Thursday, February 16, 2012

How a Couple of Really Interesting Beers Are Made.

L'Enfant Terrible and bottled Oude Faro from De Cam are the subjects of our discussion today. A couple of new, hard-to-find, sourish Belgian beers made in funny ways.

The first one, from the still excellently named Dochter Van de Korenaar--I told you how fun that beer is. But I had no idea how it was made, besides the label's vague clue that it is a "gueuze-style ale brewed with wild yeast." Based on taste, my guess was an ale blended with Girardin or other lambic and allowed to mature. As usual, when it comes to me guessing about these things, I was wrong.

Here is the whole explanation, from Ronald Mengerik of the brewery in Baarle-Hertog:

L'Enfant Terrible is an odd beer. The basic beer is Bravoure, my smoked beer. After about two to three weeks fermentation as Bravoure the beer is transferred to oak wine barrels, where the beer is infected with lactic bacteria and Brettanomyces (both are local). Then, in four to six months the beer undergoes a lactic fermentation followed by a wild fermentation.

Smokey esters are changed into fruity esters by the Brettanomyces, which is a mystic and wonderful process. Then the beer is bottled by hand, and gets a refermentation of about two months.

Until now the production was very limited. I'm trying to upscale the
production. The demand is very much increased after winning a silver medal on the
'European Beer Star' this year.
About the smoky esters that go into a cocoon and emerge as beautiful butterfly fruity esters... pretty weird, right? I can vouch for it, as far as not noticing smoke. Oaky, yes. Smoky, not so much. But I've had the Bravoure a couple of times and, while fairly subtle, it is definitely smoky. So much of that smoke just disappeared in a puff of, er, fruit.

I don't want to give you the wrong idea about L'Enfant Terrible. It had a rough edge and could use some refinement... The oak might have been a bit much, and there was some alcoholic heat. But it was a very tasty beer and damned interesting and I would buy another bottle given the chance.

Next: Bottled De Cam Oude Faro, about which there have been whispers, scant photographic evidence, and a small number of reviews.

I itched my scratchy head when I heard about this one. De Cam is a traditional little blendery. Bottled faro implies non-traditional corner-cutting nonsense. It implies pasteurization and/or artificial sweetening, basically. The background: Faro denotes aged lambic with candy sugar added. In hundreds of Brussels and Pajottenland cafés around the turn of the century (no, the other century), that often meant lambic from the cask and sugar from the little bowl at your table, stirred up with a spoon. But when you try to bottle that, the wild critters chomp on the sugars and churn out enough gas to make exploding bottle bombs. Hence the trickery.

I'll say it plainly: If the only faro you've had has been from bottles, then you still haven't had faro. For the real thing you'll need to book a trip to Brussels. And you should.

Digression over. I contacted De Cam blender Karel Goddeau. At first he was reluctant to let me write about it, as "we are only starting to experiment with it." I told him the cat's out of the bag and that it might be useful for lambic geeks to know that this one's a work in progress. So he relented.

Here's what Mr. Goddeau is up to: adding candy sugar to "very old lambic" and waiting to see what the wild critters do with it. In other words, they are fermenting the sugar and leaving behind a bit of extra flavor. He said the bottled beer should be nearly flat, "almost not foaming."

In his words: "I try to get it in the bottle the same as on draft on beer festivals, but I need to convince more then 99 other micro organisms to share my opinion."

Is there a common thread here? Maybe. Remember these two beers when someone says unthinkingly that Belgian brewers do not innovate. They do. But they do it at a different pace and within a different framework than anyone else. At times, it might as well be another dimension.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Adventure as an Excuse for Beercation.

So it's been a while since we checked in with Volcano Brewing up near Tilarán. That's on the northwest side of Lake Arenal, if you want to unfold the map and have a look.

Sly folk looking to work crafty beer into their honeymoons or adventure travel would do well to mark it down. Two of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica are Volcán Arenal -- a proper, active cone rather than a big smoky hole in the ground -- and the laid-back beaches of Guanacaste, on the Pacific Coast. The smart way to get from one to the other is to rent a car and drive the northern route around Lake Arenal. Conveniently, that takes a thirsty gentleperson right by Volcano Brewing and the newly re-badged Lakeview Hotel.

No long ago it was called the Hotel Tilawa. We stayed there once, to meet the owner, J.P. Cazedessus, who was trying to get the brewpub started. The place was rough-and-ready; "in need of some TLC," was how we put it. In the off-season it felt like a private hostel. Now the hotel is under new management and a new name, while Cazedessus focuses on the brewery and eco-friendly housing projects. It remains a windsurfing destination, and there are options for hiking, fishing, boating, riding horses, whatever. Most importantly for our purposes, the beer is flowing.

Meanwhile: The flagship is called Witch's Rock, an American-style pale ale, and there are seasonals from time to time. The beer's name comes from a dramatic chunk of Planet Earth that juts out of the Pacific Ocean and enjoys a reputation for excellent surfing. Volcano Brewing is now connected to Witch's Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, where the pale ale ought to be on tap at Joe's place. So that could be your Guanacaste destination, if you're in need of one.

We stayed in Tamarindo not too long ago, and it was nothing if not versatile. You can get your high from wining, dining and massages, from surfing and sunsets, or from that friendly dude out on the sidewalk selling weed. Mix and match according to interest. Now, I reckon, we can add crafty beer to the list.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Brussels Grand Place to Welcome Hard Rock Café, Then Jump a Shark.

I was working on a long post breaking down this recent Bloomberg piece, which declares that "Brussels is for foodies." Which is true. It recommends 10 nice-looking and mostly expensive places to eat. I was going to show how few of them really give a damn about beer, which ought to be shameful in Belgium's capital. But there is no news in that.

Then I came across something really and truly shameful, and it put the other stuff into perspective. The news is that there will be a Hard Rock Café in Brussels -- and not just in Brussels, but on the Grand Place.

I checked the date. April Fools? No. But is it really a done deal? It would appear so.

We should not be surprised. The Grand Place -- one of Europe's most impressive city squares -- has been bogged down with tourist traps for years. They have indifferent service and overpriced, mediocre food. They hang old beer signs and give a superficial nod to the country's brewing tradition, and then stock nothing interesting beyond a couple of Trappists. Fine. At least they look the part. They are still brasseries and uniquely Belgian, even if we knew better places with better prices a few blocks away.

But the Hard Rock? Really? Has Brussels lost its mind? And now those of us --locals and foreigners alike -- who have labored to tell Brussels that it ought to have dignity, that it deserves some, are left to ask ourselves: Did it ever have a chance? Have we been wasting our time?

"In addition to its food, Hard Rock offers unmatched specialty drinks from its award-winning bar menu, from Hurricanes and Margaritas, to its Alternative Rock non-alcoholic beverage menu featuring favorites like Wildberry Smoothies and Crushed Velvet 'martinis.'" Oh my.

The address is Grand Place 12a, up in the southern corner. This building is also known as the Roi de Baviére (the "King of Bavaria"). Note that this is not the same building as Grand Place 12, which is two doors up from the Brewers House in the building known as the Maison du Mont Thabor. Number 12a is just across the mouth of Rue des Chapeliers, adjoining the Dukes of Brabant, next to 't Kelderke. You can see a map with addresses here. In the picture above, 12a is the lower building on the far right.

A nice place for some Hard Rock neon, right?

The Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are local protections that apply. The Hard Rock might have to leave the facade relatively intact, and may face restrictions on the aforementioned neon. According to news reports, a private investor owned the house and negotiated an 18-year lease with Hard Rock. If the company follows the same rules as everyone else on the Grand Place, it's hard to imagine how the authorities could or even should discriminate based on a history of tackiness. But you never know. The locals love a good protest, and maybe this will stir them up.

I'm sure there must be a class of tourist that would be happy about this, otherwise it would not be possible. Just don't blame the Americans: It's been 20 years since I met a fellow American who was excited about seeing a Hard Rock Café. And that person, I believe, had only recently hit puberty.

Meanwhile, Brussels says it plans to turn the Bourse into a national beer museum by 2014. I'd expect heavy support from A-B InBev, and all that such support would entail. The article says, "Unlike the Netherlands with their Heineken Experience, Belgium only has a number of small beer museums." As if that were a bad thing.

About the museum: The Flemish politician says something that says too much about much Flemish political thinking: "The fact that we have a special glass for every beer, with artisanal breweries tucked away all over the place is extremely charming for our Dutch visitors. Beer is a science in which we excel, and it could be perfectly showcased in a museum like this one. We feel the stock exchange is a prime location, even though 65% of all Belgian beer is brewed in Flanders."

See how he worked that last bit in? Absurd. Nevermind that Wallonia has only one-third of the country's population. But him singling out the Dutch tourist is interesting. Will the Dutch tourists who find the special beer glasses and little breweries "charming" think the same thing about a Jupiler museum?

And what will they think of the Hard Rock?

Finally, I have to note that Hard Rock's European operations VP, Calum MacPherson, said that the company hopes to make it an "essential gastronomic destination" in Brussels.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is your perspective.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Costa Rica Gets First Craft Brewers Association.

We're getting way past the point where I need to say, "Hey, look, there is a craft beer culture starting to develop in Costa Rica!" It's the fact of the matter. Witness the development of civil society at its thirstiest.

More interesting now is where this nascent local beer culture goes from here. There is an announcement related to that, but first the news...

The Asociación de Cerveceros Artesanales de Costa Rica -- Costa Rica's Association of Craft Brewers -- is a reality in name, if not quite legally. Fourteen brewers, pro and amateur, met on Sunday to form the group at the Bodega de Chema. This meeting laid the groundwork for formal registration with the government. (Remember, this is a very bureaucratic country and there's a certain way to do things, and that way usually involves paying lawyers.)

The group's goals: (1) to promote the culture and growth of craft beer; (2) to promote the responsible enjoyment of that beer; (3) to support the country's craft beer businesses; (4) to provide services for members, such as improving the brewers' technical know-how; and (5) to promote friendship, solidarity and social responsibility among its members.

It's not cheap to get a lawyer and register an association, so the group has to raise some money. That's where the announcement comes in.

Plans are in the works for Costa Rica's first festival de cerveza artesanal... April is looking likely at the moment. Got to keep things vague until things are finalized, but there will be more details soon. Costa Rica's Craft Brewing, generously, is taking the lead in organizing the event. Proceeds will go to the association. Stay tuned.

So, a craft brewers' assoiation and a craft beer festival. Can it be long before there's a Costa Rica Craft Beer Week? Maybe we should just go ahead and declare it now. Plan your surfing tours and eco-vacations around it.