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Looking Light and Frothy for a 170-Year-Old

Photo courtesy of mushimalt.blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of mushimalt.blogspot.com

I have made no secret of my ongoing respect for the London brewery Fuller’s. What is not to appreciate with England’s oldest indpendently-owned brewery? It is a rare thing for me to be disappointed with one of their offerings. Their commitment to traditional brewing approaches, in particular parti-gyle brewing (read here), is fascinating. I love that their core brands are different blending proportions of the two resulting mashes. And their ESB is in a class of its own.

So, it should come as no surprise that last year when they released their 170th Anniversary Celebration Ale I scooped up a couple bottles. I tried one right away (alas took no tasting notes) and saved one, which I decided to open the other night. I figured about 12 months was the right aging for this beer given it is 7% (although it is bottle-conditioned, which would extend its life).

The beer is light orange with a noted haziness. A tight white head builds on top. It is moderately carbonated, in classic British style. I get aromas of soft toffee, light fruit, some graininess, a bit of bread and honey. Interestingly inviting and complex.

The taste begins with soft grain, a silky fruitiness and a light breadiness. Some honey character accents. The front of the sip is quite is almost like a mead. The fruit has a zesty orange note. The middle brings out a stronger caramel note and fruity esters. The finish is lightly sweet with a slight alcohol tang. The flavours are complex but the overall impression quite subtle and delicate. Quite the feat.

I am impressed at how subtle a beer Fuller’s created for their 170th anniversary. Many brewers would have been tempted to release a big, robust extreme beer. I love that Fuller’s decided to demonstrate their brewing chops by producing a beer that is both complex and flavourful and easy to drink.

I could see myself drinking this beer any day. But anniversaries seem like an appropriate time and place.

 

The Mental Health Benefits of Homebrewing

homebrewsystem

My homebrew system (set up at my old house – I brew out of the garage now)

Onbeer.org is an all-purpose beer website. I try hard to make it both accessible to a wide range of beer drinkers and interesting for those who have more knowledge about this wonderful elixir. I also, from time to time, mention that I am a longtime homebrewer (25 years this summer!). I don’t write about it much (I think the last time was this post), but it is an active part of my beer world.  I don’t get to brew as much as I would like – life is just that way – but I do make a point of brewing whenever I can.

I just finished my first brewday of 2016. It has been almost 6 months since I last had a chance to brew (I can’t brew in the winter due to my propane-powered system), and so this day was particularly anticipated. And I can safely say that not only am I about to have beer to replenish my rapidly depleting reserves, I feel like a new man.

Over the years I have found that a brew day has huge mental health benefits for me. Even the thought of having a day where I have no other responsibilities, no work problems and for one day can ignore the lawn/messy basement/dripping tap without guilt, can get me feeling upbeat and excited. For me a brew day is a stress relief. It calms me and, in general, shifts my emotional space. I find in the days following a brewday I am less stressed, more able to navigate the tensions of my day job and am more at peace at home.

Why?

It is about the process. There is something therapeutic about a brewday, at least for me. It requires focus, attention to detail and a degree of physical exertion. But there is also a fair bit of down time, when all you have to do is sit and watch the mash or boil. Those are the best moments, when I can sit and contemplate life, the universe and everything. And in that moment, I find all is well with all three.

There is a reason I am a homebrewer. Decades ago I fell in love with the process: the magic of turning barley into beer, the marvel at the wonders of yeast, and the pride of knowing I can create my own version of any beer known to humankind. It continues to enthrall and exhilarate me. And it also re-centres my energy (not to get all new agey on you). After a brewday I feel more prepared to take on whatever life gives me.

For the record I brewed two beer today (I finally realized as a guy who struggles to find time to brew, doubling up my day is a huge time saver). I started with a Munich Helles and finished with what will be a Buckwheat Honey Porter (the honey has not yet been added). The day itself went like clockwork (it doesn’t always) – and frankly that is the point. I know my system intimately and so can shift into an organic, instinctive place. It helps create the therapeutic benefit of the day.

So, this post is simply a short homage to the joys of homebrewing. Drinking beer may have uncertain health benefits, but I can say without a doubt that making beer is good for your mental health. And if you agree with me, it is never too late to join your local homebrew club, such as the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild in my hometown (check the list of homebrew clubs in the menu on the right).

 

Happy 500th, Reinheitsgebot!

ReinheitsgebotSaturday is a big day in the beer world. Okay, maybe not St. Patrick’s Day big or Super Bowl big, but for beer fans who appreciate history and quality, It is a pretty big day. April 23, 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the passing of the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law. Five hundred years is a long time for a law to be on the books (it was 400 years before Canadian women even had the right to vote, so think of that).

In honour of the occasion I did something I don’t normally do. I devoted every single one of my beer columns to the topic of the Reinheitsgebot, its history and its signficance today. You can read the Vue Weekly, Planet S or Beer 101 versions. Or, better yet, you can listen to a streaming of my CBC column. (It didn’t hurt they were all due to run in the course of a few days just before the anniversary.)

I try to do two things in the columns. First, I try to offer a correct history of the law. The broad strokes are well known – that it restricted ingredients for beer to water, barley and hops. However, there are lesser known aspects to its origins. For example, the Bavarian version passed in 1516 was not the first beer purity law in Germany. That honour goes to Munich way back in 1484. Also, it was not the law for all of Germany until unification under the Weimar Republic in 1918. I will sidestep the whole government-Catholic church-hop grower conspiracy to drive out pagan ingredients.

Second, and more importantly, I discuss why it still matters today. Sure it force as a law was substantially undermined by the European Union (thanks, Fischer!), and given the modern craft beer revolution its restrictive tenets make it seem rather quaint, stodgy and anachronistic. Why restrict yourself to malt, water and hops (and yeast – but that goes without saying, really) when there is a whole world of interesting ingredients to make interesting beer. From coffee to fruit, pumpkins to chili peppers, oysters to juniper – literally every edible creation is at least potentially an interesting flavour addition. Also, its clumsy efforts at regulation beer (which was a very good thing, by the way – who wants henbane or soot in their beer?), have been supplanted by a much more rigourous regulatory regime.

Allow me to rise to the defence of the Reinheitsgebot. I argue that it is more important today than it was 50 years ago. It may have lost most of its legal force, but it possesses a powerful moral authority over the beer world, especially among lagers. Craft beer companies and their pseudo-competitors scramble to see who can make the sturdiest claim of being Reinheitsgebot-compliant. Today the Reinheitsgebot is a marker of “quality” in beer.

But it is more than that. The Reinheitsgebot is also a symbol of an ethic in brewing. Being true to your ingredients, using only processes that can be justified as being good for the beer and, first and foremost, putting quality first. I think that ethos pervades the craft beer movement, regardless of which ingredients they opt to use.

I am well aware you can make bad beer with only barley, water and hops, and in that respect you can argue it is specious to link the Reinheitsgebot to quality. But I counter by saying, look around. The quality of beer has never been higher in the history of the great beverage. There are many reasons for that (science, ingredients, knowledge of micro-organisms that spoil beer), but I argue the Reinheitsgebot ranks up there. It started us on a course, saying to brewers they had to up their game to survive. And 500 years later we continue on that path.

So this weekend raise a pint for the Reinheitsgebot! It sure looks good for its age.

The Controversial Matilda Doesn’t Disappoint

GI matildaI don’t think I have seen a brewery recently that has evoked as much debate and disagreement as Goose Island. Before its purchase by ABInbev a few years ago, Goose Island was broadly and vaguely respected by most beer fans. Some liked their approach to brewing, others didn’t, but most agreed it was a solid craft brewer.

Jump to today and opinions are much more polarized. Many argue that its beer have changed for the worse (although I am not sure I agree), noting – among other complaints – that their flagship beer are now being brewed in various ABInbev facilities. Others point to the much broader distribution Goose Island now receives thanks to its new owners and suggest that is good for beer drinkers. I acknowledge it can be hard to swallow the fact that Goose Island got swallowed by the largest beer corporation in the world. But it is also intriguing to be able, if nothing else, to try some of Goose Island’s rarer and more respected beer.

A case in point: Matilda. Long known as one of Goose Island’s better beer (and award-winning in its younger years) and seen as a sister to Sofie, it is now fairly easily accessible in our part of the world. It is a Belgian Pale Ale, a style that I personally believe is quite difficult to brew well. Despite vague misgivings about forking over good money to ABInbev, I picked up a bottle a while back.

It pours pale orange, offering good clarity. It is very, very effervescent which helps to build a rocky white head. A moderate amount of lacing builds down the side of the glass. The aroma is very fruity. I detect apricot, raisin and a bit of grapefruit. I also get some honey, meadowflower and touches of sweet malt. The background accents a light, subdued spicy yeast character.

The taste starts with a smooth, almost silky malt sweetness along with toffee, fruit, honey and a light graininess. An earthy, musty character builds in the middle as do some floral notes and a bit of pepper. The finish is wonderfully balanced between malt, a hint of hops and a growing yeasty spiciness of light pepper, dust and other phenols.

I find this beer to be simultaneously complex and subtle. It nails the balance between yeast spiciness and the base beer. It is decidedly Belgian and offers a better-than-most interpretation of Belgian Pale Ale.

Has the beer been changed since the takeover? I can’t say because I never had the opportunity to try it before. And there, my friends, is the core of the dilemma with Goose Island. We have more access to its beer than ever before, but we simply can’t be sure that they are the same, unadulterated versions beer fans appreciated in Chicago and environs years ago.

Personally, I am not sure what to do with Goose Island. But somehow, some way, I keep finding myself trying their beer. I don’t know what that says about me.

Aleberta: Alberta Beer Then and Today

aleberta logoLast night I got my first view of the new beer history documentary series Aleberta at a screening at Yellowhead Brewery. As of this morning, the three-part series is available online and it will soon begin showing on Telus Optik tv (who funded the project). You can watch all three parts on the Aleberta website. I could embed the videos here but prefer to generate traffic for the film’s producer.

The series begins with the origins of beer in Alberta and runs up to the 1980s (that’s a lot of ground to cover in 17 minutes!). Relying heavily on interviews with local beer historians (including yours truly!), it walks us through some of the unique characters that built beer in Alberta in the early 1900s and beyond. They also dug up some great archival photos to bring some of the stories to life. My favourite was the drunkard sitting on the sidewalk in front of a tavern door with a “ladies and escorts” sign above. If he was the escort, I would hate to see what kind of shape the “lady” was. The first part finds a nice balance between solid historical facts and  playful take on some of the more outrageous elements of Alberta’s beer history, such as the silly post-prohibition restrictions on taverns and retail sales.

The second part looks at the rise of craft beer in the province, starting with Big Rock and moving through the breweries that are now mainstays but at the time had quite the struggle to stay afloat. It is easy to forget just how barren Alberta was for good tasting beer back then. It also reminds us of the failed efforts during that period.

The last part looks at the mini-explosion of new breweries over the last two years. It is less history and more of a celebration of where craft beer has come. It profiles a number of the young upstart breweries that are beginning to populate the Alberta scene.

All around, I found the production to be entertaining, informative and engaging – which is exactly what a documentary should be. It is must viewing for Alberta beer afficionados. And even if you are not from Alberta, I think you will appreciate the inspiring and at times quirky history of beer in Alberta. Just forgive the ramblings of the short guy in the plaid shirt who pops up periodically in the films.

 

Stately But Mainstream

sandm logoLast night I attended a media “Menu Tasting” event for the opening of the Jasper Avenue location of State & Main, the growing chain of casual restaurants owned by Franworks, a culinary company that also operates Original Joe’s. I rarely attend such food-oriented events (in part because I am not often invited and when I am my schedule usually conflicts), but had an available evening so thought I would go and give it a try.

The restaurant, located on the prime corner of Jasper and 101 Street (kind of our State and Main when you think of it), is open, bright and airy. The decor is relaxed and low key with a nice patio for the warmer days.

We were offered a series of dishes from their menu, ranging from pretzels and chicken wings to Asian inspired salads to their signature steak dish. The fare was well prepared and nicely presented. Highlights for me included the Dragon Boat Lettuce Wraps, the Jalepeno Mac & Cheese and the Ice Cream Sandwich (made with house-baked chocolate chip cookies). The Empire State steak looked very good, although I did not partake myself (as I don’t eat beef).

sandm tacosThe menu is designed for a casual, pleasant, accessible dining experience. There are a range of culinary styles available and I found most of the dishes had a light, summery character to them. Not the Mac & Cheese though, but who would want a summery macaroni and cheese? The approach is not dissimilar to a host of these middle-range restaurant chains, including OJ’s, Cactus Club, Moxie’s and Joey Tomatoes and others.

However this is a beer website, so I should focus on the beer. On that front State & Main gets a hearty “meh”. They have 18 beer on tap, but nothing that jumps out as particularly interesting. It has a house pale lager and red ale, which I assume are the as the OJ’s versions. It has a couple Big Rock, including a rotating tap (currently their Dunkelweizen), but then it is mostly a parade of standard macro-owned beer. They have Goose Island IPA (now an ABInbev property) and one or two craftish offerings but not much else.

Nothing local. Nothing that would make a craft beer drinker get exciting, or even mildly interested.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the tap selections – I tried the dunkelweizen and the Goose Island, meaning there was something for me to go to – but given the rapid changes in the beer world, I would have expected some of these regional chains, like Earl’s and OJ’s, to be upping their game a little bit. I know beer is not their primary selling point, but a growing portion of their customers will be looking for something more interesting than Stella and Guinness.

I am particularly surprised at the pedestrian offerings given that The Underground and Craft Beer Market are just down the block and offer substantially superior beer options. Even pubby mainstay Sherlock Holmes on Rice Howard Way has a bit more to offer. Soon that area of downtown could be a craft beer neighbourhood and State & Main risks being left behind.

I have no doubt the folks at Franworks have done their market research and determined that this particular selection will be popular among their customers. I also quietly wonder if some contracts with the chosen providers might also be at play. I have no evidence such an arrangement exists but the list was heavy with a couple of corporations, which often raises suspicions, warranted or otherwise.

I enjoyed myself at State & Main. It is an inviting, friendly atmosphere with good food that can go down easy after a hard day’s work in the office towers. I just wish they would up their beer game a bit.

ASBA Hiring, Breweries Opening and More

ASBA logoTime for some prairie beer news. I find these days things move so fast that my semi-regular posts to offer a round-up aren’t really keeping up – however here is yet another just to get things back up-to-date.

The biggest news, industry-wise, may be that the Alberta Small Brewers’ Association is looking for a new Executive Director (see here for job posting). Since the organization’s formation a couple years back, Greg Zeschuk had been heading up the organization on a volunteer basis. That was always intended to be a temporary solution, as Zeschuk has other plans (include opening a brewpub sometime in 2017). So this is a significant step in the organization’s evolution. The job will be part-time to start, but as membership grows and other possibilities open up, the role may expand.

We also have seen a new brewery open this month in Calgary. Boiling Oar Brewing in Calgary opened its doors a couple weeks back. A small brewery (it has a 7 HL system at the moment), it currently has a Kolsch and a Pale Ale as its first offerings. I hope to have a longer profile of the brewery and its principals soon, once I have a chance to sit down with them and chat.

In other news:

  • As mentioned in a recent review post (find here) Brauerei Fahr has contracted with Tool Shed Brewing to produce its first beer while its brewery is under construction. Fahr Away Hefeweizen is out and about in select locations, with a Maibock and other offerings to follow shortly.
  • Big Rock released in mid-March its latest barrel-aged beer. This installment is a 10.4% Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter. It is available in bombers around the province while supplies last.
  • Remaining in Calgary, Wild Rose has released their spring seasonal. Czech Pilsner is their modern take on a European classic lager. It, too will be available in 650-ml bombers.
  • village squeezeBoy, Calgary is a busy place this month, clearly. Village Brewing has collaborated with Fiasco Gelato for its latest seasonal offering. The beer is Village Squeeze, and it is a German Helles style with lemon zest and raspberries added to give it a summery, fruity character. In the ice cream department, we have Fiasco Squeeze, a sorbetto using the same fruits and some of the beer itself. Both the sorbetto and the beer will be available through the hot, sunny days of summer.
  • Jumping up to Whitehorse, Yukon has officially released its latest beer in its classic-movie inspired big bottle series. Some Like It Haskap, is a light, fruity Kolsch with the addition of haskap berries, which is a berry similar to a blueberry and well-suited for the northern climate. It is also considered a “superfood” for its anti-oxidant properties.

There are also some interesting beer events coming in the next few weeks.

  • Coming this week is the official launch of Aleberta: Our Brewing History, a documentary looking at the province’s long brewing traditions. The first screening was actually last Thursday in Calgary (sorry, Calgary readers!). Tonight it launches in B.C. and on Thursday, April 14 will be shown in Edmonton at the Yellowhead Brewery taproom. I have a particular interest in the movie as I was one of the people interviewed for it. I have no idea if my face perfect for radio will translate to the big screeen. Info and tickets can be found here.
  • Alberta Beer Festivals is gearing for their spring events, which are their signature festivals. The Calgary International Beer Festival runs May 6 & 7 at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. Edmonton’s Craft Beer Festival is June 3 & 4 at the Northlands Expo Centre. Tickets and info can be found here.
  • A company called BrewHops has started offering ocassional tours of  Edmonton breweries and brewpubs. The nascent operation offered its first tours in February and hopes to offer variously themed tours for tourists and Edmontonians alike. I also hope to connect with the people behind the operations to give you a bit more info (sorry, but the day job has been quite hectic lately!).

And on a final note, I have been contemplating the value of doing these news round-ups. I started them a few years ago as a way to compile various happenings into one place. However, recently I have found it hard to keep up with all the news in the region (this post likely misses lots going on in Saskatchewan and Manitoba), and often the items are old news by the time I post them. I find them fairly time consuming posts to write. Also other websites, including one of my favourits, Canadian Beer News, and the new and impressive The Daily Beer (although they have a solely Alberta focus), are doing a better job than I am of keeping drinkers up-to-date.

So I want to poll my readers. Using the comments section, let me know if you still find these round up posts valuable or if I should shift my attentions to other topics including analysis, reviews and education. I want to offer what you want to read, so let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

Saskatchewan Liquor Privatization: Devil’s in the Details

sask flagOn Monday night Saskatchewan voters handily re-elected Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party with a majority government. Part of Mr. Wall’s platform addressed the issue of liquor retail privatization. Specifically their platform promised this:

“Convert 40 government-owned liquor stores to private stores and add 12 new private liquor
stores in Saskatchewan to provide more choice, more convenience and more competitive pricing to
Saskatchewan consumers.”

If they follow through on this province, that would mean more than half of the current 75 SLGA outlets will be privatized and the number of private stores would quadrupel. It would create an odd hybrid system of public and private retail that I have a hard time believing will be sustainable over the longer term. My suspicion is that this is an initial step and full privatization will follow in a couple of years.

As a resident of the only province that has a wholly privatized system (remember, Quebec still has their government SAQ stores), I would like to say to Saskatchewanians: “be careful what you ask for”.

On the surface, retail privatization seems like a clear winner for both consumers and producers. However, there are many devils in the details and the Wall government has so far offered very few. Even their so-called Green Paper last fall was woefully short on how the system would work. The end result is far more complex.

We will know more in the coming months, but for now here are a few thoughts that Saskatchewan residents should consider before rushing to cheer private retail:

  • Privatization in Alberta led to increased beer prices. Alberta now has among the highest prices for beer in the country.
  • Be careful about promises of “more choice” and “greater selection”. Yes, Alberta has a proliferation of liquor stores and the highest number of SKUs (product identifiers) in the country. However, scratch a little deeper and you find it is a superficial selection. The bulk of stores are small mom and pop operations that carry the same basic selection as the next guy. There are only a handful of stores that offer a wide selection. Plus, a large portion of those SKUs are multiple packaging formats of the same corporate product.
  • Will Saskatchewan private stores look like this?

    Will Saskatchewan private stores look like this?

    One of the biggest questions will be how does privatization affect Saskatchewan’s policy on beer imports? Right now the SLGA decides who gets to sell in the province, and they keep a tight lid on the number of imports. Will there be pressure to create open borders like Alberta has? If so, how will that intensified competition affect local producers? (Ask Alberta breweries how they feel about that.)

  • Similarly, will local producers get to self-distribute, or will they be required to go through the SLGA warehouse?
  • Will private retailers be required to stock a certain number of local products? That is one of the (potential) strengths of government stores – they can promote local beer.
  • There is potential for a huge urban-rural divide. Private retailers (especially those offering decent selection) will want to operate in Regina and Saskatoon, where the profits are. What happens to rural consumers?
  • Finally – and I realize it is not strictly beer-related – what of the 400 or so jobs that will be eliminated due to privatization? Sure, new jobs would spring up in the private stores, but no one can seriously compare the two in terms of permitting people to provide for their family.

My biggest worry is the move’s impact on Saskatchewan’s local breweries. The province has seen quite the mini-boom in the last couple years of new, small craft brewery operations. It is a very encouraging trend. However, it is also at a very formative and delicate stage. Most of the new players are not yet fully anchored in the market, and most are still in the “raising awareness” stage. A rapid and uncontrolled influx of imports from around Canada and the world will create a seismic shift in the competitive environment for those new breweries.

Obviously I don’t know what will happen, but neither does the Wall government. Once you unleash market forces, you can never really tell where they are going to push and who is going to get blown over as a result.

The election might be over and everyone wants to go back to normal, but I would advise Saskatchewan beer drinkers to keep paying attention over the next few months. Decisions the government makes in the coming period will have profound impact on the shape of Saskatchewan’s craft beer industry for a long time to come.

I, for one, plan to keep a close eye on developments next door.

Fahr’s First Foray a Fine One

PrintA couple weeks ago fledgling brewery Brauerei Fahr (you can read my profile of the brewery here) announced that it had released its first beer, for now contract brewed at Tool Shed while they build their brewery in Turner Valley. I haven’t done a news round-up recently so that news had not yet graced these pages.

For those who have not hear of Brauerei Fahr yet (read the profile!), owner Jochen Fahr is commited to brewing traditional German styles. The first beer is Fahr Away Hefeweizen, and it is based upon Fahr’s award-winning homebrew recipe. As it turns out I had a chance to try a pint over the weekend. As it has only been out two weeks, it really is about as fresh as you can get it – which is a good thing for weizens, which don’t age particularly well.

It pours a cloudy pale yellow, cloudier than many hefes sold around here, and forms a big bubbly, frothy white head. The aroma is soft grass, bubblegum and banana mingling with soft, earthy clove and a general all-around fruitiness. I must say I am enticed by the aroma of this beer. It smells EXACTLY as I want a hefeweizen to smell.

The front of the taste offers a stalky wheat character, a bit of a silky sweetness and a light citrus fruitiness. The middle picks up some grassiness and a touch of earthy clove. A ripe banana character rises in the mid-palate as well, creating a tension between estery fruit and earthy clove. Hints of clover honey dance in the background. The finish is light, not too dry and fairly refreshing. I find the body overall to be a bit too light for my tastes, verging  on watery. Hefes should be light, but I wonder if this one goes a bit too far on that scale.

I want to be careful to not be too critical at this stage. This is the first batch from a contract brew. This beer will morph and change over time, in particular when Fahr gets his own brewhouse up and running. Still, it is interesting to examine where it is starting. All new brews can afford being tweaked and adjusted to land where the brewer wants it. I haven’t spoken to Fahr, but suspect he has his own points of critique of the beer. For me, I think it needs a sharper edge to the flavours and a touch more body to give the flavours something to rest upon.

That said, there is no question I enjoyed the pint, and would happily order another soon. A fine first effort from Fahr. Can’t wait to see what he has coming next. I do know he is collaborating with Wild Rose on a maibock for the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot later in April (more on that in a future post).

 

Oud Beersel’s Sweet and Sour Lambic Offering

oudbeerselgueuzeIt seems fitting given my post a couple days ago (read here) that I end this week by reviewing a traditional lambic. I have had a 2014 bottle of Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze Vieille kicking around my cellar for the last few months and recently in a puckerish mood decided to pop it open.

The Oud Beersel produces a gueuze that is loyal to lambic brewing traditions. Spontaneously fermented it is created by blending one, two and three year old lambics. A very tart, yet still drinkable beer is the result. The brewery is located in the town of Beersel, which is a suburb on the southwest edge of Brussels. The latest incarnation of the brewery began in 2005, although there are some legitimate historical links tracing back to 1880.

Their version of gueuze pours cloudy dark yellow with a thin, loose white head. Lots of effervescence going on, giving the beer a very lively appearance. The aroma produces a clean lactic tang with a meadow honey backing. I also get some soft floral notes and an earthy, pungent accent.

The sip starts with a hint of honey, fruity sweetness and a light grain. However, this gentle beginning is quickly overtaken by a lactic sourness that sharpens the beer. I notice it does not totally take away the beer’s body and sweetness, leaving some residual sugar on the palate. As it works its way back the tartness gives a bit of space for a musty funk in the finish. The mustiness and tartness share the stage at the end, and along with the residual sweetness give the beer a three-way finish. Its body seems fuller and more rounded than many gueuzes I have had.

It is a complex version of gueuze. I wonder if it retains a bit too much sweetness (even after 2 years in the bottle), as it is not quite as puckering as most versions. I find this both unusual and something of a setback for the beer, interfering with my puckered enjoyment. Still, it has an interesting multi-dimensional character to it that score it a few points, in particular the funky Brettanomyces character – which very likely developed in the bottle of the past two years.

For me it can’t overtake some of the classic versions like Cantillon and Tilquin, mostly because the blending leaves a little too much sweetness. However, I wouldn’t turn  up my nose if you offered me one – at least until the tartness causes it to crinkle.