Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium is a bit of a fairy tale story for many beer enthusiasts…started in 1994 by two best friends as a home-brewing fascination it quickly turned into more than a hobby. After a few short years they acquired weekend brew space at the historic Deca Brewery in West Flanders. After 11 years of sharing space and capacity with Deca, De Ranke built their own brewery in Dottignies, a town only a few minutes from the French border. De Ranke beers have been scarce both out of and in Belgium until their import to Alberta last year. Pere Noel is a Belgium Strong Ale (a category lacking boundaries besides being of Belgian origin)> brewed with brewers gold, hallertau hops and licorice. Unlike most Belgian Christmas beers that are rich, dark and fruity Pere Noel is spicy, sweet and bitter. At 7% ABV Pere Noel is about normal for Belgian style beers but rather low for a Christmas beer with most others hitting upwards of 9% ABV.
Pouring out a bright golden amber Pere Noel lacks the heavy effervescent head of other De Ranke beers and settles rather quickly. A thin line of lacing foam sticks easily to the glass as the head subsides slowly to a thin layer of bright white bubbles. The nose seems a bit out of place with the style as it is predominant with citric and grassy hops, toasted caramel and bready malts, mild spiced notes and a bit of alcohol warmth. A subtle yet pervasive funky aroma sticks to the nose throughout the tasting lending a bit of intrigue to this beer. The mid palate of taste is smooth and somewhat fruity with mild citrus hop notes as well as hints of apple and pear combining well with notes of toasted wheat, caramel, cereal grains and light licorice/anise spice flavors. The finish has a moderate bitterness that lingers unexpectedly into the aftertaste leaving mild resinous notes and sweet fruity flavors. Pere Noel has a great balance overall with bitterness, spices and malts blending well and leaving a crisp, clean but bitter Belgian flavor profile. Overall, a interesting and unique twist on a Belgian Christmas beer.
Price: $12.99 Grade: 90/100
In a century old warehouse a few blocks from the bustling Zuid Station (South Station) in Brussels, Belgium lives a true gem of lambic brewing. The small family owned and operated lambic brewery in the Anderlecht area has been in operation since 1900. At current date the Cantillon is in the capable hands of a fourth generation descendent of founder Paul Cantillon. Known best for its Champagne of Brussels – the Gueuze style lambic Cantillon also brews several other lambic styles including kriek or cherry lambic. During a recent visit to Belgium I was privileged enough to tour the brewery and try out 4 styles of lambic beer for a cost far, far cheaper than bottles cost at home. The brewery was incredibly unique and eyeopening with highlights being the walls upon walls stuffed with barrels and bottles of liquid gold. In addition since lambic involves wild yeast and open vats during fermentation, spiders are revered and protected in the brewing area as a defense against insects and other such things. Cantillon Kriek is a 5% beer produced by blending lambic beer with lambic beer brewed with cherries grown in Belgium.
Unlike many other Belgian beers that are corked, Cantillon beers use a bottle cap instead of a wire cage to hold the cork in place. Opening a bottle of Cantillon not only takes more time and patience but also more reverence for the liquid inside as you are opening a $25 bottle. Popping th ecork out and pouring Cantillon Kriek you notice the cherries instantly with a bright pinkish red body colour and a huge foamy pink head that fizzes itself out quickly. The head caps off at a thin tightly held layer of pink bubbles. The nose seems overbalanced by tart cherries and a big acetic sourness commonplace in Cantillon lambic beers. A bit of a sweetness comes through as I take a few more sniffs although the sourness complicates with a mild sour funkyness entering the mix. The first sip is sweet and tart with juicy cherry nectar bud subsides to a hairy funk and sourness. The balance is lacking despite the heavy cherry presence because of that traditional strong Cantillon sourness. The finish is sour and acidic with a puckering tartness. Overall the cherries are a bit lost in the mix but this is a great lambic with a ton of awesome funky sour flavours and aroma.
In early June as I travelled through Belgium I made a stop in Brussels the mostly French speaking city in Belgium. The second day I was there I made my way to the legendary Belgian lambic brewer Cantillon located only a few short blocks from Zuidstation. The self guided tour was an eye-opener into the traditional way of brewing gueuze and lambic style beers. After the tour a sample of unblended young gueuze as well as another beer were given. Arriving back home in Calgary I decided it might be ripe time to open some of the bottles of Cantillon aging in my cellar. Cuvée Saint-Gilloise is a Gueuze style created by using only a single vintage of two year old lambic that is dry hopped with aged hops for three weeks with Styrian Golding hops. Unlike most other gueuze available, Cuvée Saint-Gilloise is not a blend of two or more vintaged lambics. This bottle of Cuvée Saint-Gilloise was bottled in 2010 and personally aged for 2 years prior to today.
Cuvée Saint-Gilloise pours a bright glowing orange colour with a very short lived pure white head and a general haziness in the body. The appearance is beautiful overall with the orange colour coming fromthe significant dry hopping. The aroma has a mild peppery and spicy hop aroma with a bone dry almost Champagne like aroma with tons of hop nuances. A light barnyard funk pervades the aroma with noted tart lemon fruitiness and acetic sourness. Although I have had many different gueuze the aroma always surprises me with its acidic backbone and tart, dry notes. The first sip I take has an intense citrus fruit to the point of puckering tartness until a mild oaky creaminess settles the citric flavour down a bit. The finish is crackingly dry with a mild bitterness from aged Golding hops with nice solid sourness. Funky fruits and barnyard yeasty esters are rather subtle as the acetic acid, dry hops and citrus fruits are much more abashing on the palate. Overall a nicely soured, complex Gueuze with a creaminess that balances out the dry, acidic flavour profile.