Back in the year of 2007 I was a young university student drinking junky adjunct lagers and European beers like Pilsner Urquell. I happened upon Bottlescrew Bills a beer bar in my home town that was one of the only Canadian bars to gain the praise of Beer Hunter Michael Jackson. I ordered a Westmalle Dubbel not knowing how much one beer would change my entire life and take beer from a way to hang out to a passion and eventual career. Westmalle Dubbel is brewed by one of six Trappist breweries in Belgium where monks of the Strictest Cistercian Observance brew beers for charitable proceeds and consumption within the monastery. The brewing of beers by monks originally began to give monks sustenance during the fasting month of lent. This beer consumed by the monks is termed paterbier or monks beer. In 1856 the Westmalle monastery brewed a strong, dark ale that they termed double or dubbel. Today the dubbel is one of the Belgian Abbey styles and is generally characterised by a dark, fruity body and alcohol content up to 8%. I like to re assess this beer every year or two to see how my perception of beer has changed since going head first into the craft beer culture.
Less talk and more about the beer. Westmalle Dubbel pours a dark, murky burgundian brown with a massive beige head that fills the chalice. The aroma is rich and laced with dark fruity esters. Notes of prunes, raisins, cherries and light spice notes waft off the glass. The malt profile is composed mostly of rich toffee, light cocoa notes and a bit of a nutty flavour. Rich and smooth with a silky mouthfeel and strong carbonation that dances on the palate. Rich and well rounded profile adds a sense of class to the proceedings and allows the beer to make a lasting impression. Every time I have this beer I am taken back to that dimly lit bar taking my first sip of this rich malty treasure and thinking damn is this a great beer.
One of British Columbia’s newest and most exciting craft breweries has hit Alberta shelves this week. Burnaby’s Dageraad Brewing is influenced by Belgian’s great beers and takes its name from Antwerp’s Dageraadplaats which translates to Sunrise Square from Flemish. Brewer and founder Ben Coli has tried to take the experience of drinking Belgium’s great beers is Dageraadplaats and transporting it to Canada. As with great Belgian beers Dageraad’s beer are bottle conditioned and unfiltered with traditional Belgian yeasts. Dageraad Blonde is the brewery’s flagship beer and boasts a very Belgian 7.5% ABV.
At first glance the bottle and label are exquisite and fine with an appearance usually reserved for fine wines. The pour is a light golden amber colour with steady, almost effervescent carbonation and a puffy off white head that clings all over the glass. The aroma is accented with yeasts and ester notes including straw, lemon rind, orange peel, light coriander spice and a bit of a nutty malt. Light toasted wheat and caramel malts in the mid palate act as a balance to the heady yeast profile. Fruity, spicy and floral hop notes blend with esters and light spice. Lemon rind is tart and pairs well with the spicy notes. The finish is moderately dry and astringent with a bit of lingering bitterness. Full body, heavy carbonation and a smooth, crisp finish add to the flavour profile well. Overall Dageraad Blonde is a good example of an approachable and easy drinking Belgian Blonde. The depth of character is evident but not as unique as most great Belgian beers. Often that character is cultivated over time. Regardless Dageraad has certainly taken the Belgian beer culture and transplanted it to their Burnaby operation.
Alberta has finally received Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard Brewing. Known to many as being one of the dustbowl’s best maker of fine ales Boulevard hit shelves this past week. I had personally never tried anything from Boulevard’s vast catalog so what better place to start than with a saison. Tank 7 is a Belgian saison style brew with a heavy 8.5% ABV and is brewed with Magnum, Bravo and Amarillo hops. Unlike the traditional saison beers of Belgium which are brewed with home grown Saaz, Goldings and often Challenger hops Tank 7 should have a more American hop presence.
Tank 7 pours an effervescent golden straw colour with a thick puffed up white head. The head subsides slowly leaving tons of lacing blotches on the glass. The body appears to be extremely carbonated with a steady stream of bubbles cascading towards the surface. At first glance the nose is subtle but complex with layers of spicy hop and ester notes, citrus fruits, musty barnyard notes and light toasted wheat malts. Crisp and clean first sip with a nice effective coriander and spice blend on the finish. The mid palate is refined and fruity with notes of pear, lemon rind and grapefruit. Crisp toasted wheat and bready malts make up a malty backbone. The esters are really the star of the show with tons of fruity and spiced notes working well with the citrus hops. On the finish a moderate bitterness helps keep it true to style with a lingering spice and saison yeast aftertaste. A truly exquisite saison!
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.