Recently in Belgium Category

Fantôme Artist 2

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This is the second in a series of beers meant to highlight a young Belgian artist, Gaelle Boulanger. There are five planned bottlings, each featuring work from Gaelle. Once the bottles are gone, the art will be auctioned off for her benefit. I don't know any details about this particular piece of art, but it looks like a chart of some kind. I shall dub this piece "Stock Market". I'm sure Gaelle would be appalled, so let's move on.

The beer is, well, who the hell knows? (Serious knowers know!) Dany describes it as a "Strange beer". It's dark, it's funky, might as well just call it a saison because lol, style definitions don't matter. But hey, it's a great looking bottle, fancy foil too. Here goes nothing:

Fantôme Artist 2

Fantôme Artist 2 - Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown, with several fingers of bubbly light tan head. Not a gusher, but hugely carbonated, and I poured very carefully so as to minimize head and still ended up with a lot. Smells beautiful, sweet, fruity funk, a little musty earth, spicy, maybe even some chocolate, like chocolate covered fruit. Taste hits those sweet and fruity funk notes up front before hitting spice and earthy funk in the middle along with some mitigated dark malt notes and returning to that fruit in the finish, which adds a nice tart note. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, medium bodied, relatively dry, though the tart note keeps things sweet enough. Absolutely does not taste like a 10% ABV beer, alcohol hidden well. Overall, this is fabulous, one of the best dark saisons I've had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/18/16.

As always, Fantôme is an experience. Maybe one more bottle in the pipeline. And hopefully more Artist bottles will show up soon...

Fantôme Desert Ghost

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Good news for Fantôme dorks! It appears that Dany is looking to step up operations, maybe invest in a new brewing system, and start putting out creative new offerings on the regular. Dany being Dany, his wording struck a chord, and now there's a new facebook group called Serious Knowers (of all and nothing) and memes about Master Knowers and I didn't think it possible to love Fantôme any more. As per usual, I'm always on the lookout for more Fantôme, and I've recently come into a few new bottles of stuff. Most exciting. Someday I hope to be a Master Knower.

This beer is a collaboration with Arizona Wilderness, who recently visited Belgium and brought along some ingredients foraged from the Sonoran Desert to brew with Fantôme. Of course, Dany won't tell you what these ingredients are; will probably just respond with the typical "Secrets Secrets" answer. I guess we'll just have to go and drink the sucker and see if we recognize anything:

Fantôme Desert Ghost

Fantôme Desert Ghost - Pours an orange hued gold color with half a finger of head that quickly fades to a cap, then sticks around for a while. Smells great, that pear-like earthy funk is back, some sweet floral aromas too. Taste is quite nice, sweet (perhaps some residual sugars hanging around), that fruity yeast feel, pears and the like, a little bit of earth, some spicy yeast too, with a tart bite towards the finish but not really sour. Fantôme's yeast is still distinct, but really doing well these days. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little low on the carbonation (could really use more), no real acidity. Overall, would like more carbonation, but otherwise fantastic. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/11/16.

Always an experience. I've got another interesting new Tome in the pipeline, and frankly the recent bottles of regular Fantôme and Dark White were fantastic. Really looking forward to wider availability of their stuff. You will most certainly be seeing more about Fantôme in the future of this blog...

Lambickx

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Hardcore lambic nerdery incoming. Take cover! So there have been some attempts to classify the different styles of lambic. The most common is to separate Gueuze (blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic), fruited lambic (exactly what it sounds like), and unblended lambic (lambic that is not part of a gueuze blend or fruited lambic, and is usually near still or flat).

As it turns out, the usage of "unblended" is mildly inaccurate, but persists due to its widespread usage in English-speaking publications (N.B. this includes writings from Michael Jackson and other highly respected authors, so this isn't meant as a slight). While "unblended" lambic does exist, it seems to be rare. Most beers categorized as such, like Cantillon's Grand Cru Bruocsella or De Cam's Oude Lambiek, are actually blends of various old lambics. Since they are all older lambics, they still don't qualify as gueuze (which is a blend of old and young) and they don't experience any refermentation in the bottle and thus lack carbonation. Locals in lambic regions tend to refer to these beers as simply young or old lambics (The terms "jonge" and "oude" in Dutch and "jeune" and "vieux" in French translate to "young" and "old" respectively).

I have, of course, been guilty of using "unblended" in the past. Frankly, it's never been my favorite approach to lambic. I tend to be sensitive to carbonation issues and thus haven't been in love with the few examples I managed to snag. That said, I'm told that this approach does allow you to get closer to a given brewery's "house character" than a gueuze, and with this Lambickx offering sourced from De Troch, I think I may be catching on to the style.

This is all well and good, but it would be nice to know the carbonation state before opening a bottle and just calling something "lambic" seems like too big of an umbrella term for that. Maybe instead of "Unblended" you could use "Still" or "Pure" or "Straight" (all of which I've seen used in differing capacities). I mean, I knew what I was in for when I popped the cork on this bottle, but from the label alone one could easily assume it would be carbonated (like most other lambic or beer). Regardless, as hinted at above, I ended up enjoying this much more than I would have thought. Then again, that very "pure" nature of this offering also leads to more variability, so maybe I just got a particularly good bottle. Or maybe Vanberg & DeWulf's barrel selection is just on point.

Lambickx De Troch

Lambickx De Troch 2012-2014 - Pours a honey gold color, no head, no carbonation. Smells great, light funkiness, tart fruit, sour twang. Tastes quite nice, sweet, nice tart fruit character, a little oak, moderate to low sourness, very well balanced. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, still (no real carbonation), moderate to low acidity, again very well balanced. Overall, this is much better than I was expecting. I've not been particularly enamored with unblended lambics in the past, but this is quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/6/16. Brew Year: 2012. Bottle Year: 2014. Number of Bottles: 2667. Source: De Troch. Barrel Type: 600 liter French Oak.

So I may have to snag some more Lambickx vintages and variants, maybe even age some further. Other Still Lambics might get on my radar as well. Funnily enough, while I have a category for Gueuze, I pretty much put everything else in a generic Lambic category. Now that I've got a couple of these Pure Lambics, I should probably

Hanssens Oude Schaarbeekse Kriek

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Schaerbeek is nicknamed "the city of donkeys" because they are ruled by a master race of giant, hyper-intelligent donkeys (and I, for one, welcome our new donkey overlords and would like to remind them that as a trusted blogging personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground cherry caves.) Or, you know, people of Schaerbeek, who were cultivators of sour cherries, would use donkeys to transport their precious cargo to its various destinations. One of those things. Anyway, the traditional cherries used in lambic krieks came from that region, but as lambic production has increased, the usage of authentic Schaarbeekse cherries has lessened due to obvious supply and demand pressures. Many breweries risk the "wrath of the donkeys" to do limited runs of their standard krieks with Schaarbeekse cherries, and the result is generally considered a step above the normal kriek offerings.

Hanssens tends to be known more for their Gueuze, which is very good, but when you take their standard kriek (a middle-of-the-road fruited lambic offering, quite nice but not a monster at all) and substitute those Schaarbeekse cherries, they manage to put out an interesting special release. Which, of course, is what we have here.

Hanssens Oude Kriek Handgeplutkte Schaarbeekse Krieken

Hanssens Oude Kriek Handgeplutkte Schaarbeekse Krieken - Pours a deep, dark red color with a little fizzy head that is not long for this world. Smells great, tons of cherry character, but also some oaky aromas and a very nice earthy funk too. Taste has a nice and rich cherry flavor, plenty of oak, and a little earthy funk livening things up (or, er, grounding them?) Sourness peeks in towards the middle and intensifies through the finish. More acetic than usual, but not at all inappropriate and still well balanced. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a bit low on the carbonation (but nowhere near still), a little sticky or syrupy, but still pleasantly so, moderate to high acidity. Overall, this is delicious. A slight increase in carbonation would make this one a classic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 375 ml bottled(375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/29/16. Bottled: March 2015.

So that's a nice offering from Hanssens, a mildly underrated lambic producer (I have not reviewed their Gueuze, but it's good and reliably available).

Kerkom Reuss

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So we continue our tour through the swanky realm of Belgian style ales blended with a small proportion of lambic. In this case, Brouwerij Kerkom takes a less bitter version of their standard Belgian Pale Ale and blends in about 20% lambic. Sourcing details are sketchy, but rumor has it that the initial batch was from Drie Fonteinen (perhaps another consequence of the infamous thermostat incident), while subsequent batches vary. Some say Girardin, some say Boon, others say they are sworn to secrecy. The beer is named after the first beer brewed at Kerkom, way back in 1878.

Kerkom Reuss

Brouwerij Kerkom Reuss - Pours a bright golden yellow color with several fingers of fluffy, big bubbled head and lots of visible carbonation. Bottle wasn't quite a gusher, but that cork came out with authority and if I didn't pour quickly, it would have overflowed. Smells quite nice, musty Belgian yeast, spicy and fruity with an earthy component and that lambic twang. Taste hits those fruity esters pretty hard, lightly tart, but it's brought into check by the spicy Belgian yeast and a bit of earthiness in the middle, finishing again on that tart note. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but crisp and refreshing, light to medium bodied, very approachable. Overall, this is fantastic and strikes a good balance with the blended lambic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/22/16. Bottled 07 04 15 (from the cork).

Kerkom actually makes a beer called Bink Grand Cru which is one of my favorite Belgian Beer Roulette discoveries, even if I haven't seen it around in a while. I should seek out another bottle of that stuff, and might as well try out some of their other offerings. They're two for two so far, s

Zwanze Day 2016

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Zwanze is a French word that roughly translates as "Humor typical of Brussels" and each year, Brussels-based Cantillon releases a beer of that name in a special worldwide event. As you might expect from the name, the beers tend to incorporate experimental ingredients or unconventional takes on their classical lambic style. In 2016, only 50 or so different bars throughout the world could hold a Zwanze Day celebration and as luck would have it, one was Monk's Cafe in Philly.

Monks Cafe Neon Sign
(Click to Embiggen)

Of course, the occasion also marks an excuse to tap lots of other rare and interesting beers, including four other Cantillon lambics. Monk's also held a truly astouding raffle and sells a limited amount of Cantillon bottles to-go. It's an all cash event and proceeds go to a good cause, this year being Fair Food. I wasn't sure if I'd be up to making the trek into the city and braving the crowds, but during dinner on the preceding night I cracked open a fortune cookie and saw this:

Fortune Cookies Never Lie

So I strapped my big boy pants on (ugh, I had to wear pants too, it was the worst), hopped on a train, and got in line a couple hours early. And if you think that's crazy, some people had been waiting in line since 8 pm the previous night (around the time I was elbow deep into some Chinese food).

The Loon
(Click to Embiggen)

It was a bit of a madhouse and crowds aren't really my thing, but I managed to stay sane with the help of some Cantillon Mamouche (a lambic made with elderflowers that originated as Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they kept making it), fresh Kriek (which is a super jammy cherry bomb and very different with some age on it - either way, it's awesome), Gueuze (always a delight), and what I believe was Iris Grand Cru (which is Iris sans the dry-hopping and unblended to keep carbonation minimal - interesting to try, but I'm not overly fond of still beer.)

Two for one - Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek
(Click to Embiggen)

The event started at noon, but they weren't tapping Zwanze until 3 pm, so I also got to dip into some other interesting beers, including a pair beers cellared since 2010. Russian River Supplication is one of my favorite beers and with 6 years on it, it still holds up pretty well. A little oxidation and perhaps a bit mellower than fresh, it also had a beautiful vinous fruit character that worked great. Lost Abbey Red Poppy from 2010 has also held up very well, retaining a surprising amount of cherry character.

Eventually, the crowd had swelled to bursting levels and Zwanze was poured. This year's edition is a throwback to Cantillon's old-school Framboise (i.e. pre-Rosé De Gambrinus, which is made with 100% Rasberries). As Jean van Roy explains: "When we used raspberries from Belgium, the taste was nice, but the color was not so beautiful. It was a bit old rose. To get a bit more color to the beer, we blended the raspberry beer with 25 percent of cherry Lambic and a bit of vanilla." For Zwanze, Jean switched things up a bit, producing a blend of 82% raspberry lambic with 18% blueberry lambic and .05% vanilla added.

Cantillon Zwanze 2016
(Click to Embiggen)

And it's delicious. Best nose of anything I had all day, complex fruit, hints of funk and oak. Taste follows the nose and the mouthfeel was a bit undercarbed (but nowhere near still, like the Iris was). It was great and with a little age and some extra carbonation, I feel like it could get even better (I don't think they sold any bottles to go anywhere, even at the brewery, but I would hope they kept some in reserve - would love to try some in a year's time to see how it held up). I wish I got a bigger pour, but I'm glad so many other people were able to get a taste.

All in all, a very exciting event. I'm really glad I went but truth be told, big crowds aren't really my thing so I'm not sure if I'd go again. I'm reliably informed that some other venues weren't nearly as crowded, so perhaps that's the ticket. Only time will tell! Until then, I'm sure I can occupy myself with lots of other great beer, perhaps with Monk's Cafe's help!

Fantôme Forest Ghost

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So it's called Forest Ghost, but it's got palm trees and a beach on the label? Like, I'm sure ghosts enjoy traveling and vacations and all, but what's going on here? It turns out that this beer is brewed with Brazilian spices and since Brazil is known for their palm trees and forests, et voila! As per usual, I went into this with no idea what to expect and of course bustin' always makes me feel good:

Fantome Forest Ghost - Light

Fantôme Forest Ghost (Light) - Pours a mostly clear dark orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy, dense white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, candied malt, typical earthy Brett funk, maybe hints of fruit too, banana and raisins maybe? Taste has a nice sweetness up front, followed by some of that earthy Brett, noble hops, maybe some unidentifiable spice (peppery? Maybe it is identifiable), and finishing with that raisiny banana note. Mouthfeel is fuller bodied and richer than expected, though it's not a monster by any stretch. Well carbonated, tight, and balanced. Overall, rock solid stuff here, yet another interesting spin from Dany. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/15/16.

I've got the "Dark" version of Forest Ghost in the pipeline as well, though I may end up sharing that one with some friends. Always looking for more Fantôme!

Rodenbach Alexander

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Pop culture is awash with fan attempts to keep their favorite media alive. From Trekkies keeping their beloved three seasons in syndication for years and finally convincing Paramount to bring the crew back on the big screen to more modern (and sometimes failed) attempts to save Chuck or Firefly, fans tend to live up to the linguistic origin of that term: fanatics. Depending on your point of view, these campaigns can range from inspirational and noble to whiny and entitled (and everywhere inbetween). However you judge such advocacy, you can't deny that it is sometimes effective. And sometimes it happens in the beer world.

Rodenbach Alexander is a cherry-dosed Flanders Red that went defunct somewhere around the turn of the century. The beer scene wasn't quite as hot then, and was actually contracting due to a minor bubble burst of speculation before the craft movement fully got its legs under it. So Rodenbach made due with their Classic and Grand Cru beers, truly world-class stuff, until they couldn't ignore the demand for Alexander to return. I'm sure the success of Caractère Rouge (a similar fruited Flanders Red) helped too. I don't know of a pop-culture-like campaigns to bring it back, but when the few remaining bottles of Alexander start going for 4-digits on the black market, you've got to think that a brewery would notice that there's a market to be tapped there... so 2016 sees the first batch of Alexander in 17 years. Actually, it's just in time for the 30th anniversary of the first time they brewed this beer in 1986 in order to commemorate the 200th birthday of Alexander Rodenbach (obviously one of the founders of the brewery). All of which is good news indeed:

Rodenbach Alexander

Rodenbach Alexander (2016) - Pours a striking, almost clear ruby red color with a finger of fizzy off white (maybe some pinkish hues). Smells of sour cherries, vinous fruit, with a little oak and vanilla pitching in. Taste hits that sour cherry and vinous fruit character pretty hard, but there's just enough of the background acetic flanders red character anchoring it, moderate sourness, vinegar, a little oak and vanilla providing depth. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderate acidity, medium to high (but appropriate) carbonation. Overall, this is along the lines of Caractère Rouge, but not quite as fizzy fruity tooty. That... means something, right? Whatever, this is great right now, but I suspect it could age fabulously. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/28/16. Best before: 01-02-2019.

Rodenbach delivers, as always. I might have to track down another bottle of Caractère Rouge, you know, for reasearch, to see how it compares.

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