“Would you like to judge a Belgian Beer Competition,” asked Ian during an internet natter.
“Would I?” I replied, “yeah, go on then. What date is it happening?”
Sadly I couldn’t get up to Leeds for the date in question and so I resigned myself to missing out.
That is until four large boxes packed with bottles appeared on my doorstep.
There are seventeen, yes seventeen, bottles to work my way through, from Saisons to Triples, Bruins to Dubbels, all with matching labels stating the brewer and the style.
Having judged one of LHBC’s competitions before I know that I’m in for some very good beer, and having so much to chose from I’m not sure where to start.
And so, having rested the beer for a day and chilled it over night, I decide just to reach into my fridge and begin with whatever bottle comes to hand first.
And so, in no particular order, here we go…
Dave Phillips White Pepper & Orange Peel Saison (7.5%)
What a place to start, Dave’s Saison is hefty with honey glazed apple cores and caramel doused waffles, it’s sticky and round and creamy, pouring a pale gold and smelling of lightly spiced apple strudel.
As well as all that sweet malty goodness, you find a warm earthy yeast bite, some pithy hedgerow foliage from the hops and a bright flash of orange zest from the, ahem, orange zest.
The white pepper adds a light piquancy to the edges of the boozy heat as you head towards the finishing line.
All in all, if all the other beers are anywhere near this I’m in for a rather good few days of drinking.
Gary Farlow Lychee Witbier (5.6%)
Another beer and another stunner, I’ve just spent a good minute or two staring blankly at my page as I wonder what on Earth to say about Gary’s Witbier without going overboard.
In fact I kind of wish I could find something wrong with it, as that’d be easier to write.
But there’s a lovely creamy Weetabix and honey brioche malting and a lively crisp lick of herbal hedgerow hops.
The lychee adds a bright juiciness and the beer fizzes a pale gold in my glass with a proper witbier head of cloudy fluff.
If I was to be super picky, I’d say that the beer could maybe be every so slightly creamier, but that really is clutching at straws for something to say.
Paul Taylor Honey, Quince & Lemongrass Saison (6.1%)
The honey of the aroma is warm and sweet and inviting, and taking a mouthful Paul’s Saison doesn’t disappoint.
There’s a hearty bite of earthy mushrooms yeast and a decent Belgian waffle and toffee malt body.
In amongst the lemon zest and garden herbs of the hops you find a big bright slash of sharp and spicy lemongrass.
It’s a very nice flavour but it doesn’t allow the quince to add anything much more than the softest sandy pear feeling right in the background.
Mind you, with that said, I’d happily drink this all evening.
Paul Taylor Dubbel (7%)
Paul’s Dubbel is absolutely bang on the money with a treacle tart aroma that follows through into the flavour.
Add to that lots of plum jam and tamarind, coffee, chocolate and honey you’re in for a treat with this one.
I like the gentle warmth of the booze as well, and how the hops add a crunchy brittle leaf litter pithy dryness which brightens up the forest floor fug of the earthy yeast that leaves you with a Black Forest Gateaux of a finish.
Jack Roberts Tripel (9.9%)
There it is, that tamarind and liquorice earthy yeast hit that you would expect from a Trappist Tripel, it’s front and centre in both aroma and flavour, and it says, “Here I am. A Belgian Tripel.”
Jack’s Tripel pours a slightly cloudy peach (though that could be down to my pouring) with a little foamy head and that big round smell that I’ve already described.
The malting is sticky toffee and waffles and there’s a lightly sharp nettle sting and pithy hazel leaf hopping.
Towards the end of the beer the brandy booze sneaks up on you making everything warm and round and chewy.
If anything I’d tone down the brown sugar of the finish, but yet again I’m finding it hard to find fault.
Matt Fawcett Dubbel (6%)
Matt’s Dubbel is soft and smooth and creamy, full of treacle tart and toffee pecan pie, it does everything you’d want to find in a Belgian Dubbel.
I’m really impressed by this little beer, with its deep dark ruby red colour and its aroma, full of black cherries and digestive biscuits.
In fact this is a Beery version of a Black Forest Gateaux, with chocolate and prunes, cherries, rum and brandy butter, livened up by a nettle tea and hedgerow hopping.
And then as you move towards the finish you find brown sugar and a deep alcohol warmth.
Dave Phillips Belgian Blonde (6%)
The weakest so far, this Blonde has a good apricot and honey dew melon aroma and pours a light gold with a little bubbly head.
But taking a swig, and after being initially met by a solid caramel and honey brioche malt and a snap of pithy green herbal hops, the Belgian yeast with all its fruity farmyard flavours is made far too potent by an overly muscly alcohol hit that burns through everything else, making for a finish that’s a little too aggressive.
John Horgan Dubbel (6.2%)
John’s deep conker brown beer looks very appetising in my glass with its foamy little head popping and fizzing with life.
The aroma treacle tart and tamarind, is nice as well.
But there’s a lack of balance in the beer that, while it is still a very pleasant beer to try, isn’t quite there under the harsh light of a competition.
You get treacle tart and molasses, honey, bran cookies and rum and raisin shortcake from the malts, and the hops provide a blast of liquorice root and fresh garden herbs.
But as with Dave’s Blonde, the alcohol seems to gang up with the earthy yeast to quickly kill off all that goodness with a heavy hit of booziness that’s just a little too harsh to raise this beer from good to brilliant.
John Horgan Saison (5.2%)
I do like the farmyard fug in the aroma of this Saison, all earthy silage and runny honey, and the beer sparkles with life, holding a wispy cloud for a head above its bright gold body.
The malting is solid if subtle, with honey and cream crackers, bread crusts and caramel creating a sweet backbone while the hopping feels autumnal and crunchy, woodland glade leaf litter, lemon zest and maple coming on equally zingy and sticky.
As you drink that Saison yeast bubbles away with a soft fungal, damp wood earthiness that leads you down into a gin clear alcohol and lemongrass finish.
Ian Cheeseright Citra Dry Hopped Tripel (8.3%)
Now this, ladies and gentlemen, this is an absolute joy to behold.
And also frighteningly easy to drink.
You see, there’s a super Tripel in here, packed with salted caramel waffles, honey and bran biscuits, all round and malty and fun.
Then there’s the lightly spiced meaty woodland floor body of the yeast that rounds everything out, warms it all up and stops the alcohol taking control.
And then, cutting through all this loveliness, is the sharp fresh zing of lemon rind and orange zest from the piles of dry hopped Citra, making the beer big and bold and refreshing, more like a crisp and pithy Blonde than a warm and comforting Tripel.
This is superb.
Ben Whittington Bretted Saison (5%)
With my first mouthful I thought that I didn’t like this beer as all I got was Brettanomyces.
But by the third swig I’d changed my mind.
Yes, the Brett is front and centre, but once you get used to it there’s a toffee biscuit, honey and brioche malt body that’s warm and round and chewy, and a bunch of crunchy crispy autumnal leaf litter hops that are red and pithy with maple and thistle, nettle tea and dandelions.
By the time I got half way down my glass I’d decided that this is really rather good, the Brett making everything taste and feel like a fresh bale of farmyard straw, a little sweet silage and a load of meaty mushroom.
Very good indeed.
Tim Whittington Oud Bruin (7.9%)
I can see where Tim is trying to go with this, but it doesn’t quite get to its final destination.
There’s a hint of nail varnish in the black cherry and forest fruit aroma which, though only just there, is pronounced enough to be noticeable.
The beer pours a good conker reddish brown with a little foamy head and looks very inviting.
But what’s wrong with this beer is that it is altogether too sweet and sugary, taking all the Bruin flavours, the tamarind, the treacle toffee, the dandelion and burdock and turning them into a glass of Coke.
It’s a nice warm boozy Coke, but it’s Coke nonetheless.
Fun and drinkable in its own way, it doesn’t quite do what it’s trying to.
Simon Seaton Dubbel (7.5%)
This beer looks right, pouring a deep mahogany brown with a little fuzzy head, and it smells right as well, all treacle and prunes, warm and round and inviting.
And taking a swig there’s a lot to like here.
Plums and chocolate, coffee and toast from the malting, and some crunchy leaf litter and maple syrup from the hops.
And there’s also a rather nice orange rind zestiness towards the finish.
This is a very well made beer.
Jonathan Brunyee Tripel (8.1%)
Another beer that’s not quite right.
If anything it’s just a little too malty, though in itself the sugar cane and shortcake, honey and bagels are rather tasty, they take over the beer, making it too sweet and sticky.
If there are any hops then they’re beaten up by the malting as well.
In itself it’s not bad to drink and I feel rather bad for being so harsh, but I have to try and be honest within the context of all the beers, and this one just falls short.
Ian Cheeseright Tripel (8.3%)
I’m guessing that this is the same recipe as Ian’s pervious entry but with the Citra left out.
What we have here is a really good take on a traditional Belgian Tripel, pouring a bright gold with a little fizzy head, the aroma is lightly spiced heather honey.
The malting is crisp, sweet and light, with caramel and fondant, salted Belgian waffles and runny honey.
This is underpinned by a soft earthy slickness from the yeast and the green slap of herbal leafy hops.
John Horgan Trappist Single (4.9%)
As good as John’s Saison was, his Trappist style Single doesn’t do it for me.
Sure it pours beautifully, bright gold and shiny, its fluffy head fizzing with fun.
Taking a swig the beer is initially tongue tinglingly crisp and dry, but once you get over that initial zing there’s very little else save for the lightest lick of caramel and a subtle yeasty bite.
I think it’s the hops, and as a hop head I find what I’m about to say slightly uncomfortable.
Johns beer is just too hoppy for the style, shifting the balance from lightly spiced, crisp and sweet, toffee and hedgerow to lip crinkling, tongue withering bitterness.
I actually really like it, but it isn’t quite what it ought to be.
If it had been labelled a Belgian style Session IPA it’d be a winner.
And so, to the winners:
1st place goes to Ian Cheeseright’s Dry Hopped Citra Tripel
2nd place goes to Dave Phillips’ White Pepper & Orange Peel Saison
3rd place goes to Gary Farlow’s Lychee Witbier
A huge thank you to the LHBC for letting me do this.
All your beer is rather marvellous.
Hopefully I can met you all for a pint at some point.
Sheridan’s Dubbel was a totally flat bottle, so I couldn’t really write much about it. Sorry chap.