Witbier, blonde, amber: the standard trinity of styles put out by lots of middling Belgian breweries, where back-of-an-envelope market analysis trumps imagination and individuality every time. The Ghent City Brewery have also gone for the same three, but opted to make one significant change to the well-worn recipes: the removal of hops.
Presenting the Gruut range from Gentse Stadsbrouwerij: three plain looking Belgian beers with a slight twist. Gruut Witbier is a very pale and watery-looking yellow, the whitest wit I've seen. The aroma is normal enough: light spices like coriander, nothing unusual for this sort of beer. There's definitely something different going on on the palate, though. I get ginger up front, and lots of elderflower plus some light liquorice. The body is quite full, and leaves a sweet sticky sensation after swallowing. Despite this, it's an ideal summer refresher. And skunk-proof too.
On to Gruut Blond next. Lots of foam from this as it pours, the thick head atop a barely translucent yellow-amber body. A mildly chemical, chlorinated nose, but altogether more natural tasting. I get honey and jasmine plus a finishing bitter tang from the yeast. Though a mere 5.5% ABV, this feels lushly unctuous and is best enjoyed as a sipper. Too fast and it could turn sickly, I fear. Granted, if you're not a fan of sweet and thick Belgian blonde ales this probably won't float your boat either, but I think there's enough interesting and different things going on in here to make it worth a try. That's always the joy of unhopped beer.
After the haziness of the previous two, Gruut Amber's clarity was a surprise. It's rather more one-dimensional than the others: all caramel with only a tiny herbal piquancy stopping it from becoming an undrinkable sugar bomb. As a winter warmer it might fly: there's quite a bit of booze to the flavour and it's 6.6% ABV. On the patio of a sunny afternoon, however, it doesn't hit the spot.
These three are an interesting aside to mainstream Belgian beer styles and worth a look if you fancy something different, but not too different. In the absence of an efficient bittering agent, however, be prepared for a rather sweet experience.