Saturday, 2 January 2016

Dutch Beer of the Week - Bonus Bottle


Happy New Year! And what better way to celebrate with an additional, and very celebratory, Dutch Beer of the Week.

I've already told you plenty about Brouwerij Rodenburg but this beer is a little bit special. For a start it's an 11% quadruple so a very big beer. On top of that it's been aged in a Martinique rum cask for extra complexity.  We'll come back to all of that but first a bit about the odd name.

6921 is in fact the postcode of Populierenlaan in Duiven, which is in the east of the Netherlands, not far from Arnhem.  Apparently 10 local beer lovers live in or near Populierenlaan and decided they wanted to make a beer of their own - Steve Gammage at Rodenburg was happy to help out and so Populus 6921 was born.  They 10 are all name checked on the label too - and it helped of course that one of the ten was Marco Phillipsen who (I think) is one of the main men at the Mitra off-licence chain. 

Back to the beer.  This comes in a corked 37.5cl bottle and immediately on popping the cork there's an enticing aroma of rum (in fact I stood for a few moments just sniffing the cork. Make of that what you will).  It's a red-brown beer with a complex aroma with malt sweetness, spice, rum (or course) and a fruity wine character all jostling for attention. They keep this up as you drink with a notable fruitiness developing (fruit's right up there with malt  in the handy tasting profile on the label).  There's some warming alcohol at the end but this certainly doesn't drink like an 11% beer.  I'd try it again but I think it's been quite a limited edition.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week


As it's the festive season let's have a look at a Christmas themed beer. As you can see the jolly chap on the label hasn't really got into the Christmas spirit but I think he'd be smiling after a glass of this.

I've already talked about Brouwerij Rodenburg and, in my opinion, it's certainly one of the stars of the Dutch beer scene. The owner-brewer is Yorkshireman Steve Gammage who has been in the Netherlands for about 30 years and his beers are increasingly confident and successful.

So, on to Scrooge. Tim Skelton's Beer in the Netherlands describes this as "a seriously full-on dark Christmas ale that is a classic in the making".  He's not wrong.  There's a complex grain bill including Pils, Carapils, Diastatic malt,  Cara Red, Whiskey and Peated malts (or so the label tells us).  These contribute to the spicy nose which is also slightly medicinal like thick old-fashioned cough syrup. Beyond that there are very complex flavour notes in there  - wafts of spice, peat, smoke and rich Christmas cake jockey for attention in a very appealing way. 

This could be a cloying malt-fest but it's not because the cavalry arrives in the form of a crisply bitter finish. The hops are Green Bullet, Phoenix and First Gold and bring rather more to this beer than the label's claimed three bitterness units would suggest (given both the hop grist and the notably bitter finish I suspect this must be a misprint). Indeed the thought occurred to me that if I was brewing in a railway arch in London I might be tempted to call this a "Christmas IPA".   

I'm back in the Netherlands in three weeks time (for this) and I'll certainly be looking out for a couple of these to bring home. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Elsener Bierbrouwerij Pochpoater White IPA

It's been a while but we're now back up and running here at JC's Beer Blog with a new Dutch Beer of the Week (and yes, I know the last one was on 26 October...).

Right then, White IPA.  It's another variant on everyone's favourite beer style and one that I've rather enjoyed so far. It's shorthand for beers that combine serious hopping (usually of the American variety) with the spiciness and grain bill of a Belgian (or Dutch) witbier, and they can be hugely enjoyable and refreshing. There are a lot of them around as Ratebeer demonstrates.

So, on to this little number.  I know very little about the brewery. It's based in Elsen, which is in the east of the Netherlands (in Overijssel province) and it started up in 2014. The website just leads to a Facebook page but it's clear from there (and Ratebeer) that a considerable number of modern-sounding beers have been produced. In essence this was just a random purchase of an interesting-sounding beer in a style I like.

The label tells me that it's a witbier in the American style with a distinct hop profile. There's wheat malt in there so that's good but I see it's just 30 bitterness units and 5% ABV - both at the bottom end of what I might expect for a beer of this description. Pouring, it's a hazy pale lemon with no head to speak of. There's a sweet spiciness on the nose, with hints of orange peel perhaps, and this lingers all the way down the glass (and gets a bit cloying by the end to be honest) - however the ingredients don't indicate there's any spice or other addition to the beer so I'm assuming the esters are yeast-based.  As a drink it's quite light-bodied and while it's refreshing enough the "distinct hop profile" (or the "duidelijk hopprofiel" as the label has it) seems to be largely missing in action. It's perhaps a bit too much "white" and not enough "IPA" and certainly needs a bit more of everything I think.

I'm certainly not writing off this brewery on the basis of just the one beer as it seems to be quite an interesting set-up with lots of ideas.  It's just a shame that this one, on the basis of this bottle, didn't quite work.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Golden Pint Awards 2015

Firstly apologies for the lack of activity here. It's been busy and the blog took a back seat. However this is a good reason to fire it up again and hopefully "Dutch Beer of the Week" will be back in a  few days and run through until the middle of January (when I'm off the the Netherlands for Gouda Winterbier Festival). So, down to business:

Best UK cask beer  No doubt about this one - Track Brewing Sonoma. Sam Dyson hasn't put a foot wrong since he started Track in late 2014 but this 3.8% beauty is a triumph. Oozing with tropical fruit goodness and a moreish bitter kick at the end this was, and remains, an instant classic.

Best UK keg beer  The lagers from Cloudwater Brewery have been tremendously good, particularly the first in the series which was brewed using only British ingredients. Nailed the style from the off.  Very honourable mentions must go to Hawkshead Brewery for two very different beers: Chocolate & Tonka Bean Imperial Porter and at the other end of the spectrum Chuckleberry Sour.

Best UK bottled beer  Almost anything from Buxton of course but I'm giving the honours to Cloudwater again and their magnificent DIPA. 

Best UK canned beer   I haven't drunk much  but Moor Hoppiness was terrific.

Best overseas draught  Easy this one.  Sahtipaja Blueberry & White Chocolate Berliner Weisse. I was lucky to meet the Sahtipaja brewer, Timo Krjukoff, at Carnivale Brettanomyces in Amsterdam. He's a great guy and his beers are outstanding. He also brought along other Berliner Weissen - one with raspberry and cinnamon and the other with bitter orange and botanicals. Absolutely knock-out.

Best overseas bottled beer   There have been a lot of good ones this year but it's got to be the 't Ij Bridgeport Barley Wine brewed in collaboration with Marz Brewing of Chicago.  It's got some age on it now and is a classic modern barley wine (it's about 10%). Far too easy to drink.

Best overseas canned beer   Pass

Best collaboration brew   For me it was the Hawkshead / Crooked Stave beer made for the Rainbow Project. Key Lime Tau was the star turn when I went to the launch day at the Magic Rock Tap. 

Best overall beer   Got to be Sonoma.

Best branding / pump clip / bottle label   I think Manchester's Runaway Brewery has a classic and instantly recognisable image.

Best UK brewery  For sheer breadth of innovation combined with quality it's hard to beat Buxton at the moment.  I've also had a handful of seriously good beers from Gloucester Brewery and the North Riding Brewery. The latter is certainly "one to watch" I think.

Best overseas brewery   Sometimes you come across someone who you know is a star in the making so heads up to Tommie Sjef Koenen an amateur Dutch lambic blender whose beers were sensational at Carnivale Brettanomyces.

Best brewery opening  In the UK it's hard to say anything but Cloudwater to be honest. Overseas then it's got to be Brouwerij Kees in the Netherlands.  When the former Emmelisse head brewer told me he was setting up on his own I  knew something special was on the way and so it has proved to be.

Pub / bar of the year  The two, rather different, places I've had some of the best times and the best beers this year are Ye Olde Vic in Stockport and the cellar  bar/ tasting room at Beermoth in Manchester.

Best new bar / pub opening  OK it only opened on 11th December but it's still got to be Manchester's Cafe Beermoth. Further afield the Uiltje Craft Beer Bar in Haarlem is hugely enjoyable.

Beer festival of the year  The Gents Bierfestival in Ghent is quietly one of the best festivals in Belgium. Low key, very friendly and always with an inspired beer list.  In the UK the Hawkshead events are unmissable of course.

Independent retailer of the year  Well I've spent the most money at Beermoth in Manchester so it must be them.

And finally....

Best beer blog  Although there have been recent signs they might be losing their mojo, Team Stonch has been a breath of fresh air this year. A close second must be Matthew Lawrenson's Seeing the Lizards which really takes no prisoners. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week


Most beer enthusiasts visiting Amsterdam will have paid a visit to 't Ij. It's housed in an old bath house next to a windmill which is something of  a local landmark. It's certainly a good point of reference if you are heading there by bus (no. 22) or tram (nos. 10 and 14). On a fine day it's also a pleasant walk from Centraal Station and sitting outside on the terrace, beer in hand, is one of life's pleasures.

I first visited the 't Ij Proeflokaal back in 1994 (the first time I visited Amsterdam in fact) and it's been interesting to see it evolve over the years. Back then it was what might be described as "shabby chic" and was also on the small side with an overflow in the basement. The brewery could be glimpsed through some doors behind the bar as I recall. Today it's expanded to fill more of the bath house premises and is smart and modern.
The full 't Ij core range is available on tap alongside one or two specials - there was a black IPA on tap last time I dropped by (and was enjoyed with a plate of ossenworst, for me another essential ingredient of a visit here). If you've not yet been do make an effort - the Proeflokaal is open every day from 2.00 pm until 8.00 pm. 

The brewery is also something of a survivor. It was one of the early pioneers of the Dutch beer renaissance and opened way back in 1985. The core range has remained the same - a vaguely Belgian influenced range of beers running from Natte at 6.5% to the powerful 9% Columbus, along with an even more vaguely Czech-influenced Plzen. In the early years it has to be said the quality bounced around a bit too much but happily these issues seem to have been confined to the past. Indeed the't Ij beers have been on something of a roll in recent years.

Actually the core range hasn't remained entirely unchanged as the original beers have been joined by a rather fine IPA (7%), the hoppy and sessionable Flink (4.7%) and a range of specials and collaborations (a recurring special is the exceptional Ciel Bleu IPA - but it if you see it).  Most of this has coincided with the expansion of the brewery - and in particular when they opened a second brewery nearby in 2013. One notable collaboration was with the UK's Thornbridge Brewery to produce a tremendous American Wheat Ale which just bursts with hop character - and then we have this little beauty.  

Well, not so little, as it's a bit of a beast at 10%. It was brewed in collaboration with Marz Brewing of Chicago, and is named after the area where the brewery is based there. I have to admit that "barley" and "wine" are two words I always like to see on a bottle of beer and when I first came across this about a year ago I couldn't resist.  I was immediately impressed. Upfront is does all those barley wine things I like - booze, depth, fruity richness - and underneath was a firm supporting bitterness (the hop grist includes Amarillo, Nugget, Centennial and Chinook and they all played their part) which added balance and made this hugely drinkable.

Fast forward to September 2015 and Gollem in Amsterdam. It was on the board but not in the fridge so I had a bottle from the cellar as a nightcap. Beers like this usually present better at cellar rather than fridge temperature in my experience and this, combined with some age on the beer, was terrifically good (so much so the first nightcap was followed by a second...). The hops are still there but play a  more restrained role while the booziness has mellowed and matured. It's all just come together. I'm not sure how much more this would improve with further age - it's probably at its peak now so buy it on sight is my recommendation. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Not the Borefts Bier Festival

Borefts After Festival

It's been quiet here of late. One of the reasons is that I've been off on my travels but hopefully what passes for normal service will now be restored. Two nights in Lille were followed by five in Amsterdam and these included visits to the Borefts Bier Festival and the excellent After Festival held at the Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam.

I'm lucky enough to have visited every Borefts Festival and it's been interesting to watch it grow and evolve over the years. Martijn over at The Dutch Beer Pages has already written about this year's event so I don't propose adding much here. The beers were the usual collection of the excellent, the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know of course, but I managed to steer clear of most of the clunkers. 

Apart from De Molen, the Netherlands was represented by Kees Bubberman's Brouwerij Kees! and Oedipus Brewing neither of whom let the side down.  I rarely go with a plan of action but here I was determined to try all of the Kees beers that's I'd not yet had, and that was quite a few.  The festival special was a Black Oyster Saison (just how craft can you get?) which was very good indeed.Other standouts from a wide range were Indian Summer Doppelbock, Oatmeal Breakfast Stout and a glorious American Barley Wine.

The hardworking team at Oedipus always have some treats in store and Borefts was no exception. I enjoyed reacquainting myself with Himbeer, a raspberry Berliner Wiesse, and was very taken by two brand new offerings.  Kinderyoga was an excellently balanced Imperial Stout which I could drink a lot of but the star of the show had to be Hosanna, a double IPA. Fresh, hoppy and doing just about everything you'd want a double IPA to do, this was just great. One of my party thought it was the best beer there.

An innovation last year was the Borefts After Festival in Rotterdam which proved to be an excellent antidote to the frantic activity in Bodegraven.  It's hosted by Kaapse Brouwers who have a brewery, bar and shop in the Fenix Food Factory. This is a converted warehouse on Veerlaan and at the back you can sit outside looking over Rijnhaven and the Nieuwe Maas back to the city centre. What's not to like about that?

Inside, apart from Kaapse Bouwers, there is a cider seller, butcher, cheese shop, coffee roaster, bakery and all sort of goodies as you can see if you follow this link. It attracts families who come for Sunday brunch and you can hire a tray and go round each stall building up your meal. The Kaapse Brouwers bar features live jazz on Sundays too.  Somehow they manage to fit a beer festival into all of this as well (in fact it's not all inside - this year some of the brewers' bars were outside as was a DJ and a handful of food stalls).
There were nine breweries present and seven of these were Dutch - Kaapse Brouwers of course plus: Oedipus (somehow still standing and good to go after two days at Borefts), Ramses, Van Moll, Raven Bone Hill, Oersoep, and Het Uiltje. In short, a cross section of Dutch craft brewing's premier league. They were joined by La Quince from Madrid and Pohjala from Tallinn.
After Borefts my beery mojo had slightly deserted me so I was slightly more restrained than I had been over the previous two days. I had to start with the wonderful Brettalicious from Oersoep. This full bodied, brett-infused and highly drinkable saison never, ever disappoints and set me up for the rest of the afternoon. Oedipus's Hosanna had to be revisited of course and Bea, a rye black IPA from hosts Kaapse Brouwers, was hoppy, black, dry and a fine example of the genre. Rames has always been one of my favourite Dutch brewers and the single hop Koele Kikker didn't disappoint, and nor did the seasonal Lambok which was on cask too! Van Moll's Fruity Loops, a blonde beer with dried red fruit, was pleasant enough but was certainly not the best Van Moll beer I've had.  The same goes for Raven Bone Hill's Cock of the Rock, described as an "Inca purple ale" and in reality an American pale ale. 
And finally - La Quince. I've not had a lot of Spanish craft beer but what I have tried has been seriously good. That track record was maintained here.  Both Double Baden, a big double IPA and Vanillla Black Velvet was a luscious imperial stout (and was even enjoyed by one of my stout hating friends).

I enjoyed the After Festival so much that next year I might just spend one day at the "main event" so I can enjoy this one all the more. We'll see.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Brouwerij Rodenburg Bronckhorster Saison Nouvelle

More like "Beer of the Fortnight" I'm afraid as it's been a busy time here at JC's Beer Blog. Anyway, down to business.

I've been a fan of Rodenburg beers almost since they started back in 2010. I see from my programme for the 2011 Bokbier Festival that I raved about the Dubbelbock ("Fab!!" read my extensive tasting notes). The brewer and owner is Steve Gammage, a Yorkshireman living in exile in the Netherlands for over 30 years now, and his beers are invariably some of the best in the country in my experience. The odd "Bronckhorster" name refers to the locality in which the brewery is situated by the way.

The brewery website doesn't really do justice to the beer range and apart from the one we're about to have a look at I would pick out Hoptimist (a 9% double IPA) and Scrooge (a Christmas beer at 8%) as real star turns out of what is an exceptionally fine selection. 

So, Saison Nouvelle. Saisons were of course very much on trend until recently (then every brewer - at least in the UK - that wanted to polish its "craft credentials" jumped on the sour bandwagon). It's a much used and abused style - too many brewers seem to think that just because they've made something with a saison yeast then, hey presto!, it's a saison. If only.

What I want in a saison are three things - some spice notes from the yeast, a decent hop character, and most importantly, a good dry finish. This certainly delivers on two. It's a honey-amber in colour with some hints of spice and hop drifting up as you pour. There's a gentle sweet fruitiness (perhaps a hint of marmalade - that's about as considered as it gets from me) and then the hops come along to play. Nothing too big and bold but assertive enough to take over and run through until the bitter and, yes, dry finish. A touch more spiciness would turn what is by any standards a very good beer into a classic I think. 

After making my notes I had a look at RateBeer (as you do) and the reviewers there seem to be all over the place with this one - some of the reviews make me wonder if I drank the same beer.