To the Bitter End

Let me throw some fancy words around.  Saison.  Witbier.  Gueuze.  Flanders.  Dubbel.  Now that you have either been mildly impressed, utterly confused or suitably enticed, I will continue.  Beer.  Belgian beer to be specific.  You may even be familiar with a Belgian beer or two that has managed to cross into our country: Leffe, Kriek, Hoegaarden, La Chouffe and Chimay.

The Salone del Gusto workshop was led by Lorenzo Dabove and Luca Giaccone.  We would spend the afternoon sipping our way through the new trend of increasingly bitter Belgian beers using American hops that were potentially revolutionizing the country’s beerscape.  The gentlemen carefully selected an array of beers that they believed to not be overstated or trying too hard.  In my opinion they did a phenomenal job.

Lorenzo Dabove is a familiar face to me at this festival, usually popping up anytime I have a beer in my hand.  He will jokingly tell you that beer is part of his DNA, but the more you get to know him, that may not seem to be such an absurd statement.  When asked about the other beers in other European countries, he also jests that with all due respect France and Switzerland are merely a bridge from Italy to Belgium.  Belgium, the land of empty streets and full bars as he describes it.  One day I will invite Mr. Dabove for drinks.

Belgian beers taste of influence due to the country’s geographical position between Latin and Germanic Europe.  A very broad definition could be made by naming some general characteristics of Belgian beers.  They are generally brewed with high-quality water using a multi-step mash system and bottle conditioned which leads to highly carbonated beers with a thick mousse like foam head.  Spices are sometimes added but for complexity purposes not so that a brew will taste of said spice.  Even with all that said, there are numerous Belgian beers that fall outside of this definition.

Here are my thoughts on the selection from the workshop:

My top 3
– De Ranke XXX Bitter (6%) from Brouwerij De Ranke
– Rulles Estivale (5.2%) from Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles
– Contreras Valeir Extra (6.5%) from Contreras

Favorite aroma
– De Dolle Arabier (8%) from De Dolle Brouwers

Verzet Oud Bruin (6%) from Brouwers Verzet
Considered by the brewery as their most important beer, this brew is crafted with a mixture of ‘old’ brown beer aged 6 months in oak and “young” brown beer.  My glass presented a small amount of sediment (which doesn’t bother me in the slightest), it had a fruity tart aroma, lacked foam and covered the palate with a soft sharpness.
[Scores 81 on Beer Advocate]

Rulles Estivale (5.2%) from Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles
Coming from a brewery that proudly created unspiced beers, this one in particular was a beautiful showcase of their hops choices.  This beer had a beautiful honey color and presented a very nice clarity.  The bitter notes were pleasant on the tongue working remarkably well with its lasting citrus note.  A very balanced beer if I do say so myself, however it struck me as a simple unforgiving canvas.  I could imagine this easily being paired wrong due to overestimations.
[Scores 87 on Beer Advocate]

De La Senne Taras Boulba (4.5%) from Brasserie de la Senne
The brewery responsible for this sample concocts libations that are unfiltered, unpasteurized, free of additives and use high quality raw materials.  While many found this to be a citrusy beer I found it to be more on the herbal and grassy side, but in a good way.
[Scores 88 on Beer Advocate]

Contreras Valeir Extra (6.5%) from Contreras
The malts were a bit more noticeable in this beer than the others in the lineup which isn’t to say that the hops can be overlooked.  Providing a profile that spoke with a slight spice with some distinctly floral notes.  A very memorable beer.
[Scores 86 on Beer Advocate]

Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel (9%) from Brasserie  d’Achouffe
Yet another unfiltered beer and from one of the most renowned Belgian breweries no less.  Crafted with sweet spring water and coriander it is remarkably dry on the palate yet balances and very drinkable considering its high alcohol content.
[Scores 94 on Beer Advocate]

De Dolle Arabier (8%) from De Dolle Brouwers
This is a brew I would serve to get a night started.  It pours beautifully with an impressive head and the most intoxicating aroma.  Its scent was one that kept drawing me back.  This particular beer has a limited aging time so as not to reduce the hoppiness of its character.  I wish the flavor matched the outstanding fragrance; however its taste lacked the same intense first impression.
[Scores 90 on Beer Advocate]

De Ranke XXX Bitter (6%) from Brouwerij De Ranke
This lovely golden brew also balanced itself to where the malts as well as the hops could shine.  A limited production was made per the request of Massachusetts based importer the Shelton Brothers. This is the kind of beer you just sit around and sip while eating incredibly good bread dipped in incredibly good olive oil.
[Scores 88 on Beer Advocate]

Being quite the fan of Belgian brews but only having access to the more commercially known ones available in the US of A, I was delighted with this taste workshop.  It was wonderful to see the different ways brewers are using hops to add novel nuances to their craft.  If anyone wants to send me any of the ones from the class I would gladly drink it in your honor.  If any reader wants extra brownie points though I have been quite interested in trying the Valeir Coffee from the Contreras brewery.

Bottoms up Belgium!  Until next time…


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