Last night I started my fun at Madison Craft Beer week at an event that was a little out of my element: a Belgian Beer Tasting. First off, I know a lot more about American breweries than anything else. Second, I’ve been guilty of writing of Belgian beer as either too fruity, or too filling. I had the opportunity to try some great Lambic, and learn a little about just how it’s brewed, and why the environment is so important.
The event was at Brasserie V, where it’s routine to have a lot of good European beer with the cheese and food to match. Not only did we get to try five beers, we got to heard about the beer, the place they were brewed, and ask a lot of questions about it. They guy in the picture above is Jordan, he was our “tour guide” for our time at Brasserie V – and he has a bottle of the last beer we drank. If you have the opportunity to ask your bartenders or folks from brewing companies any questions at all, you should – you might learn something really valuable.
We started with Timmerman’s Blanche Lambicus. It’s a simple, straight forward Lambic on purpose. It’s fruity, tart, sparkly, and light enough to go down easy. My first thoughts when I drank it were about all the different kinds of cheese it would taste great with – but then again, that’s just me. This was a straight forward Lambic, but it wasn’t what folks generally think of. A lot of times we think of fruity red beers that fill you up as if you’ve just eaten a whole meal – this isn’t that. In fact, a lot of those red beers we know are just really “Lambic style.” Lambic has been around long enough that it really needs to be brewed in certain places in Belgium in the right river valley that has just the right microorganisms in the environment – and barrels with just the right character to make sure it ages just right.
The next great beer we tried was the Bourgogne de Flanders, also from Timmerman’s. This is a Lambic infusion. It’s a nice, smooth Belgian Brown from a wine cask infused with unsweetened Lambic. It’s light and smooth with just enough sweetness that comes from the light appley & pear flavors. It’s a great new take on a Lambic, and this beer is one of the first to try it. Getting creative with Lambic is exciting because Belgium has law about what you have to put in your beer. In Lambic’s case, it’s 30% wheat malt. When folks think about beer laws – they usually think of Germany, but they are everywhere.
The next three beers we tried were from Malheur. We tried the 10% ABV Malheur 10 that is flavorful & creamy, but at a weight you can tolerate. It’s strong, but it really taste like it – just watch out if you drink it too fast. This beer would be a really nice addition to fruit or a nice summer salad in book. It’s strong enough that having some crunchy fruits and vegetables to offset it would be great – and it would really complement the peachy taste.
If you like strong beer, and still can’t handle any fruit or sweetness in your drink, the Mahleur 12 may be the last to convince you. Yes, I said 12. This one is dark, and the fruit flavors are closer to that of brown fruits and dried fruits. It’s still nice and creamy – and Brasserie V usually carries it in bottles.
The last beer was exciting – and not easy to find, so needless to say we didn’t get a lot of it. The Mahleur Brut Reserve is a nice beer that is fermented with champagne yeast. So this is nice bubbly, but not as sweet as you might think – and it still tastes like beer. All I have to say, is just try it if you can. If you’re at a bar that serves a good range of Belgian beer, ask about it. It’s a creative brew with a straightforward flavor hard not to like.
For a person from Milwaukee who worked with a lot of foreign beer – I was curious to see what Jordan liked right here in Wisconsin. His two favorite breweries here are Central Waters in Amherst & New Glarus… in New Glarus. He also mentioned he thinks that Central Waters Bourbon Barrel beer. So from someone who does this for a living – those spots are worth a trip.
The folks at Brasserie V were great. Jordan tolerated a lot of questions – and the regular staff there was quick to make more recommendations based on what we said we liked. To the Lambic and fruit beer haters of the world – I understand you, but it’s time for you to expand your palette, and go on a Lambic adventure.
The crowd was also amazing. My personal favorite new friend was one of the folks who works at Sweet Mullets Brewing company where they do everything from make completely hop free beer to use jalapenos in their brewing process. We talked about beer but also about her visits to national parks and pre-retirement career where she worked for NASA. If you can come out to Madison & you haven’t yet – get here. So far the experience is totally worth it on every level from the actual beer – to the conversation.
More information on the Location:
Brasserie V: @BrasserieV on twitter, & www.brasseriev.com to find them on the web
Other Breweries You Read About:
Sweet Mullets: www.sweetmulletsbrewing.com
New Glarus: www.newglarusbrewing.com
Central Waters: www.centralwaters.com
Things to Google before you go:
Brewing laws in Belgium
Languages of Belgium