25 Sept 2011

Mikkeller It’s Alive and Orval

The beer

This is my fourth post about Mikkeller this year.

Though involved in one of my desert island beers, I’m by no means a fanboy.

It’s just that Mikkel makes interesting beers. Beers that people want to talk about. Beers that are easy to write about.

It’s Alive is his interpretation of Orval.

The beer

In my head there’s a complex analogy at work: boxing and beer.

I’m not going to reveal (yet) the ridiculous extent to which I take this, but it’s relevant to this post.

Orval is the greatest heavyweight of all time according to my list. Pound-for-pound I reckon it just outclasses Saison Dupont, which I place at number two.

The match

In keeping with the boxing analogy, this is clearly more match-up than match (can you match beers with beers? I think so).

It’s been inspired by Mikkel’s comments in this interview, around the 27-minute mark, where he indicates that he believes It’s Alive is actually better than Orval.

That sounds like some serious pre-fight trash talk to me, despite displaying a great deal of taste by paying due respect to the champ.

So, with the help of a glamorous assistant, it’s blind-tasting time.

The beers enter the ring one at a time, separate from one another so I can’t compare them side-by-side.

Beer 1 is highly-carbonated and blood orange in colour with an off-white head.

It’s intensely fragrant. Like a girl wearing too much perfume, it clears your nasal passages with its slight astringency and floral notes.

There’s sharp, grape sweetness in the mouth straight away, which is followed up swiftly by an intense sawdust-like dryness.

Beer 2 is lighter in colour – peach-orange but with way more haze than the much brighter first beer.

It’s more subtle on the nose, though raspberry sweetness and damp wood come through strongly.

There’s a similar initial wine-grape sweetness, but it’s subdued and not anywhere near as sharp as its predecessor.

Orange zest contributes to a sherbet sourness that fizzes in the month.  As the bubbles dies down, understated bitterness leaves you thirsting for more.

There’s a clear winner: Beer 2 with a third round knockout.

There’s also no way this test would ever get included in any scientific journal. I know Orval too well by sight, smell and taste – and love it too much – for this experiment to ever be considered fair.

But I was hoping to be surprised, to have my world turned upside down.

However, It’s Alive is like an MP3 version of Orval – compressed, with massive spikes in the high and low end (little bit of chat for you audio geeks out there).

That doesn’t make this challenger a bad beer.

It just means it can’t really mix it with one of the true greats.

21 Sept 2011

Saison Dupont and style

The beer

A genuine, all-time great.

Possibly the greatest of all time.

If you claim to like beer, and even begin to suggest you don’t appreciate Saison Dupont, we will never be friends.


Because of its meadow-like, hazy, summer-gold body and whiter-than-white head.

Because it’s a vision, almost impossible to behold...hard to even look upon in its perfection, lest your gaze somehow corrupts its purity.

Farmyard aroma? Horse blanket smell? What does that even mean? Get away from me with that talk. Those things smell like actual shit.

Saison Dupont smells like a freshly-prepared salad – crisp green leaves, some herbs, a bit of spice, a hint of clementine sweetness and a light, lemon-juice dressing.

Manuka honey flavour gives way to effervescent pepper and coriander spiciness before restrained, subtle bitterness smoothes everything out.

A bit of gentle sourness here and there geo-tags the beer – just in case you forget what country it’s representing.

I’m not doing it justice.  Using only the mortal language of man to describe it, no one ever could. Just drink it.
You need to be shown, not told.

The way things are done

Style is hard to define, troublesome to quantify.

Generally, when I think of style, my mind moves quickly to the idea of someone having a personal sense of style.

Some people have it, some people don’t.

It’s about more than just the clothes you wear. It’s about having a bit of an edge – a distinctive flair – without ever having to try. It’s about never needing to seek approval from anyone ever.

The word also applies to specific methods of expression in the arts: to literature, design, architecture and more.

And, of course, it is intrinsically linked to beer; ever-present in the brewing lexicon since Michael Jackson started dropping science – and probably long before that.

The match

Even before you pop open the bottle, Saison Dupont oozes elegance and sophistication.

No flashy images here – a minimal, typographical design approach is all that’s required.

It’s the essence of understated cool; the perfect blend of heritage and modernity.

It doesn’t try to be one of the best beers in the world, it just is. I want to be seen drinking it because it tells those in the know that I have impeccable taste.

There’s been talk that saison is the new trendy style, the new black (IPA). Good. It’s a style of beer I like.

I’ve had a couple of SS11 saisons that have been very decent. Beers that I would probably pick up again.

None of them have come anywhere near Saison Dupont.

Fashions come and go. Style is forever.

17 Sept 2011

Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait 2007 and Bruges

The beer

Lambics and geuzes (or guezes) are difficult beers.

The flavours created by the unique, spontaneous fermentation are not to everyone’s taste.

But they are to mine.

I’m not going to explain the mysterious art of lambic brewing in this post, but it is truly fascinating.

If you’d like to know more, I’d recommend the HORAL (High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers) website as a starting point.

As I understand it, Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait is a blend of the brewery’s best lambic barrels, as selected by the head brewer himself (someone please correct me if that’s wrong).

This selection process translates into a glorious example of the style, and a wonderful beer.

It’s hazy, marmalade orange in colour, so the orange zest aroma makes perfect sense.

Once it’s in your mouth tart, grape-like characteristics sweep you towards a dry finish that is not unlike a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (yes, I sometimes drink wine you know).

The place

Bruges is a city in West Flanders, Belgium.

For 300 years, from the 13th century until the 16th, it was one of the most important trading ports in Europe.

Nowadays, it is mainly tourism that fuels the city’s economy.

The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and much has been done to preserve the city as it was in its glory days.

It’s beautiful, charming and very pretty without being quaint.

It is also an absolute mecca for beer lovers.

The match

Beer and I went through a bit of a rocky patch in August.

I was working hard on other stuff, and didn’t really have time to give it much attention.

Yeah, I was still drinking it, but it felt like I was just going through the motions, simply consuming tried and tested standards, and not making the effort to seek out anything exciting.

I began to feel a bit disillusioned – did beer really matter that much to me? Is it actually important in my life?

In other words, the relationship had gotten a bit stale. I certainly didn’t feel like writing about it.

It took Bruges to reignite the romance.

The dizzying devotion to beer in this city is almost too much to comprehend.

Beer lists dwarf wine lists in every bar and restaurant.

In the specialist beer joints I found it hard to focus, my eyes scanning vast menus comprised of some of the greatest beers in the world.

Incredulity. Delirium. Joy.

You could be in Bruges for a month, drinking a different beer every waking hour, and still thirst for more.

Many beers could have been included in this match – like the 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze I had at 't Brugs Beertje, or the house Tripel consumed at De Garre, the Westvetleren 8 at Cambrinus, the draft La Trappe Isid’or at Café Rose Red...

But the Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait made the cut because as I was drinking it I had one of those perfect moments that this blog is all about.

A zen-like moment of clarity, calm and unbridled happiness, where the connection between the romanticism of lambic brewing and Bruges became abundantly apparent, and where my passion for beer was rekindled.

Beer is important. And I love it.