Saturday, 5 November 2016

Blending in

Over on Twitter, where I have an account, there is a hashtag called HopGodFriday which I have found myself taking part in from time to time. Now and again I even get to join in with the theme of the evening. It so happened that, a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Petrus would be hosting the evening between 8 and 10 on last Friday. They contacted me and offered to send me free samples to be involved. Who am I to say no to that?

They arrived. Aged PaleOud Bruin and Aged Red in a parcel delivered during the Thursday and I looked forward to their plans on the Friday. Thus is formed my review of the evening. A great hosting by Petrus Sour Beers on Twitter - and I'm not saying that because they sent me free stuff (though they sent me free stuff) - I felt very much part of the affair and it was a lot of fun.

They also told us a lot about brewing in foeders and the history of the brewery in Belgium. I'm afraid all I can really tell you (because it's all I really remember) are the tasting notes. Would you like to know more?

We were told with each tasting that we had to keep enough back (about half a bottle) for a surprise activity at the end of the session, so I duly did so, sneakily keeping around three quarters of the bottle each time because I am a lightweight and tricksy and false. Nevertheless, I discern some method to their progression now that I'm not certain I noticed at the time.

First on the list was the Aged Pale, the most famous of their brews, being, well, a sour pale at 7.3% ABV and in a rather fetching bottle. Mind you, they all were, so that says little.
Good whisp of carbonation on opening and poured with plenty of activity with a serious tart note on the nose. There was fruit, certainly, and I couldn't place it - someone else suggested cider notes - and I think they may have hit the nail on the head. A strong tang of apple citrus, with other fruits boiling beneath and a dry malt. Taste was very much in the white wine territory, the fizz reminding me of the sort of champagne that my father and his wife prefer on a posh night out. That of some of the Speciale (see here) from Brampton. Certainly you could taste that this had been brewed in wine barrels and that the wood, being oak, came from the Normandy region of France. It reminded me very much of the time we went as a family, when I was young, to see vineyards in France and the samples of champagne they handed out to the public - the sort of stuff that they can't sell for whatever reason. It was thus tangy and sour, like the sweets you can get with apple flavouring, but with a logical progression from hops to aftertaste that kept it all hanging together with the thread of synthesis. Like a decent Sixth Form essay each bit of the taste did a different job from the overwhelming sour hit on the opening, then softening in the middle before leaving a dry and apple-like aftertaste. I was, I'll admit, rather impressed and this was nothing like I had been expecting.

Second on the taste schedule was Oud Bruin, the younger ale that had the Aged Pale tempered with some of the browner ale they produce, at 5.5% ABV, the lightest of all of them.
This had less carbonation and less activity on the pour but went a good chestnut colour and smelled faintly of malt amid the hops and sour edge. Caught the light well and sparkled slightly without being as champagne like as Aged Pale, which I count as a positive given that this is supposed to be more of a brown ale. Most of the tasters agreed that there was an element of banana flavouring on the tongue, but I can't really comment as I haven't had banana since I was four (long, boring story), but there was certainly less sour in this one. It billed itself as a blend of 33% aged pale and 67% young brown ale, which made sense. It behaved much like a decent ale would but without being a bitter or having the same kind of body that I thought the brown colouration warranted. Most agreed that this was a good Belgian ale, but I struggle to put it in that category. Certainly it was a brown ale and I believe it would have reduced well in a stew, for example, but as a drinking ale it stays in the realm of dangerous session ale. That is, it is an easy drink and is stronger than you think. It was nice and a decent brown ale, putting me in mind of a slightly edgier version of Manns Brown Ale (see this link) and I would suggest that this ale would do better with a meal and some accompaniment. It wasn't a bad ale, but in the company it was keeping it did rather come second.

Thirdly we embarked on the sweeter brew: Aged Red, being a cherry red ale at 6.8% ABV, and this was the most surprising of all.
There were faint cherries upon opening, atop the by now standard sour hit of the aged pale in the mix (15% aged pale and 85% double brown beer with a dash of 10% cherry juice - yes, I know about the maths, that's what it says on the bottle). It fizzed and there was a decent enough head but the taste was mind-blowing. Big cherry hit, dry and sweet, in the opening, then a wave of even more cherry backed up with the fighting power of a surf of malt that just kept sluicing down the edges of the mouth, making the whole thing swim in that cherry tide. There was such a massive hit of cherries I can't quite tell you. Imagine beginning with an opera aria that is doused in black forest gateaux - you get used to the music, to the swelling vocals and then, just when you close your eyes, the whole thing ramps up another gear so that there is this soaring harmony, bursting the lungs of the singer, and you are carried aloft on the high notes gushing with cherry juice and jam cascading around so that the air becomes thick with it. A sweetness surrenders amidst the sour like some maddening sour sweet you've bought that promises to blow tastebuds apart. By this point I was impressed and I think I want to declare that this was my favourite. Keep in mind that I'm not a big fan of cherry nor cherry flavour, but this was brilliant.

After that we were encouraged to make our own sour blends. The brewery itself recommends a 50/50 blend (being 50% Aged Pale and 50% Aged Red) and so, of course, I started there and I can see why it goes down well. It is tasty and a decent little number - the tart and sour notes of the pale are balanced by the sweetness of the cherry to create a fuller body and less wine-like beer that masquerades as a sort of clever little bitter. In that there is still the sense that this is a sour ale and still the lightness in the mouth that speaks of limited malt but there is also enough body there that it can start to behave like the more British style of ales and stops most people from screwing their faces up like they've just had a lemon. However, I like eating raw lemons (did I ever mention just how not-normal I can be?) and so this brew, whilst a nice blend, didn't have me cheering it just yet. Certainly others in the session were impressed by it and reports were flooding in of people having made more than just a tiny batch as they were so impressed by it.

I began to add the Oud Bruin to pretty much everything at this point. Firstly to the 50/50, making it around 33% of everything together. The brown ale did the job of tempering the madness of the other two and bringing the whole thing back down to a manageable level. Indeed, adding it to either of the other two brews did the job of reining in the insanity to levels more usually associated with brewdog and allowing everything time to breathe as well as allowing my mouth to relax a little more. However, after the tasting of the others on their own I felt that I rather enjoyed the naked flame of the volcano and hankered after them again, meaning that although I really enjoyed the conceit that I was blending ales and being some kind of beer blender I really didn't feel that this was the mix for me. And so it was that I drifted a bit playing around with different amounts and trying a mouthful, keeping the trials a bit smaller so that I could enjoy one I liked in greater quantities.

By about ten o'clock I had my answer - which was around 85% Aged Red, 7% Aged Pale and 7% Oud Bruin. This one carried with it the insanity of the cherries from the Aged Red with the feeling that your teeth were being stripped by the sour acid that I so enjoy along with that insane sweetness that follows and was tempered with a bit more of a body from the brown ale that was missing just a smidge in the original brew - though no real change in taste. The addition of the small amount of Aged Pale did the job of bringing back the pour of the sour that was diminished by adding the brown and maintained that level I felt in the Aged Red on its own whilst allowing for extra maltiness in the middle of the taste.

I finished them off the following morning, because I remain a heathen, and confirmed that I preferred the Aged Red straight of all of the brews. I still like the Aged Pale and it is the sort of ale that I would recommend for christenings and weddings - the one that you can use to replace the champagne on arrival for the toast - because it is a rather good little ale. Willow told me she smelled more Lambrini than champagne but, in her defence, this was the following morning, so that may not be an accurate depiction. The Oud Bruin I would keep for cooking and for drinking with the thing you just cooked with it, it's that sort of ale and would work well in Flemish stew.

All in all, a rather eventful Friday evening and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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