Appearance - 9 | Aroma - 9.5 | Flavor - 9 | Texture - 10 | Overall - 9
At last: Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout, one of those rare immortal classics of the American craft beer movement, an answer to Sam Adams Triple Bock in the late nineties in the race for the most extreme beer in the world in terms of ABV (but long surpassed since then) and still a living legend today among US style imperial stouts. One I had on my ‘most wanted’ list for more than two decades now: I cannot thank Didier enough for fixing me this bottle – a vintage one of five years old, at 18% ABV (so prolonged cellaring potential is guaranteed). Pale greyish beige, moussy and stable, small-bubbled, only slowly opening head, pitch black robe with a copper-red glow around the edges – but only under bright light. Rich aroma but surprisingly a tad more restrained than expected at this strength and force: chocolate liqueur, warm espresso, melting ‘fondant’ chocolate, walnut oil, whisky, old ruby port, chocolate crisps, hints of peanut, cognac and very vague teriyaki and, warming up, a lovely scent of sherry-like maderisation that has apparently begun to set in at this stage. Dense onset, dark-fruity with notes of fig compote and candied dates as well as a waferthin sourish edge (blackberry), softly carbonated with evidently very full, thickly oily mouthfeel – but still maintaining a slickness and slenderness, much less syrupy than I was expecting, due to, I guess, an alcohol-thinning effect. Multi-layered slabs of dark chocolate-, toffee- and walnut paste-like maltiness fill the mouth, densely sweet at first but shifting quickly to a black coffee- and roasted chicory-like bitterness, while that touch of sherry-like maderisation makes a brief retronasal appearance. The finish is warmed by whisky-like alcohol, pushing the flavours upwards and eventually heating the throat a bit, but those thick layers of black, bittersweet malts (importantly aided by well-placed peppery hop bitterness) manage to absorb even the 18% ABV in such a way that the whole remains as drinkable as a stout half that strength. This is justly a long-time classic: I love its old school roastedness and I love the fact that my sample was aged gracefully with a most charming dash of maderisation to it, but what seems most admirable here, is that Sam Calagione managed to construct a stout of 18% which in 1999 had no precedent at all, and keep it remarkably drinkable. Nothing is annoying here, nothing too thick to enjoy, nothing too sweet or too ashy, nothing even too boozy: this masterpiece shows off Dogfish Head’s craftmanship, experience and technical perfection like few other beers. My respect for this brewery, large and ‘macro’ as it may have become, has only grown. One to tick off the bucket list.
Appearance - 8 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 7.5 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 8.5
The ordinary (robust) porter by this familiar English brewery, with explicit references to the heydays of the style (the Victorian era). Can shared by Craftmember. Thick and moussy, even-shaped, shred-lacing, yellowish beige head, jet black robe with burgundy edges (under bright light). Aroma of coffee grounds, burnt toast, dried blackcurrants, charcoal, roasted chicory, cigars, hot olive oil, freshly crushed black pepper, haemoglobin, old cracked leather. Clean onset, hardly sweet but still a touch of dried fig, burnt blackcurrants as well, very vague umami accent (black olive), medium carbonation with smooth, oily mouthfeel. Burnt-toasty and roasted-walnutty malt core, lots of roasted bitterness here, dry, very coffee-like in the end, though there is a sweeter caramelly core at the centre too; the roasted bitterness eventually dominates, supported by spicy, leafy hop bitterness which, like the roastedness, seems overdeveloped for a classic English style robust porter. In fact, if I had to taste this blind, I would say it is a dry stout rather than a porter – but we all know that stout and porter are a continuum without strict boundaries. Its strong hop bitterness also reminds me of classic, eighties style American porter – Sierra Nevada Porter to be precise… Anyway, regardless of historical or stylistic accuracy, I have to admit that I liked this one quite a lot for its old school dryness and bitterness – in fact I think it ranks among the better Anspach & Hobday beers for me, as most of those (at least the ones I had) always tended to lack ‘something’ to truly shine. This one does shine, albeit in a pitch black way.
Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 6 | Texture - 6 | Overall - 7
Dutch session IPA, grabbed from a supermarket shelf (the Albert Heijn in Lokeren). Egg-white, moussy, frothy and thick, cobweb-lacing head, hazy straw blonde robe with golden glow. Aroma of fresh lemonbalm leaves, cereals, white bread, dried lemongrass, chamomile, white soap, green banana, touch of clove. Clean, sweetish onset, yellow fruit like halfripe banana and pear, touch apple peel, medium carb, smooth and oily body (feeling ‘fuller’ than expected at this ABV); cereally pale malt sweetishness, softly bittered by floral and lightly citrusy hops, bringing back the lemonbalm and lemongrass. Grassy end bitterness with equally proportioned pale maltiness flowing through, along with a vague chalky touch; the bitterness is, however, understated, so that the whole does end a tad watery. At about half a year of age, the aromas must have already dwindled, but the bitterness is clearly underproportioned for an ISA – the whole purpose of which is to pack a lot of flavour in a modest amount of alcohol. That purpose, I am sorry to say, has not been fully met here, but in all honesty I was not expecting much from this brewery either.
Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 7.5 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7
Frisian amber beer, oddly encountered in De Kleine Kunst, a café in the Ghent Heirnis quarter (located next to the Stroom brewery) – but I suppose the new owners of this café being Dutch, has something to do with it. Frothy, egg-white, creamy and moussy, stable head, warm and deep pure orange-amber robe, as good as clear. Aroma of wet toast, roasted peanuts, clear iron (confirmed by the ‘hand test’), dried thyme, tea, autumn leaves, dried orange peel, apricot kernels, fried tomato, hard caramel, candied peach, Graham crackers. Sweet, candied apricot in the onset, even a touch of candied cherry, quite sharply carbonated; rounded and bit ‘glueish’ mouthfeel. Caramelly and lightly peanutty malts with a lovely, refined toasty edge, but also something bubblegummy and then of course that metallic aspect; quite a lot of residual sweetness as well. Tea-like herbal hops in the end offer only mild ‘counterbitterness’, but admittedly match well with that softly toasty character of the malts; still, due to the bitterness underachieving, the finish feels a bit thin. Smooth, easygoing quencher with a pretty malt character, subsequently marred by the addition of iron for head stabilization (I suppose) and too much sweetness. I am a bit ‘in dubio’ here, this beer has good and less good qualities, so let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.
Appearance - 5 | Aroma - 4.5 | Flavor - 4.5 | Texture - 5 | Overall - 5.5
‘Gentse kriek’, a sweet cherry beer produced by De Graal, with a name in Ghent dialect meaning threshold (but with obvious sexual innuendo); at Trappistenhuis, after years of skipping this pub without any other reason than it being a tad off-road. Thanks Meeki for sharing. Frothy and thick, pale lilac-pink, foamy head resting stable on a misty, deep ruby red beer. Aroma of red candy (‘poepegatjes’), cherry-flavoured flan, homemade red lemonade, grenadine, sandwich dough, ‘cuberdons’, cherry popsicle. Cherry jelly pudding and red candy abound in the mouth, fizzy carb, some ascorbid acidity (lemonade-like) tries to distract from that red candy sweetness but barely succeeds – and in my opinion could have better been left out altogether as it creates an even more artificial impression. Cake-doughy and cereally core, sugared cherry juice and red candy till the end, with some redeeming bready-yeasty notes in the finish but very little bitterness – and, worst of all, hardly any ‘real’ fruit aspects. This is not just a cherry beer, this is another of those awful ‘rouge’ beers: alcoholic candy for teenagers. I hate this trend, though I must admit that this De Graal interpretation of it is not even the worst around.
Appearance - 8 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 7 | Texture - 8 | Overall - 8
Belgian blonde (so basically B68) fermented with kveik, the newest one at Brouwbar, which has churned out no less than three new beers in a few weeks time. Egg-white, shred-lacing, frothy, moussy, very firm head, hazy yellow blonde robe with vague ochre-ish tinge. Aroma of ripe pear, lime zest, starfruit, dried lemongrass, brioche bread, unripe pineapple, banana peel and green mango. Crisp, fruity onset, ripe pear and sweet apple with hints of banana and pineapple thrown in, fizzy carbonation but not too sharp; smooth white-bready maltiness, cereally but soft and rounded, adorned with tropical highlights here and there, reminiscent of starfruit, mangosteen and orange. The hops provide a citric edge in the finish, producing soft bitterness, but the fruitiness and smooth pale malt sweetness remain dominant. I have yet to encountered other classically styled Belgian ales (blonde, dubbel, tripel or quadrupel) making use of kveik yeast, but I can recommend it to any brewer, at least if it is executed as is the case here: kveik does not always do a whole lot, but in this case it clearly adds a kind of sweet-yellow, lightly tropical fruitiness to a basic blonde, in a way almost parallel to what hops in certain form can do to an IPA. The end effect is almost reminiscent of NEIPA, but yeasty fruitiness clearly supersedes hop character here so in the end, it is what the brewery presents it like: a Belgian blonde fermented with kveik. Very intelligent and quite surprising beer, albeit in a subtle manner.