Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 8 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7.5
Saison (or indeed intended as a 'grisette' which today is not much more than a fancy term for the ubiquitous 'saison' word - though I am aware of its historical consequences) by this craft brewer in Orange, California. Snow white, moussy, shred-lacing, stable head, hazy yellow-golden blonde robe. Aroma of bread crust, white pepper or indeed crushed pink peppercorns, grass, old dried lemon peel, raw turnip, cereals, Graham crackers. Dryish onset, unripe pear hint but low in fruitiness (especially for a Belgian style beer), fizzy carbonation fitting for the style; bread-crusty, grainy pale maltiness, remaining dry with grassy hop bitterness nicely entangled with a peppery spiciness from the added pink peppercorns, again accentuating the general dryness and sleekness of this beer. Long dry hop bitter finish, quenching. Feels quite Belgian indeed in a clean sort of way, like a bitter blonde (forget about that insipid, fancy 'grisette' term - there is nobody alive today who had actual historical grisette), well constructed but admittedly failing to impress at Billie's Craft Beer Fest, considering the competition with all kinds of craft beer extravaganza. I wish I could find a bottle of this for more quiet contemplating at home.
Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 8 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7
Hofbrouwerijke beer celebrating the cliché of the drunk old uncle making a fool of himself at every family party - a stereotype many Flemish consumers will probably recognize. Quite a strong gusher - and even being prepared for it (this is Hofbrouwerijke so I kept a glass nearby), I could not avoid losing about 1/6 to the sewer. Even seconds after opening, foam kept bulging out of the bottle, so I wonder when this brewery is finally going to master the art of refermentation, considering all those years of experience they already have? Anyway: huge and towering high, very foamy, plaster-like lacing, pale yellowish beige, irregularly collapsing 'gusher head' on a misty mahogany brown beer with reddish-maroon glow. Aroma of banana peel, brown bread crust, clove, freshly cut grass, medlar, oxidized red apple slices, caramel, pumice, dried wormwood, raw parsnip, candied fig, old tea bags, bitter dark green beech leaves, dried prunes, old orange zest. Spritzy onset, numbing overcarbonation distracting from sweetish and sourish flavours of dried peach, banana, apple peel and prune, very minerally and harsh, distorting a slender, bit powdery mouthfeel; brown-bready and hard-caramelly maltiness with a slight toasty edge but generally remaining on the sweeter side, with some candi sugar lingering, carrying forward the medlar and banana fruitiness. Pronounced clove-like phenols and coriander powder in the finish, quickly accompanied by a leafy, rooty hop bitter note, lingering on for a while, bittering the sweetish brown-bready character of the malts; lots of bready yeastiness lingers behind, bringing back the fruitiness and spiciness. Typical dubbel in its general make-up, not too sweet and actually well-hopped for the style (I recall Hopduvel's commissioned Brunette as one of the first hoppy dubbels many years ago and this one seems to continue this idea), but obviously the heavy gushing is a technical flaw that has to be dealt with. Hofbrouwerijke should know better by now.
Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 7 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7.5
One of a few dozen of beers dedicated to the deceased French bulldog that gave his name to both the Antwerp craft beer pub and the festival, this time a sour ale by Ammonite, slowly beginning to make a name for itself outside of France in craft beer circles. Thanks Bjorn and Sara for sharing! Moussy, egg-white, open head, misty straw blonde robe with vague greenish tinge. Aroma of apple vinegar (very strongly so), actual green apple, green pear, some wood, lemon, white currant, old red wine, lime zest. Sharp, puckering sourness in the onset, very lemony, green apple and crushed green gooseberry, fizzy carb, hint of white currant; wheaty slickness and soapiness underneath ongoing green-fruity acidity, some bready notes, slight woodiness in the end and a vague green weed-like bitter accent but these apple vinegar and lemon juice flavours keep prevailing. Odd little sour, very distinct in its own way, but not really my cup of tea, to be honest.
Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 7.5 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7.5
Jopenbier (or rather: Jopeskie piwo) was a rather bizarre type of beer brewed in Danzig since the 15th century, went extinct but has been revived by several Polish craft breweries recently, praising it as a historical artefact that needs reviving, though it must be said that back in its time, it was primarily used as a medicine, a kind of wild-fermented 'beer syrup' beneficial to a whole range of ailments. I believe it is quite appropriate that the late Billie, the French bulldog owned by the proprietor of Antwerp's famed Billie's Beer Cafetaria, is honoured by one of Poland's foremost craft brewers with this historical beer - but I must admit that I was completely unprepared for a (fruited!) 'Jopenbier' when it was shoved under my nose at Billie's Craft Beer Fest, having had only one other example before. Nonetheless: thanks Francis for sharing! Some tiny, loose, beige bubbles are visible here and there around the edge, but no head; very dark chocolate brown robe, blackish almost, with burgundy edges. Unique aroma of burnt raisins, dried prunes, fig jam, blackcurrant pastry, Brazil nuts, old brown honey, groundnut oil - but not much in the way of the alleged spontaneous fermentation, though certain leathery 'wild' elements are certainly there. Very densely sweet onset, fig jam, raisin and plum syrup, no carb; extremely syrupy body, the consistency of cough syrup or full cream almost and certainly the thickest beer I ever had - spectacular in itself, but not quite helping drinkability. Layers of heavy toffee, brown bread dough, hazelnut paste and 'kramiek' fill the mouth, adorned with a coffeeish roasty note and spicy accents; dried Polish prunes remain obvious, while the mulberries have gone hiding. Candied residual sweetness meets peppery alcohol in the end. Spectacular beer - I will definitely remember this as the festival's most demanding beer for a long time, but, from what I know about this historical 'beer' style so far, probably well made in its own obscure category. I have no problems believing that centuries ago, people drank this kind of thing in small sips as a medicine, but I could not finish even a tasting glass full of this admittedly fascinating stuff. Very hard to rate due to the lack of a decent frame of reference for this style, as said I only had one other example of it and I was not around five to six centuries ago to sample the authentic ones, so take my rating here as a very personal appreciation and nothing more.
Appearance - 8 | Aroma - 7 | Flavor - 7 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7.5
Dul Meesterke, one of the older Meester beers and a strong Belgian amber, aged in red wine barrels - I was not impressed with the regular version, but Belgian strong ales tend to behave decently when given the wine barrel treatment (wine barrel aged tripels are still a largely unexplored territory in my opinion) so let's give this one a chance. Thick and foamy, egg-white, pillowy, membrane-lacing, dense and regular, stable head, hazy orange-glowing peach blonde with vague amberish tinge. Aroma of ripe nectarine, white grapes but more grape skins, old wood, rosé wine, red apple slices, coriander seed (strong still), soap even, cold wholegrain pasta, lilacs, sawdust, Cantaloupe, orange zest, cherimoya, mandarin touch, tulips, hint of armpit sweat. Fruity onset, estery with lots of peach and apricot, next to banana, red apple and pear, sharply carbonated (stinging even) with a sourish edge; minerally notes from the sharp carbonation accompany an otherwise smooth, rounded body, made up of brioche-bready, rusk- and cracker-like malts with biscuity edge - even a tad toasty-bitterish somewhere, while spiciness grows and culminates in slightly astringent clove, coriander and white pepper aspects. Meanwhile a dry rosé wine-like grape effect manages to establish itself, quite subtly so but still convincing, adding a bit of depth to the finish, where tannic woody notes also become noticeable, paired with a drying, floral and slightly leafy, lingering hop bitterness. The toasty side of the malts helps too at this stage but fruitiness prevails, albeit not in a very obviously wine-like manner; I tend to advise against too much leftover booze in barrel aged beers, but in this case I think I would not have minded the wine to take over in a more thorough and persuading way. This is just that dull Dul Meesterke with a twist, all things considered. Not bad at all, do not get me wrong, but Meester has - every now and then - proven that they can do better.
Appearance - 9 | Aroma - 8 | Flavor - 8 | Texture - 8 | Overall - 8
NEDIPA by this trusted brewery in the turbulent Basque region of northern Spain, poured by David of Bar Beenhouwer at Billie's Craft Beer Fest, cheers! Egg-white, moussy, shred-lacing, quite stable head, hazy yellow blonde robe with apricot hue. Aroma of ripe mango, kumquat, carambola, yellow kiwi, granadilla, fresh dough. Sweet onset, very juicy, lime sourishness edging ripe mango and kiwi sweetness, quite fizzily carbonated for this style with rounded, creamy body; doughy, lightly bready malt core under a wave of tropical, citric hoppiness, with retronasal aspects ranging from mango over pomelo to guava, followed by some warming, but otherwise well-behaved alcohol. The hops add a mild bitterish finishing touch, which I can strongly appreciate in this style (it is not always there). Excellent for what it is supposed to be.
Appearance - 8 | Aroma - 8 | Flavor - 8 | Texture - 9 | Overall - 8.5
Pastry stout from this Polish brewery in the historic region of Silesia, my first full glass at this year's Billie's Craft Beer Fest edition. Thinnish and open, mocha-beige head, jet black robe. Aroma of strong coconut (toasted and fresh), chocolate sauce, vanilla, pecan nuts, cappuccino, peanut butter, toffee, almond. Sweet, dense onset, refined carb, candied dates, thick toffeeish malt base adorned with a thick layer of dark chocolate; lots of retronasal vanilla and of course coconut throughout, the latter in a genuinely 'nutty' but also sweet Bounty-like way so very convincing. Warming, long, bittersweet finish, sweet bourbon with peppery effect, a tad astringent even, but the generous chocolateyness, coconut and vanilla make up for a lot. Intense and 'baroque', almost over the top like any pastry stout, but very well made in this genre.