gueuze uses a fair amount of wheat.

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  2. That makes sense, thanks Joe.

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  3. Hi Joe, I though Gueuze was a wheat beer?

    Nice selection of beer's beer nut

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  4. Most versions are (I think), but the Iris is an exception.

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  5. Looks like you are right Joe ,100% pale ale malt

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  6. It's unusual that you get a little sour note with the smaller Saison Dupont bottle. I've heard that for some reason the brewery's smaller bottles are not always consistent (possible an issue with cleaning them). For the true Saison Dupont character IMO you want the bigger bottle, but since it's a greenie it hopefully hasn't been skunked.

    It's my favorite beer in the world, but it's slightly tricky to get in proper condition. Especially abroad, I guess.

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