Monday, January 25, 2010

Husband's Day

Last friday was "Husband´s Day" or Bóndadagur as we know it in Icelandic. "Husband´s Day" is a day which marks the beginning of the ancient Icelandic month "Þorri". Until the early 1990´s, this day bared no significance except for dinner tradition, but nowadays this day is like a 2nd birthday to men like me, a day when the women go out of their way to surprise their husbands, cook a good meal, give flowers and let open toilet seats and dirty dishes slide.

Luckily, the woman in my life is not only the most beautiful creature on the face of this earth but she is also an exceptional cook, and shares my interest in craft beer. So friday night was going to be special..

For dinner she cooked home made hamburgers. This doesn´t sound like something breathtaking but believe me, it is. Made from scratch with beef purchased straight from the farm, eggs, peppercheese and chili, topped with onions, tomatoes, spinach and dijon mustard, this truly is a thing of exceptional beauty. Being an avid hamburger lover, this hamburger is a work of art, and tastes like God himself made you a hamburger!

With the hamburger I was treated with Kaldi Þorrabjór, from Bruggsmiðjan, a microbrewery in the north of Iceland. This was the 2010 version, a brown amber Vienna with a malty nose. Full bodied with hints of burnt malt. Nice beer, and went down well with the hamburger.

After dinner was the beer that I´ve been waiting a few months for, Ölvisholt Suttungasumbl. A Belgian ale made in a small farmhouse in the south of Iceland. The Ölvisholt brewery is a small company, situated in the south of Iceland in an old barn. The brewery is a bit special and a detailed piece about the brewery is due on this blog and The Hop Press sometime in the near future.
The Suttungasumbl exceeded all expectations. Magnificent orange ale, with a small head. Spicy aroma with obvious tones of yeast and floral hops, with deep layers of something I would tie to an outhouse, and saison aromas. I love it! Faint note of pumpkin as well. The first sips hits you with light bitterness and taste of wild berries balanced perfectly with yeast. The outcome is almost like pumpkin taste! Ölvisholt never fail to impress, and this beer is simply delicious!

The annual "Þorri"-beers are a seasonal product, made for old traditional Icelandic mid-winter food. Dishes like ram´s testicles, putrefied shark, boiled sheep´s head, liver sausage and my favorite, head cheese or brawn made from boiled sheep´s head cured in lactic acid, need beer to go with them!

I almost feel sorry for my friends in New York, not experiencing the Icelandic Husband´s Day, a one way Valentines Day which goes in reverse in next month when we have the annual Woman´s Day!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

authentic Trappist?

Last weekend I treated myself with La Trappe Quadruppel, a beer I´ve had many times before but never really impressed me in recent times. Sure, it´s big, heavy and very tasty, but it´s also completly lacking in character.

I´ve never been fond of La Trappe. Not only being over-commercialized, it´s also situated outside of Belgium. The monks at Koningshoeven have authority over the brewing process and also own the equipment but all business aspects are handled by Bavaria. Due to this fact, I find their Trappist status highly questionable although granted rights to label the beers as Trappist beers from 2005 by the International Trappist Association.

Although my eccentricity tells me different, La Trappe are real Trappists beers today. The monks at Koningshoeven have been brewing beer since the 1800´s. After World War II the brewery was bought by Stella Artois who brutally violated the Trappist name with the introduction of "Trappist Pils". Shortly after the failed introduction of a Trappist Pils, the monks bought their brewery back. In the late 1960´s they were brewing all kinds of beers, which included both Dortmunder and Bock beers. The production was too much for the monks to handle and again they turned to commercial breweries for assistance. In 1980 they decided to take things seriously again, and started brewing the La Trappe Dubbel after an old recipe from the 1950´s. The Dubbel is in my opinion the best of the range with high levels of yeast which creates a very malty and creamy beer. The Dubbel was the only beer brewed by the monks until the early 1990´s when they introduced Enkel, Tripel and Quaddruppel.

What I find very annoying with La Trappe, is the fact that the monks have always been very flexible about both marketing and selling their beer. They even tested the Vatican when they brewed beer for the Sainsbury supermarket chain. Bavaria also brew other beers at the Koningshoeven brewery, which are not labeled as Trappist, and are marketed under the names of Kroon, Moreeke and Tilsburgs.

Being the purist that I am, I tend to draw the conclusion that in 1999 the monks sold their soul, albeit it has worked to their advantage in marketing, as the La Trappe range is known all over the world. It did cost them the Authentic Trappist Product logo, but after modifications on the agreement with Bavaria, they got their status back in 2005.

Although brewing good beer, La Trappe is nowhere near the quality of beers such as Orval, Rochefort or Westvleteren.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

acquired taste

flickr Bernt Rostard

I remember the first time I had Duchesse De Bourgogne. I didn´t think very much of it, thought it was over sour and too vinegary. It is now one of my favorite beers..

The reason is simple, it is the definition of the sour ale style. Aged and fermented in oak casks, this truly is the Burgundy of Belgium. This style has it´s origin in West Flanders where children are probably breastfed Rodenbach Classic which according to beer critic Roger Protz accounts for 84% of the sour ale market. Just like a fine Bourdeaux wine, Duchesse De Bourgogne is blended. It is both young and old cask aged ale which adds both character and complexity. Sour ales are often fermented with wild yeast (same as the lactose-fermenting bacteria used in sour dough) and with Duchesse De Bourgogne, this is probably the biggest factor in the vinegary finish it possesses and the huge levels of tartness.

Sour Ales are not for everybody. It took me some time to get to know the style and truly appreciate it´s complexity. I´ve sampled quite a lot of it, Duchesse De Bourgogne being the very best, followed closely by it´s US sister, the Ommegang Rouge (brewed in Belgium and aged for 18 months in french oak!) and the now retired Liefmans Frambozenbier.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, if you have the opportunity you must try it. It is so choice