Friday, 23 April 2010

A quick stop in Brussels, again.

My recent (as in just returned an hour ago) trip to Brussels didn’t leave much time to do any major beer exploration, or purchasing for that matter, but Thursday evening gave me a couple of hours to get out, feed myself and visit a new beer destination.

I couldn’t resist a brief stop off at Poechenellekelder, as is my wont at this stage (well, third time there at any rate), as it’s got a decent beer selection and some simple food to munch on. As with all such extensive beer menus, it’s a bit of a pin the tail on the donkey, so I picked one of the lower ABV beers (5.8%), Martin’s Pale Ale (Scottish and Newcastle? Hey, I didn't know when I ordered it!), to go with my Double Croque Monsieur (and yes, I did ask the waiter “How big is your Croque, Monsieur” before I ordered the double, but he didn’t quite get the it).

Martin’s Pale Ale is a deep amber with a rocky-looking, foamy head and a beery, slightly fruity aroma. Up front, it has a thick, sweet flavour, like candy, with a pear and vaguely banana-esque fruitiness. An alcoholic warmth comes swiftly after, but the hops take their time coming in, building up to provide a mild, drying bitterness to the finish. A little too sweet, perhaps, for my tastes, but it does provide a robust pale ale experience.

As I was handed the bill before I finished the beer (maybe the Croque question sank in while I ate and drank), I headed on to the place I really wanted to visit: Moeder Lambic Fontaines. They boast a menu of 45 beers on tap, but on the night there was only 40. Only! I hadn’t heard of most of them, and as ABVs weren’t listed (although they were apparently grouped by strength), it was a bit of a lottery. I opted for the De Ranke XX Bitter on tap. It was one that I had before from the bottle, so I wanted to revisit it, just to remind myself. This is a lightly hazy gold with a dense white head. The aroma tells you it’s definitely hop-driven, and first sip delivers big wadges of hoppy bitterness, but rounded at the edges by a light, chewy maltiness. The hops aren’t just providing bitterness though. There’s a big floral and mandarin orange thing going on, and in copious amounts. The finish is sweetish, yet dry, with a lasting, pithy bitterness. Yep, still like it, although my notes are slightly different than before, I think they go in the same direction: yum!

Although I like to drink local when travelling, Moeder’s beers of the month were from two Swiss breweries: Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) and Brasserie Trios Dames. As I’ve had pretty limited exposure to Swiss beer, how could I resist. The helpful waiter ran me through the list, and they did indeed sound tempting (one was a barrel-aged affair at 10% or so), but wanting to keep a clear head for the morning, I went for the Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes La Meule, which was decribed as very hoppy and interesting. Well, quite. The aroma was like being dunked into a vat of TCP (for American readers, read that as something very band-aidy and medicinal/hospital disinfectant).  Frankly, I found it off-putting. Unfortunately, the flavour was exactly the same. To be generous, I tried imagining aniseed, and peraps hints of ginger, but really, I found it unpleasant. The waiter seemed surprised I could only force two-thirds of it down my gullet before ordering something else, and some food to clear my palate. I later (like 5 minutes later, thanks to the power of Twitter) learned that it’s brewed with sage. And yeah, if I’d known that before I might have found it more interesting, but still, not one I’d return to in a hurry.

Reckoning on returning to more familiar ground, the Brasserie Trois Dames IPA came next. This delivers a good grapefruity aroma, with a slight vegetal undertone. It has a lightish body, initially feeling a bit thin on the malts (though there is a gentle caramel backbone), but that can be forgiven as a warming, pithy hop flavour washes over the tongue, followed by a light fruitiness, suggesting tinned peaches. It doesn’t feel big or bold, but the hops deliver an American brashness with a bit of European smoothness, ending in a dry finish. Really quite nice.

Their Bise Noir is a dark mahogany-brown, looking almost black in the glass. The aroma on this one is subtle, giving a delicate hint of chocolate and, again, a fruity note. First taste confirms a chocolate-caramel delight. Light really is the operative word, as the flavours have a light touch, giving a lovely balance between toffee and chocolate, with just a bite of dark chocolate-like bitterness. Noting to blow you away, but well constructed and enjoyable, like all beers should be. I reckon there’s some decent amount of hops hidden in there somewhere, though, as it made me sneeze, something only powerfully hopped beers tend to do! I was actually shocked to later see that it's 7.3%, as it certainly did not taste it! Very smooth.

On Moeder Lambic Fontaines itself, I had mixed opinions while I sat there. The staff are certainly good and attentive enough that you can get what you want, and can ask questions if needed. It strikes me as a great place for locals and regulars to meet (there was much male cheek-kissing going on) and it had a nice buzz as the evening went on. For the solo tourist, it felt a little soulless at times, but for the beer geek it’s a good stop on the Brussels beer circuit. Oh, but do eat somewhere else first, as the food offerings are thin and more snacky. Not bad for some impromptu beer-soakage though!


Leigh said...

That Martin's Pale looks pretty darn the glass as well. In fact, love the fact that all of your beers on this jaunt have come in the correct, lovely glassware.

Barry M said...

I do like that about Belgian bars, particularly impressive when they have a stock of over 100 beers and still seem to have the branded glasses hidden somewhere :D

Laurent Mousson said...

Glad to read you've tried the Swiss offerings at Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas and liked some of them, being one of the links in the chain that got them there.
BTW the bitterness in Trois Dames Bise Noire is not only due to hops, but also to a serious dose of orange peel - it's actually a winter seasonal.

Barry M said...

I certainly enjoyed both the Trois Dames beers that I had. Great to know you were involved in getting them there :D I could drink a lot of Bise Noir, I think. Looking forward to trying more of their when I can!

On an aside, I was making foccacia over the weekend, and used fresh sage as one of the herbs on top. I have to say, although it's a strong flavour that I like, it was not at all like the La Meule, so I have to wonder if it was a dud keg, as really, this is what it reminded me of.

Séan Billings said...

I really like Martin's Pale Ale. It has wonderful fruity notes, which I perceive as Manderin, with a sweet "crumble" pastry flavour.

Bailey said...

I misread "pithy" and thought you'd invented an even better beer descriptor than Beer Nut's 'beery': pinty.

That thing where they just present you with the bill I reckon is something to do with the waiting staff changing shift. Always disconcerting -- the first time it happened to me and Boak, I thought we were being asked to leave the establishment.

Barry M said...

I'd have it again, Séan!

Pinty, eh? I'll have to find a use for that, Bailey. I'm not sure the waiter was changing shift, but it might be normal to pay for the food once consumed and when sitting outside. It didn't bother me too much, although I probably would have had one more if I hadn't paid. Just as well so! :)