Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stout: Buffalo Stout (Version 2)

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Den Bossche
Style: Belgian Stout

ABV: 9.0%
Date Poured: March 2009

The name is the same and so is the brewery. But for some mysterious reason, this beer clocks in 50% stronger than its little brother. Odd that there's no distinction on the label...

Pours pitch black with a voluminous light brown head. So big that I was afraid I had an infected bottle. But the head fades to a a thin wisp in several minutes. Aroma contains sweet dark malt and milk chocolate notes with a touch of fresh coffee.

Taste is the same, a bit more bitter chocolate than milk though and persistent hints of espresso. Nicely balanced. Full bodied, no real hint of alcohol given its strength. Nice bitter chocolate in the finish and aftertaste with some sweetness to offset the bite.

Very tasty. Nicely balanced and well-crafted.

How do the beers of this series stack up? My rankings:

1. Buffalo Stout (Version 2) - See above. No flaws to speak of, very well rounded.
2. Hercule Stout - Dark fruit and bitter chocolate dance in a velvet smooth strong stout.
3. Buffalo Stout (Version 1) - Well-crafted and balanced, like its big brother. Nearly came in second.
4. t'Smijse Catherine the Great - The color is offputting but it makes up for it with a crazy combination of roastiness, bitter chocolate and ripe pears.
5. Podge Stout - Way more fruity and sweet than roasty but tasty nonetheless.
6. Wilson Stout - Not bad but too much alcohol showing for its strength, flavors never really mesh
7. Leroy Stout - Run don't walk...away

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stout: Leroy Stout

Brewery: Brouwerij Leroy
Style: Belgian Stout
ABV: 5.0%

Date Poured: March 2009

Pours pitch black with a frothy tan head and some minimal lacing. Smells of dark fruit and light caramel aromas.

If I had a blind tasting of this beer, I would never pick it out as a stout. It tastes like a sweet brown ale. Tons of caramel flavor, no hint of roastiness or sweetness you would expect for black patent...but sickly sweet and overwhelming caramel flavors that don't mesh with a distinct fruitiness in this ale. Very carbonated, distractingly so. Unpleasant astringent finish and a lingering cloying sweetness in the aftertaste.

It's not good. At all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stout: 't Smisje Catherine The Great

Brewery: Brouwerij De Regenboog
Style: Belgian Stout
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: March 2009

The label of this beer declares that this is an imperial stout. De Regenboog has yet to disappoint so I am looking forward to this one.

Surprisingly, this stout pours out a murky brown instead of a pitch black. Highlights of mahogany with a frothy tan head. Smells fruity, of Granny Smith apples and ripe pears. Quite yeasty and hint of alcohol.

Lots of lovely roasty flavors, espresso, bitter chocolate and mocha. Oaky too, vanilla, toffee and hints of dark fruit. Full bodied and sweetish, not sticky. Roasty and bitter in the finish, the coffee flavors coming through again.

If you closed your eyes, this would be a classic roasty imperial stout. It's very good, just that odd appearance that throws you.

Brouerij De Regenboog

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stouts: Wilson Mild Stout

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Steenberge
Style: Belgian Stout
ABV: 5.2%
Date Poured: March 2009

This one bills itself as a mild stout so I am expecting an English character here. At 5.2%, this is the most sessionable stout I've tried thus far.

This one pours as black as night (of course) with a creamy brown head that leaves sheeting lace. Smells of fruity dark malt, very sweet, yeasty and estery.

First impressions are that it is kind of thin in the mouth and some prominent metallic flavors. Underneath, the raisin and blackcurrant flavors start to come through. Yeasty, a lot of yeast character for a stout...even for a Belgian one. Pretty sweet, some detectable alcohol in there and lightly oaky. Odd because the mouth is thin but there are sweet and sticky textures in the finish with just a bit of dark chocolate in the finish.

Interesting beer but too much alcohol presence for a beer of this strength. A bit haphazard with the flavors too.

Brouwerij Van Steenberge

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stout: Hercule Stout

Brewery: Brasserie Ellezelloise
Style: Belgian Stout
ABV: 8.4%
Date Poured: Feb 2009

Dense creamy tan head tops a pitch black body. Lots of dark fruit in the nose, very sweet, no hint of roastiness but there is a hint of alcohol

Wow. Smooth as velvet in the mouth, no hint of the alcohol whatsoever, just a pleasant warming effect in the finish. Sweet and fruity (ripe plums and raisin) with just a hint of roastiness in the finish. Bitter chocolate pops up in the finish too. Creamy, chocolaty flavors in the aftertaste.

Lighter in the mouth than you would expect for a big strong stout but that just makes it that much more drinkable. Different but delicious.

Brasserie Ellezelloise

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stouts: Buffalo (Version 1)

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Den Bossche
Style: Belgian Stout
ABV: 6.5%
Date Poured: March 2009

One of the focuses of my trip to Belgium was to seek out some examples of Belgian stout. So here's a mini-series of tasting notes on a few of the bottles I brought home. First up, a version of Buffalo from Brouwerij Van Den Bossche.

It pours pitch black with a dense and creamy tan head.

Smells of fruity dark malt, sweet and with a hint of some metallic aromas.

Sweet in the mouth with just a hint of roastiness. Lovely balance that I wasn't expecting. Mocha and hint of dark chocolate. Underpinnings of ripe dark fruit. Medium-bodied with a sweet finish and a uncharacteristically clean finish.

Very flavorful but smooth and drinkable. A good start!

Brouwerij Van Den Bossche

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Belgium Trip, Day 6 - Part 1: Morning in Gent

We arrived in Gent fairly early the next morning and headed for the center of town. We were too early for the bars, even in Belgium, so we headed to the St. Bavo Cathedral to see Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (which was fairly impressive).

After that, sufficient time had passed that some of the cafes had begum to open. We headed for one of the oldest and smallest cafés in town t’ Galgenhuisje. The bar claims to be housed in the former gallow’s house and was right on the Groentenmarkt…so I believe it and the building dates from the 16th century. I can imagine the gallowmaster conducting business here waiting for the next victim.

Two floors of bar are crammed into a very small footprint with a restaurant in the cellar (former holding cells for the condemned). Very rustic with old exposed timbers, witches hanging from the ceiling, some tin beer signs, paper money of all nationalities and denominations stapled to the walls behind the bar and Flemish phrases painted on the timbers. The house beer was thick and brown, served in a mug and sold for less than 3 Euro. It was a good way to start your Wednesday!

Most of the bars we wanted to hit weren’t going to open until afternoon so we wandered the streets of old Gent, dodging trams and crossing canals. (The city is gorgeous by the way…rivals Brugge as far as I’m concerned.)

We also visited Castle Gravensteen, an imposing and impressive Medieval castle and worthy of a visit if you care to spend some non-beery time in Gent.

After the castle, we headed back across the Leie River to Het Waterhuis, a café right on the river that had a good reputation for beer. It did not disappoint.

They offered three different house beers. I stuck with a hoppy blonde called Gandavum, Dave grabbed a tawny colored strong ale Klokke Roeland. Both were surprisingly excellent. The cafe was lots of brick and timber, old dusty glasses on a ledge above the bar, beer signs galore and false vines draped from the ceiling. Nice view of the river too.

But there was more! What should I spy on the chalkboard but Rodenbach Foederbier. Fantastic! I ordered one and the server asked me if I was sure I wanted one because this beer was very, very sour. I reaffirmed that, yes, this was the beer I desired. She warned me again about the extreme sourness and asked me if I was really sure about this choice.Again, I assured her that I had an idea what it would be like and said that I was prepared. A third time she tried to warn me…”Bring it on!” I said. I am guessing she has had to take this beer back from unsuspecting tourists in the past…

The Foederbier was amazing. Imagine the difference in degree of acetic sourness between Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru. Apply that same increase in intensity to the Grand Cru and you have an idea of what you get in the Foederbier. Sour and woody but after the initial shock to the tastebuds, refreshing and wickedly drinkable. Puckeringly sour but ultimately delicious. It may have been the best glass of beer I had in Belgium.

Dave ordered a Timmermans Lambicus Blanche, an unusual cross between the funk and sourness of a lambic and the spicy sweetness of a Belgian witbier. Very unique and very good in its own right.

Bellies full of beer, we moved on, first to the frittur for some frites and then more sightseeing. We killed some time at the Folklore Museum (more time than I wanted but sometimes you have to indulge your travel companion, right?) and waited for 16:00 to roll around when the next wave of bars would open up for us.