In my other professional life, I help manage a small craft beer bar in South East London (The Beer Shop London – no, I’m not sure SEO was at the front of their minds when setting up, either). I’ve been there on and off for years – the owners are great, the regulars are great and the ethos of ever-rotating beers and well-thought-out non-beers is something I’m proud to serve. As a bonus, just keeping on top of our offer acts as excellent research into what’s happening in beer.
We like to do a big knees-up a few times a year and, especially given the battering the last eighteen months of covid has given everyone, our annual August Bank Holiday do loomed large in the imagination. So, if you’re going to go big, where better to build it around than Belgium? You’ve got the history, the variety, the eccentricity and the quality, all rolled up into one delightful national package. Lots of back-and-forth ensued about which beers should be included, revisions based on the fact that, no, Westvleteren weren’t willing to send us a keg of 12, not even if we wore cassocks and fasted on a Friday. Anyhow, the upshot was, amongst an amazing haul of beers, we got our hands on a small number of some older vintages of the Straffe Hendrik Wild and Lee and Lauren (those lovely owners I mentioned) asked if I’d be interested in talking a select group through a vertical tasting?
[This post harks back to the halcyon days of April, when we were so young and naïve, and our Prime Minister couldn’t even imagine it would last long enough that saying “it’ll be over by SummerAutumnChristmas Easter” could possibly be to leaving himself hostage to fortune. Anyhow, I’ve now got some of the 2020 calling out to me, so best to get the series up and running.]
I sometimes felt that I was fated not to have any of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. At various points over the last twenty years, bottles have swum into view, only to be cruelly taken from me. The pub quiz prize THAT WE WERE DEFINITELY GOING TO SHARE that slipped down a team-mate’s gullet when I wasn’t looking. The one time I’ve been asked for ID in a supermarket in the last decade. That other time, where I fancied picking one up, but I’d gone in for eggs and flour, so it seemed a touch undisciplined.
You know, soul-scarring episodes that mark you and your future. Not just a few unimportant incidents, oh no.
Fate finally determined to right this world-historical wrong a while back, when I was very kindly given a bottle of the 2015 release by a friend. So, taking events by the scruff of the neck, I built on that foundation and boldly picked up a couple of 2019’s crop from a local supermarket (when they were still about – the 2020 has taken their place on the shelves). (more…)
Having been to Belgium the last two Novembers and being a greedy person, I’ve a few (not enough) beers stashed away that I thought would benefit, or at least cope, with aging. Amongst them are some Bourgogne Des Flandres, a Flemish red brewed (at least in part) in a magnificent building in the heart of Bruges. It doesn’t seem to be as storied as Duchesse de Bourgogne or Rodenbach and I’ve never seen it around in the UK, but I’ve found it an approachable, enjoyable example of the style. (more…)