14 April 2017

Sour in all directions

Rounding off this week of posts from the Utrecht beer scene with a look at a handful of imported beers I tried.

Of course, most of the beer imported into the Netherlands is from neighbouring Belgium and all the flagship brands are available where beer is sold. Le Clochard was a case in point. We landed up to this restaurant one evening, where I intended to indulge my penchant for cheese fondue. It was busy and we were escorted to the cosy fireside for pre-dinner beers while we waited. The substantial beer menu is big on solid Belgian ales, though without anything especially exciting. With my dinner I picked Hapkin, one of the few on the list unfamiliar to me.

This strong blonde ale comes from Heineken's giant Alken-Maes brewery in Mechelen. It seems to be a very obvious go at cloning Duvel, something I've seen attempted many times but rarely this successfully. The cleanness, the herbal bitterness and the boozy candycane punch: all present and absolutely correct.

For the rest, all sour, we return to Utrecht's top craft beer bar DeRat, which I wrote about at length on Monday. They were very excited about the arrival of Sang Noir, all the way from Cascade Brewing in Oregon. Personally I didn't get quite why it was so interesting in the context of a drinking environment where Rodenbach is cheap and plentiful. It's very much in that style: dark red-brown with a balsamic resiny sourness. Yes, it's a stonking 9.2% ABV, which does give it an extra forest-fruit complexity, showing blackberry and blackcurrant in particular; and while the body is light enough to keep it drinkable there's an extra greasy intensity, a depth to the sourness incorporating a tasty liquorice bitterness. It's very nice, but mostly it kept reminding me of what a fantastic beer Rodenbach is, at a fraction of the price.

It was great to see a beer from Sweden's Brewski in the line-up, even if it did have the cringeworthy name of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Buckthorn Band. What? It's a Berliner weisse they've brewed as a collaboration with Late Start Brewing in Florida and is just 3.7% ABV. It looks like orange juice. It tastes like orange juice too, specifically the rougher sort with the bits still in, giving you popping packets of sweet juiciness in amongst the tart acidity. The alleged white pepper made no impact on my palate, and neither did the buckthorn, though I'm not at all sure what that's supposed to taste like. Anyway, this is pleasant and refreshing, blending fruit and sourness in a way I approve of.

Keeping it Nordic, we turn next to Estonia and the unEstonian-sounding Anderson's Craft Beer, a client brewer based in Tartu. Sour Park is described as a "session ale", though strong enough at 5% ABV. Celebrity hops Citra and Nelson Sauvin have been employed and the Nelson gives it a lovely moist white grape aroma, though there's also a more serious sweaty funk going on as well. Citra takes over in the flavour, combining with surprise tannins to give a lemon tea effect. It's another one of those sour beers that isn't really very sour. Though the hops are bright and fun, and it's ages since I last met that lovely Nelson Sauvin vibe, the base beer could do with being cleaner: the flavours would benefit immensely from it.

That just leaves Sky Mountain Sour, a collaboration between Danish gypsies To Øl and Derbyshire's Buxton. It's 4.9% ABV and an attractive clear copper colour. The added strawberries don't make an appearance until the aftertaste, where their contribution is a mild one. Before that it has the wholesome wheatiness of an unadorned Berliner weisse: plain and easy-going. The advertised sourness is once again low-level, coming out in the aroma more than the flavour. A bit more everything would have been nice in this one. A dramatic name requires a dramatic beer.

That's it from this trip. Good night Utrecht, and do check out Café DeRat and say hi to the cats if you're passing.


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