Dienstag, 30. Januar 2018

Meet the brewer: TOTEM, hosted by Fermenthings, Brussels 27 Jan 2018


I very often complain about the lack of novelty in Belgian beer. Yes, there is a tradition and respect of the wide word. Yes, Belgians brew great traditional Belgian beer styles like sour.
However, when you look on development of the beer in the world in the last 5 years and compare it to the local Belgian situation, you realize that most of the Belgians did not know that there is some craft beer revolution going on.
I encounter almost weekly local beer lovers who Believe that Belgian beer is the best. The problem starts when I start to ask questions:
Why do you think it is the best?
How do you define the best – taste, quality?
This usually is over for a discussion, since they have no idea. If you insist you find out that they always drink a blonde brewed by the local brewery and may have tried a few other from the local supermarket. IPA – I have tried one and don’t like it. Which one did you have? Leffe…
No wonder, Leffe IPA is one of the worst beers I have ever had and by blind tasting I would never say its IPA.
One important thing to say – there is a significant difference between the south and the north of Belgium. South of Belgium is even more conservative what I have described above. North is way more open. Most of interesting Belgian beers in the last years came from Brussels or north of it. Best beer festivals are in the north.
There are some signs that the situation is changing also in the south. great Beer Market in La Louviere (www.beer-market.be) is building a local community around its variety of beer styles from different countries. I have recently tested a Barley Wine from the brewery in the south. Maybe, one-day Belgium will again be a beer country I have hoped for.
One more thing to add, the situation is not just a Belgian problem. It is a problem of many strong beer cultures. Germany, Czech Republic – those two countries suffer from the same problem. And I know what am I saying – I have lived in Germany for 16 years.

So far for the introduction.


I have met Totem almost exactly a year ago at the Brugges festival. All their beers were named with Aztec gods. Seeing the description of their brews I have red few obvious facts:
Sadly, during the whole year I have not really managed to get my hands on any more Totem beers. Totem simply does not have any distributors in the south of Belgium.
Recently in December, at Fermenthings I have spotted some Totem beers, this time named by the Viking gods and heroes. Used to be Aztecs. Intriguing.

Therefore, when I have heard that Totem is coming for a brewer evening at Fermenthings – there was no option. I just had to go. And with a support of the whole family I have managed. This was worth it – the pair running the brewery are fun and interesting to talk. Here is what I have learned.

  • They agree with my view on Belgian beer. Most people drink strong, alcohol boosted Triples.
  • Most of the innovation in European beer in the recent years comes from Poland and UK
  • Totem beer is brewed for fun. So far Totem have never brewed the same beer twice. And they have the freedom to do whatever they want and do not need to fit into the expectations of the everyday, boring market.
  • They are playful. In the first-year names were taken from Aztec gods, Recent wave is Vikings. Coming beers will be Chinese.
  • And finally, a blast. For now, Totem was an unusual contract brewer – why unusual? Because they have found a contract brewery that have let them go inside and really brew their beer. Nevertheless, Totem is opening the first physical brewery this year. They have a building and the gear is coming in few weeks. Wish you good luck guys!

Now to the beer! 
Sorted from the weakest one to the best!

everyday IPA

We start the evening with an everyday IPA. Huldra in the Norse Mythology was a seductive forest spirit. Is the beer from Totem seductive as well? With its 2.7% alcohol it clearly fits in the low alc market that its recently booming. Also, I could imagine that this is a beer for mass events - concerts, football games. It still keeps all the characteristics of the IPA with some bitterness and tropical fruit aromas, but I have the feeling that the low alcohol came with a price of generally diluting the aroma and taste. I my opinion 1:100 IPA from Kormoran did it better.

(collaboration with Tempel Brygghus)
hoppy sour

This time a sour beer. Very interesting from me, because it was brewed extra for brewed extra for Billies craft beer festival that I couldn’t attend. St Billie represents the dry sour kind that I do not enjoy too much. It is hoppy I admit, but it is mostly dry. Not everybody’s case. 
azacca double IPA

Hrmir (also known as Hrimnir) is a giant from the famous Volsunga saga of the Norse Mythology. And this IPA has gigantic potential as well. Almost a modern classic. Traditional, American IPA. Peachy and tangerine citrus aromas nicely complemented with pine notes. Good bitterness. Cloudy look and modest carbonation. One of the cases where beer smells and tastes awesome. Very good beer.

(collaboration with Pontus and CraftBeerShirts)
Red Stout

Red Stout? WTF. How do you do a red stout. The answer was simple – do a white stout and add beetroot juice. The effects are more than interesting. You know that the beer is red. With rather light body and medium carbonation. However, your nose and taste tells you that this is a real stout, with coffee, chocolate and smoked aromas. Very good one.

beechwood smoked stout

Fafnir was a son of dwarf king, affected by the curse and turned in the dragon. Slain at the end of the story. Still, I had some problem with connecting the name to the beer this time. The best I could come with is that dragons are fire animals and Fafnir is smoked stout. Anyway, that beer is amazing, black, thick, oily in consistence. Low carbonation. Nose is mocha and umami. Taste is light smoked, aromas of wood, chocolate and coffee. World class beer.

Palo Santo wild ale

This beer was brewed extra for this evening. And it is amazing. Combination of wild ale and strong aromas of Palo Santo wood gave it really unique character. For the ones that has never heard the name before – Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), also called a holly wood, is very often used in all kinds of scents, incenses, sticks and oils. There is a good chance you have already tested the smell, if your partner is interested in this kind of things. In case of beer Palo Santo gave pine and citrus aroma and strong vanilla flavor. The whole thing was so well balanced, that I considered a beer an IPA and a great one. Obviously not the first time that Totem brews out of the convention and they are good at it. Another World Class Beer.

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