One of my favourite things in life is beer. In the past seven years I have come to learn about European beers, and the process that results in them. The different hops, herbs, spices and fruits that go into giving each a distinctive flavour, and I’ve also learnt to recognise a beer from it’s flavour. Of course there are thousands of different beers brewed in Europe, pilsners as well as craft beers, and some of you may know a lot more about them than me. I think craft beers are a thing of beauty and I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you.
Named after an 18th-century brewer, Pauwel Kwak is made by the Bosteels Brewery in Buggenhout, Belgium. It’s made with barley malts, mineral water, wheat, hops and white candy sugar. It’s 8.4% ABV, and is a deep amber colour. It tastes of warm caramel and liquorice, with a herby, bitter aftertaste. You might taste red fruits and yeast as well, and maybe a little sour banana. It very much depends on your taste perceptions, and flavour recognition abilities. I like this one for it’s warmth and depth of flavour. The colour is lovely, a deep transparent toffee apple amber that leaves very little residue on the bulb.
Brugse Zot translated means Brugge’s Fool, or Bruges’ Fool (depending on whether you’re English or not). Bruges Zot is made by the family owned The Half Moon brewery in Bruges, Belgium, and is one of only two beers brewed in Bruges, the other being Straffe Hendrik (below). My partner and I went to visit the brewery a few years ago when we spent a cultural weekend in Bruges. It was fascinating, and so interesting to see how and where the beer is made. Brugse Zot is made with four different varieties of malt, and two aromatic kinds of hop. It’s 6% ABV and tastes of citrus and herbs, it’s very refreshing on a hot day.
Straffe Hendrik comes as a Tripel, which is light in colour and the much darker quadrupel. The Quadrupel is 11%ABV and has a full bodied taste of rich, ripe dark and red fruits. This is definitely a great Christmassy beer.
Also brewed by Bosteels Brewery in Belgium, this tripel beer is made with barley, wheat and oats and a little Styrian hop, which is what gives it the creamy white head. It is brewed from a recipe that dates back to 1679. It’s an 8.4% ABV and tastes of spiced lemons and vanilla.
Brother Jacob comes in a number of varieties. My favourite is the Double Espresso, a strong coffee flavoured ale made by the Anders Brewery in Wezemaal, Belgium. It’s 7.7% ABV and made with Guatemalan coffee beans and cacao. It’s the only beer to be brewed with real coffee.
This beer was brewed at the Abbey of Paix Dieu, and only brewed on a full moon. It is still only brewed when the moon is full, but now by Brasserie Caulier in Tournai, Belgium. Because it is only brewed once a month, each bottle has it’s own vintage. This beer is brewed using traditional artisan methods, thus is free from filtration and pasteurisation, giving it a spiced fruit and hops aroma and taste.
This has to be the very best cherry beer in the world. It’s made from Kasteel’s darker beer and cherry liquer. It’s rich and luxurious and a real treat. I used to drink Lindeman’s cherry kriek, which is basically alcoholic cherry juice, until I found this, and I’m never going back. It’s quite strong at 8% ABV, and the darker beer it’s based on comes through with slight peppery and chocolatey tones within the sweet fruity flavour. This is bliss in a glass.
This beer is to die for, but don’t because it’s made by monks. No really, it is. The Abbey at St. Remy, near Rochefort, France makes a 6 and an 8 beer, but the 10 is my favourite, and is considered the best beer in the world. It’s made from Pilsner and caramel malts, sugar syrups, styrian hops and coriander, giving it an intensely complex fruit, spice, caramel malty flavour that disguises the 11.3% ABV. This is a slowly drunk, comtemplative beer to be enjoyed and warmed slowly in the hands. It’s smooth and warming and like being wrapped in a fluffy comforter in front of a roaring log fire in mid winter. Perfection.
The very first beer I ever had in the Netherlands, and my all-time favourite dubbel beer. It too is made in a monastery, and is one of a series of Chimay beers. It is a Grande Reserve 9% ABV strong dark ale, and has a strong caramel flavour, enhanced with spices, and a malty finish. Considered one of the best dark ales, and a perfect accompaniment to beef, and cheese.
Yes, I’m saving the best until last. The Barista chocolate quadrupel by Kasteel. OMG.! If you like chocolate and beer, it’s perfection in a bottle. The only chocolate beer worth considering. I love this 11% ABV beer. As with all Kasteel beers it’s made by Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck, in Emelgem, West Flanders, Belgium. The Barista is made with three different roasted malts, four different hops, water, yeast, candy sugar, coffee and chocolate. It’s smooth, velvety soft, luxurious, but not too sweet. My all-time favourite chocolate beer.