Monday, March 9, 2009

Two Stealth Bombers Attack Zythos Fest.

Plenty of good beers yesterday at Zythos, but in my mind there were only two revelations: the V Cense from Jandrain-Jandrenouille and the Cosmos Porter from De Dolle. Both are great examples of why it's pointless to cram oddly shaped Belgian ales into the square peg-holes of style definitions.

The V Cense (like cinq sense in French, but call it "Five Senses" if you prefer) is not your typical Belgian amber ale. As if there was such a thing. Still, amber is its color, and it's nice and bright when settled. The nose is thankfully un-subtle sweet oranges. Some drinkers I polled thought there was orange peel in the beer, but no. That's all Amarillo hops. Like its sibling the IV Saison, the V Cense avoids sweetness and goes for a refreshing dryness instead (although with more malt backbone, it's less dry than the saison). The alcohol is stealthy at 7.5% or so. I asked the brewers, "What kind of beer would you say this is?" Just curious. "It's a really fucking dangerous beer, that's what it is," they said. Is there a style category for that? More about this brewery, which I visited Thursday, in a future post.

Meanwhile, the Cosmos Porter is not really a porter at all. Unless brewer Kris Herteleer says it is, and then who the hell are you to say otherwise? (Mr. Herteleer, by the way, was looking snappy as always yesterday, in his long Oerbier coat and American-flag bow tie.) The best way I could describe it is a Rodenbach Grand Cru on steroids. Definitely there's a Rodenbach-like yeast involved. This is really a Flemish sour ale, even if it's a strong at 8%. Another stealth bomber. In the nose and backdrop you find plenty of sour cherry with a balsamic accent. It tastes quite tart from start to finish – in a quenching way, stopping just short of puckeringly sour – and doesn't put a foot wrong the whole time. Remembering that I'm a hedonistic drinker and not a trained palate, I reckon it was damned near perfect. Let's cross our collective fingers and hope this becomes a regular addition to the De Dolle stable.

Besides my old pal Taras Boulba, those are the two beers I kept going back to yesterday. Judging by my chats with others, I wasn't the only one. Keep an eye out for them.


  1. A couple months back, I found an article by Peter Bouckaert on the history of Rodenbach. Eugene Rodenbach learned to brew in England where porter was vatted and aged long term. He brought this method of brewing back to Belgium. So naming a Flemish sour ale a porter isn't crazy given the history.

  2. I might just be making this up, but I think the Cosmos might be pretty true to the original porters from "back in the day". It's a style that still has some debatable guidelines, but I suspect the original dark ales of England had a bit of sourness to them, similar to an "old ale".

  3. You're not making it up. But if you taste this beer and you're familiar with both Flemish sours and porters, it's definitely not "porter" that you'll be thinking. It's a challenge to current style definitions, that's the point I was making in a half-assed sort of way. But I reckon challenging style definitions is like shooting fish in a foeder.

  4. I have to say you are right on the nose with those two. They were the best two beers at Zythos. V Cense is my favorite beer right now. It truly blows me away and that's not easy to do. I asked Stephanie, one of the brewers, why his beers are so much better than everyone else's and he said it's because he knows hops. I taste more than hops in that beer, but whatever it is, it is right on the nose... and right on my nose...