Tag Archives: beer tasting

cultivating love for the sour ale

Bellies fortified suitably with something approximating ramen, Tristan and I skipped across the road to Slowbeer for the second session that week of a lambic tasting, focussing on those of Belgian brewery Cantillon.

What I loved most about this tasting is that they’re not for everyone, we’re moving into intermediate craft beer territory, folks! It was also a fantastic way to get to sample ten of Cantillon’s sour brews.

The first time I tried sour beer, it was very much baptism by fire. I guess I’m teething now, palate-development wise? It actually makes me cringe to read back on that previous post and see the words “This is a beer I would never have again, if I could avoid it” because I did get to have it again my reaction was nowhere near that negative.

The beer we started with was the Iris. It’s one of the few Cantillon make that has fresh hops (old dry hops are used in these beers for their preservative function, rather than for flavouring). Also notable is it has no wheat. It was very carbonated, extremely sour and dry and had the aroma of compost. That might sound unsavoury but its actual taste was zesty, vinous and quite like cider but without any of cider’s sweetness. The colour has a hint of copper but is mainly amber. I’d drink it again, should be great for summer and @brenosbrews I believe suggested that it was a great match with mussels and cheese, just like the Belgians do.

Erm, pay no attention to the label on the next bottle – I can assure you that we were drinking a distinctly unrelated…amber liquid! The second subject was indeed the one I vowed I’d never have again – Cantillon’s Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio. It’s a damn good thing that one’s palate changes! It’s very clear, less carbonated in comparison to the first lambic sampled and its sourness mellows as you have more. It has a touch of bitterness and a crisp crystal mouthfeel. I think Chris did well to start us off with a lambic that was essentially a shock to the tastebuds as it made many of us more receptive to the lambics that followed.

The Lou Pepe Gueuze is a subtler beast still. Quite a full body, little to no carbonation and a very delicate sourness and acidity about it. Overall, surprisingly subtle. Cantillon use fruit as the sugar to bottle condition with a whopping 300g fruit to every litre of liquid! Despite this, one of my tasting notes indicates that I found it an ‘odd sort of savoury’.

The Grand Cru Bruocsella had a very similar little-to-no carbonation profile. The actual lambic was slightly cloudy, soft and smooth with a hint of astringency. It was a bit like drinking sour water with a ‘farmy’ taste. I admit that doesn’t make it sound appetising but it was surprisingly easy to drink! It’s also aged in oak barrels and is not bottle conditioned with any sort of sugar.

We’re at the halfway point with our Cantillon lambic experience and moving towards the fruitier examples within the lambic spectrum. The first beer to start that off was the Rose de Gambrinus. It had the faintest tinge of pink and red and smelt of white wine with raspberries and roses! It was very carbonated with tight bubbles and sour in a fruity way. We’ve moved away from the ‘farmyard’ profile of the previous lambics.

Interestingly, at this point Chris told informed us that fruit flavouring beer predates hops and that the American market can’t handle the artistically naked lady on the bottle, so it has to be exported there with a clothed one!

The Lou Pepe Framboise was bright red out of the bottle and had more fruit in the taste. It was also less carbonated than the beer above and has a touch of acidity. It was like drinking sour red berries with the occasional bittersweetness. Really, really lovely!

Cantillon Lou Pepe framboise 2007

Things continue to get fruitier with the Kriek 100% Lambic Bio. 200g of Morello cherries to the litre are used in its making. The result is a very red beer! It has a little bit of fizz and carbonation to it and my tasting notes simply state that it is a cherry Danish pastry without the sweetness. It’s very cool to think that one can get that gustatory experience…in a bottle. Reminds me of a stage of Alice’s ‘Drink Me’ potion.

I laughed a little when reading over my tasting notes for the Lou Pepe Kriek, the first line of which is “HOLY FUCK ALMOND FROM THE STONES”. To be more elegant, I think that means I could detect the almond-scented arsenic that naturally appears in minute quantities in the stones of stone fruit.

Getting that out of the way, it tastes of natural sour, bitter cherries. Some fruit beers do have an artificial sort of taste to them, say, like Lindemans Kriek but not the Lou Pepe Kriek. The body of the beer is thicker than many tried that night with some carbonation. The beer itself was a deep, rich ruby red.

Sadly, both Tristan and I are missing photos of the Lou Pepe Kriek, so hop (hur hur) on over to Beer Advocate to check out a photo of the bottle.

The last two Cantillon beers were very reminiscent of wine. This is probably due to the use of grapes. With the Vigneronne, dried muscat grapes were used in its making due to their higher sugar content. Despite this, the end product was a watery, dead-on lemon juice which smelt awful and had no sweetness. It was also fairly ‘clean’ in that there was no farmyard scent characteristic of sour beers. Even though it didn’t smell pleasant, this did not mean it tasted unpleasant: basically, it was acidic and clean. It even looks like freshly squeezed lemon juice with its cloudy, golden ale colouring.

Our last beer in the tasting – the Saint Lamvinus, a dark, cloudy red beer that was lightly carbonated. It was both sour and bitter but mostly reminiscent of a sour wine. The red wine grapes merlot and cabernet Franc were used in fermentation of this.

I enjoyed this lambic tasting so much more than I thought I would and was pretty pleased that my tastebuds were up for the challenge. If you’re really fond of the cloudy, sour ciders then I think you should give lambics a go. I’d love to step things up a bit and buy a few bottles of lambics and experiment matching them with cheese! In fact, I may have committed a gluttonous crime of passion and polished off a sizeable hunk of Buche d’Affinois after the tasting…I devoured the poor thing as if it were a fast food burger.

If you want to learn a bit about these unusual beers, then of course the internet is your friend. Coincidentally, @hereforthehops wrote a terrific article about sour beer for Australian Brews News that I heartily recommend reading. Brett(anomyces) can sometimes be our friend!

spring hops and curd you say…

It’s pretty much a match made in heaven: I know that when I’ve had a bit too much beer to drink, I start to crave cheese pretty badly. So when I read about North Melbourne’s Court House Hotel having some sort of beer and cheese matching called ‘Spring Hops and Curd’, I asked a fellow beer nerd¬†@injerarufus, if she’d like to check it out with me.

I’d been to The Court House before for a beer dinner and decided not to do a post about it because…well, it was pretty damn average. Three courses of croquettes (one course errantly called a fritter) does not a degustation make. The best thing about the whole evening was unexpectedly bumping into my good friend Colin and getting to chat personally with the head brewer Jamie of Stone & Wood Brewing from Byron Bay. Even if it did mean having to suffer through the meal thanks to some old bird’s rudeness. Apparently some people don’t like food bloggers or new media. AYHSMB.

Before beer and cheese, we had meals off the front bar menu. This was some freaking fab pub grub. Oh, and we were in food blogger friendly company! Mr Rufus got a steak and didn’t mind T taking a snap.

T-dawg and Ms Rufus got the corned beef with mash. I nearly went for this myself! I was quite surprised when T said he wasn’t overly impressed by the corned beef. I think he found it…wanting.

I had no such complaints with my lamb, rosemary, honey and feta sausages with mash. Yeah, feta in a sausage, weird eh? But it freaking worked. As did the honey! Seriously, I could have done with an extra sausage. Generally speaking, the serves were a little on the small side.

The time came to fork over $25 for three cheeses matched with three beers. I’d been chatting to Ben Kraus, head brewer of Bridge Road Brewery on Twitter and he had informed me that their saison would be one of the beers served so I was fairly excited.

When we got there, no one could really tell us what beers were going to be served…till they were served. We ended up with glasses of Stone & Wood draught ale, the Little Creatures pale ale and the Bridge Road B2 Bomber. I’ve waxed lyrical about the B2 Bomber before: it’s a damn fine drop and was easily the most suited to cheese pairing.

While the Stone & Wood draught ale is a good session beer, I don’t think it was really a suitable candidate for any of the three cheeses we were given. I will happily drink pints of it come summertime – the passionfruit note in the beer screams summer! – but this was a disappointing beer choice.

The Little Creatures pale ale was more suited to the cheeses but still not fantastic. I have to confess that beer-wise I wasn’t confident the pub knew what it was doing.

This was further backed up by us being told that we were to taste all the cheeses and beers and ‘decide’ which beer went with what beer best. Erm…is that how it works? I certainly didn’t think so. This approach was a little too open-ended for my liking.

I spoke with someone in the beer industry who suggested that this might have been the pub’s way of getting rid of unwanted or excess stock (the beer, not the cheese). UGH.

Don’t get me wrong, the cheeses were delicious and the manager very kindly supplied me with full details of what we gorged ourselves on upon request.

From left to right: Locheilan Mundoona cow’s milk cheese from the Goulburn Valley; Shaw River Buffalino buffalo milk cheese from Yambuk; Strzelecki blue goat’s cheese from Gippsland. I used to love the stronger, more pungent cheeses but found that I finished the Locheilan Mundoona first then the buffalo. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that you nicked a good chunk of my blue, T!

Best pairing would be the Bridge Road B2 Bomber with the buffalo milk cheese – the B2 Bomber is a tad smoky and went a treat with the smoothness and occasional ‘bite’ of the buffalo.

Of course the night didn’t end without the new guy trying to charge $18 for a Mad Abbot tripel…poor kid wasn’t having an easy run (he’d managed to stuff up our orders quite a bit that evening).

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the Court House. I love the food, but I’m not convinced they know what they’re doing with beer (and believe me, it pains me to say that). I’d definitely go back for a meal though would steer clear of their beery events. Having said that, their beer dinners are excellent introductions for those who don’t have much craft beer exposure.

T wagered that the beer and cheese do would be a bit of a cock-up and sadly he was right. I was very stupid indeed to bet my sherbet fountain on it. Don’t you make the same mistake, y’hear?

In any case, all four of us did eat, drink and stagger. Kind of inevitable when one of your awesome dining companions sports the following badge.

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The Court House on Urbanspoon

ambassadors for the (largely) amber ale

Three men. Twenty (or so) breweries. One apparently large but generous Mexican.

Tom of Mountain Goat fame and Barney and Miro from Beer Deluxe planned a trip to the States, the sole purpose being to sample the best of what the US could throw at these men, from the very lively craft beer scene.

Last Ale Stars we were treated to a slideshow to see where the lads got about to.

By some fluke of nature, I’d got there early on the night and had the good luck to chat to Tom just before the crowd was let into the front bar. He’d said to me that before beer (was there ever a time before?! hehe), he didn’t really have much interest in visiting the States. I nodded in agreement.

Here’s Tom posing as a confident informant with big cans…oh alright then. Those are actually massive brew tanks in the background.

ale stars - beer ambassadors

Inspired by their journey, the beer was chosen to focus on breweries the trio had got to visit.

ale stars - beer ambassadors

(Miro telling the story of the very large Mexican fellow who could have killed him, but provided him with consummate hospitality…overnight)

The nibblies on the night were not going to enough for me, so based upon Mel’s recommendation, I shared the gnocchi on the bar menu with Tris. It did not survive long. RIP gnocchi, we never knew you.

ale stars - beer ambassadors

Tristan took gorgeous photos of the beers sampled on the night but I thought I might just include the photo of all the pretty bottles from which the beer came and include my notes.

Ale Stars Sep 2010 beer lineup

Lagunitas ‘A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin” Ale – the group seemed pretty passionately divided on this one: either it was love, or hate. I personally loved it – didn’t taste like it had 7.3% ABV. A little too chuggable! It uses a mixture of German, European and US hops and softened with wheat to add a ‘bready’ character. The Lagunitas brewery is apparently the size as that of Little Creatures. It also has an infamous car park. I’d say this is a nice entry to hoppy beer.

Avery India Pale Ale – an American IPA. I don’t seem to have many notes on this except ‘very, very bitter’. This is very much in keeping with the West Coast IPA aesthetic as they favour hop flavour over malt.¬†Didn’t quite have as much depth as the first beer sampled though it is possible I just wasn’t used to the bitterness. Been a long time since I had a beer I felt was too bitter for me!

Avery ‘Salvation’ – a collaboration brew with Russian River after realising that both breweries had a beer that had the same name. Rather than have one brewery pull their beer, both blended their ‘Salvations’ and thus we have the result here. Beer is love, folks! This is quite an alcoholic drop at 9% ABV and it’s obvious in the taste, and a little warming. Quite fragrant too.

Left Hand Milk Stout – a bit of a softie as far as stouts are concerned, due to the addition of lactose powder, and not milk. These milk stouts are very, very smooth and silky on the palate. Very aromatic but as far as stouts go, a little thin for my liking. I need to stop drinking those extreme beers perhaps!

It was fantastic to live vicariously (and perhaps with healthier livers!) through our Beer Ambassadors, and wonderful of them to regale us with their tales of beery derring-do. You can read their chronicles on their blog. Naturally, you can read Prof Pilsner’s account (he always gets them up lightning-fast!) and also our beloved Local Taphouse’s too.

Feel free to sift through Tristan’s photos below.

Shandy has one final word for you – make your choice: Jesus or hell?

ale stars - beer ambassadors