There is nothing better to warm up the winter than a solid portion of good beer.
To our surprise, winter have visited Belgium. We also have snow (not a lot, but enough to make a snowman). This simply asks for a Winter Beer Festival.
Floreffe - small, historic city close to Namur. Build around the original monastery (grounded around the year 1100) is hosting the Winter Beer Festival organized by Namur – The Capitol of Beer (whatever this is). I admit that the first look on the monastery is very impressive. Especially in the night, with all the lights it looks amazing. Enjoy the view before we continue with the festival part.
The first impression of the interior is very nice.
Sadly, the event itself is held in school gym. Very old one. On one hand, it is still nice, because it’s a part of the monastery adopted to be a gym, but on the other the best years of the gym are behind. If you combine it with the tables and chairs that remember 1st World War and some ping pong tables standing around, you get the feeling of a certain guerilla of the event. It is not bad, just very specific.
Major points of criticism – there were two spots that sell the beer, even if each of them was served by up to 3 people it is clearly not enough. We have arrived very early in the day therefore, the beginning was very smooth, but after 2 hours there I had to wait more than 15 minutes to get a beer. Much too long.
Another small point is the presence of the food stand in one of the corners of the gym. Yes, it is necessary, but plan for the working ventilation system. On Friday, around 8 pm half of the room was already filled with smoke from the food stand. I doubt that you can enjoy any beer aroma when everything smells like grilled sausage. In fact, I had to leave the room with every single beer…
On a good side the organizer have provided a very interesting collection of the beers for the event. Getting Belgian, Italian, French, UK and Denmark beers under one roof is worth noticing. Very well done guys. After a short moment of appreciation I was getting the first beers and then I have spotted the two list the organizers have provided.
The first one on the small block of paper was perfect for making notes on what the beer you had and contained just the name of the beer and the brewery. Very useful thing.
The other list that kept my interest for longer was containing the name of the beer, the brewery, style of the beer and a short description.
Wait! Rewind. Style of the beer? Why is Santa Gose called blonde? Call it gose, grodziskie of lichtenheiner. But it is not blonde. And Looking on the list I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have marked some obvious mistakes on the list. Then I have realized that the organizers know only three types of beers – blond, amber and black. Congratulations guys. Very impressive knowledge for a people calling themselves beer nation…
Two possibilities have crossed my mind – either we encounter a typically Belgian arrogance and inability to believe that there are other beer styles that the ones brewed in Belgium; or the organizers wanted to make it easy for them and have just used an appropriate color of the beer to make it easy for the people to choose. Just to make it clear – the second one is no excuse - how can you put a goose, an IPA and a saison together as blonde. People buying them will be misinformed (yes, even if there is a description after). Either way. Shame.
To finish the complaining – after a festival I still wonder, why would you serve the beer almost frozen? Seriously. All bottled beers were served at 4 degree Celcius (No I haven’t seen the number, but it is my best guess, it could have been 5 or 6). Majority of winter beers I know are quite heavy aromatic things, sometimes with a lot of spices. Serving temperature up to 12 degree if you want to enjoy the complexity. Selling them almost frozen is a kind of crime. Major.
Now enough complains, let’s go to the beer, because it was the strongest point of the festival.
To Øl (Denmark), saison
Nice hops, fruity flowery aroma. White color, unfiltered, medium body smooth creamy, soft carbonation. I probably wouldn´t consider this as a winter beer, but it gave me a nice summer feeling. Very pleasant in drinking. Will get some bottles for stock. That was a great start of the fest.
De Ranke (Belgium), Belgian Ale/Ambree
Dark amber color, bit hazy beer. A very typical example of what is “in” in Belgium. Smells mostly of yeasts. Some orange in flavor. Maybe some honey aroma if you look carefully. Quite bitter at the end, what is worth noticing. Overall rather muddy than refreshing. Decent but not particularly great.
Brewdog (UK), IPA
Yet another hoppy beer. And I love it. IPA with medium body. Clear hoppy aromas of citrus and flowers. Surprisingly, it was pretty pale. Decent bitterness and very aromatic in taste. Very decent beer for a broader publicity. Wouldn’t win any competition, but is a secure choice if you ever stumble upon it.
Diôle Bière de Nöel (Diôle Brune)
Brasserie de Carrieres (Belgium), Belgian Ale/Brune
Fruity sour beer with a clear note of black currant in aroma and taste. Some notes of mild spices. Very surprising, but not bad after all. If you can go over the firs sip is certainly worth continuing drinking. It a bit similar to goose, but only a bit. Positively weird.
Birra Donjon (Italy), Ambree
Yeast and malt. Heavy yeasty. In fact, for me it stinks, with some efforts there is a light peachy aroma. Heavy carbonation. Overall very average beer. Very average.
*this beer was called Jonna Christmas on the official beer list, but, according to a brewery they only have a beer called Jonna…
La Mère Noël
Brouwerij Huyghe (Belgium), Belgian Strong Ale
Heavily carbonated, no aroma, flat. Very poor case of Belgian beer. Mostly yeast, but generally flat. When warmed up, mostly alcohol. Waste of time.
Editions de Noël
Brasserie du Pays Noir (Belgium), Belgian Strong Ale
Nonfiltered, very smooth on the tongue. I bet on banana aromas coming from yeast. Rather sweet. Very pleasant in drinking. Quite interesting.
Dunham Saison Rustique
Brasserie Dunham (Canada), Saison
Pale yellow with fine white head. Light warm aroma of lemon and sauerkraut. Yes, sauerkraut; And a bit salty like drinking sea water. No jokes, seriously. But taken together it is not bad. Its great and refreshing. Unusual, but in a positive way.
De la Senne (Belgium), Winter Ale
Malty aroma with dried plums and honey, brown bread, toffee, and a light spiciness. As the beer warms up there is some additional light fruity yeastiness as well as hints of warming alcohol. followed again by dried fruits, refreshing bitterness, and slight warming alcohol. Heavy spicy, great winter beer. Best winter beer here.
Santa Gose F&#%-It All
To Øl (Denmark), Grodziskie/Gose/Lichtenhainer
Unusual interpretation of the gose style. Smells and tastes more like diluted lemon juice than a a gose. Body is light with tingly carbonation dispersible vitamin C tablet. I liked it to start but got quickly tired with the one-sided taste.
Santa Paws (Baby Dogma?)
Brewdog (UK), Brown Ale
Medium sized beige colored head. Aroma of sweet malt, toffee, and spices. Medium body and carbonation. sweet malty finish. Would be simple but it’s also a little thin.