Thursday, June 21, 2018

BrewTales: Rodenbach

Enjoying a Rodenbach in Bruges, Belgium.
We all have a favorite go to beer. A beer that never fails to quench your thirst. For some that beer could be a PBR, and for other a Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. But for one of us, it's a Flanders Red Ale called Rodenbach. Here's our story.

Beer: Rodenbach Grand Cru
Style: Flanders Red Ale
Geography: Belgium. Brewed in the West Flanders region.

Backstory: If you're looking for a unique tasting beer, this is one for you. It's fermented and aged for up to two years in large oak barrels called foeders, which contain bacteria (necessary for souring) and yeast from past batches. No two batches are the same.

Our story: It was our first trip to Bruges, Belgium. We were on a scouting mission, looking for places to take 16 university students on a study abroad program we had aptly named, The Geography of Beer. If you have never been to Bruges, it needs to be on your list of places to visit/move to. Seriously.

It seemed like a good idea
On our last day in the town, we decided to rent a tandem bike to explore the city and to evaluate the experience as a possible activity for students. Like most Belgian towns, Bruges is fairly compact and easy to get around on bicycles. Admittedly, we struggled finding our rhythm, regardless of who was in the front. After several minutes, the novelty wore off, but we were stuck with the bike for 3 hours. Sufficed to say, we didn't cover the ground we wanted, and we were exhausted by the time we returned our bike. We also a) had a train to catch to Antwerp, and b) were quite parched. As we walked to the train station, still a little disheartened from our biking experience, we decided to stop at a sidewalk cafe across the street from the train station. It was about 3pm. Trains departed every hour for Antwerp.

Enjoying a Rodenbach Alexander
We ordered a Rodenbach Grand Cru and a Jupiler lager. The lager was pretty much what you expected from a pilsner, but the Rodenbach was unlike anything we had tried before. It was sour, with hints of plums and black current. Little maltiness, almost no hoppiness, and definite hint of vinegar. The beer was so complex that every taste was slightly different than the last, and so inviting, that you needed, wanted, to try more. This beer more than made up for a forgettable tandem bike ride. 

Like a lot of beer nerds, we like to discuss the beers we drink, in particular the geography and history behind the beer. This means we drink much slower than the average beer drinker. We missed the 4pm and 5pm trains to Antwerp. As most of you know, in Belgium, each beer has its own glass. Bars and cafes will not serve a beer if the correct glassware is unavailable. Sometime after we missed the 7pm train, our server announced they were out of Rodenbach glassware, and that we either would have to wait until they cleaned some, or we could order a different beer. In case you were wondering, we were not the only patrons drinking Rodenbach in the cafe! We opted to wait. Eventually we caught the 9pm train to Antwerp, happy with our discovery and knowing one of us had a new go-to-beer.

Talking with Rudi Ghequire
Fast forward two years and we received an invitation to go to the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, GA. It wasn't just any evening, but an evening when they were hosting Rudi Ghequire, the brewmaster from Rodenbach. We were able to interview him and talk to him about his passion for beer, and the history of the brewery. It was an evening we will never forget. Every time we share a Rodenbach, we fondly remember that afternoon in Bruges, where it all started.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

BrewTales: Paix Dieu

Enjoying a Belgian-style Tripel, brewed on the harvest moon
There are many, many, many (!) forums, blogs, videos, photos, apps, tweets, social media outlets -  let's just generalize and call them websites - out there dedicated to reviewing beers and breweries. Most are fine, a few outstanding (which is a bit like coming across that perfect beer - rare).

There are, however, far, far far (!)  fewer websites describing how people came upon a beer. Their origins, histories, what's-the-craic-with-that-one tales. So, we decided to tell our stories.  Beer stories.

Beer: Paix Dieu.
Style: Tripel
Geography: Belgium. Style originated from Brouwerij Westmalle, in Malle, Belgium.

Backstory: If you're superstitious or religious, or both, then this beer is for you. Paix Dieu means Peace of God.  At one time brewed in the Abbey of Paix Dieu, earning it the title of an abbey ale. But today it's brewed at Brasserie Caulier, which is a family brewery in the region of Tournai, Belgium.

But perhaps more interestingly, the beer has a unique brewing tradition - being brewed only when the moon is full. That's right, this is a true lunar beer. Earth's celestial body beer. The orb of night beer. The brewers claim the yeast is more active on nights with a full moon, and cuts fermentation time from seven days down to five days. According to the label, our beer we sampled was brewed on October 5, 2017, the harvest moon. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, which falls on September 22 or 23 each year. October harvest moons are fairly rare, with the prior one occurring in 2009.

And here we though it was just another typical Thursday under the sign of Libra in the year of the Rooster.

Our Story: It was our last night in Brussels on a surprisingly warm (but only relatively so) November in 2017.  We, along with what seemed like half city, stopped by Delirium Cafe for a couple of beers. The experience was a bit short-lived, considering we were overtaken in our little space by a gaggle of wee heavys (what we call young drunks). Upon our walk back to get some shuteye before our ridiculously early morning flight, we passed a relatively nondescript beer store called Beer Planet. Now this was not the first beer store we entered upon in Brussels - there are many in the old part of the town. But this one was intriguing; namely, because the only thing they were selling in the story was beer.  No chocolates.  No knick knacks.  Just beer. Good beer.

We were a bit surprised to walk in and be the only customers in the store.  If this store was in the US, it would be empty by now because everyone would have bought all the beer already. The owner, a rather tall man with an amicable nature, asked if he could help us. So we do what we do when we enter most establishments that sell beer - we asked him for a local suggestion.  A good one.

He first recommended a Belgian IPA.

"Is it good?" we asked.

"Actually, I've never tried it... but I heard it was good".

"Let's open it then" we said.

" the store?" he asked.

"Yes!" we said.

"Oh!" he said, with pleasant surprise. "I've never had a customer ask this before."

So...was it good?  No, not really. We exchanged tasting notes, which led to a couple short stories about good and bad beers. The owner made an offhand comment on how really knew a lot about beer.

It was then we told him that we were professional beer drinkers, traveling the world to do research for a beer book. We mentioned we had just published a beer book with National Geographic, which we just happened to have with us (because hey, when you write a book with National Geographic, it seems to be pretty common to just happen to have the book with you). We also showed him photos of our selfies with many Belgian, other European and American brewers.  He knew several of them.

Before long, the place looked more like a beer bar than a beer shop, with a half dozen or so empty bottles on the counter.  It was a great time. As we left, he gave us the Paix Dieu, telling us to try it back home and let him know about it.  Well this is what we know: At 10%, it's boozy for a tripel (the common range suggested is 6-9.5%). The beer has a strong maple aroma, with a hint of earthiness. Taste-wise, there are notes of bubblegum (from the yeast), banana, and caramel. It's a nice beer for sharing, and we will always remember that evening in Brussels!