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The Taste of Melbourne: Beers Part 2 (BBCE)

The remainder of these beers, I tried at the Belgian Beer Cafe Eureka, which I highly recommend to anyone in the Melbourne area. The first three are from the first visit, the rest from the second. All of these were bottle beers except the Kriek.

Visit 1:

Silly Saison: This was the beer I started with on the first trip to Eureka. I wanted to get a better handle on this style, since I will be trying to make one sometime soon, but I still feel like I don’t quite know exactly what a saison is supposed to be like, beyond being blended, being delightful, and being something I’d definitely like to get to know. It was very refreshing and light-bodied 5% farmhouse ale, with some stone-fruitiness and a touch of caramel and malt, though not all that tart like I thought Saison were supposed to be like. Some people seem to find it’s not so much in the style, so maybe it was a bad choice as far as getting to know Saison better… but it was really a good choice in terms of enjoyability.

Orval: This was the recommendation of Adam Brymora, who was spot on in thinking I’d like it. The Orval utterly delicious, with a strong barley richness and above it, a lot of bright banana esters clearly detectable, with just enough sweetness for it to remind me of that Korean liquor I enjoyed in my first year in Iksan, “Seolgukju.” “It’s like barley candy!” I declared, and others agreed. The waitress had a good laugh as we praised and praised the beer to high heaven. By this time, I was having my dinner of rabbit linguini, which was also pretty good.

Chimay Blue: This was the recommendation of a waiter who was asked which beer he’d choose if he were about to be exiled to “beer hell,” which is an apt description of Korea. To be honest, I wasn’t overall very impressed. It was an okay beer, and but wasn’t overall unusual, with none of its particular characteristics standing out for me except for the fact I had no idea at all it was such a strong ale, at 9% alcohol.

Visit 2:

Karmelite Trippel: This beer was an excellent start to a second visit I made to the Belgian Beer pub, with Mark. It was very richly malty and bready, with only a touch of sweetness. I’m pretty sure there was some wheat in it, but I will have to look that up. It was a high-alcohol beer, at around 8%, and while it wasn’t intensely layered (like the Duchess beer, see below) it did have a powerful and engaging distinctiveness. Also, it did not feel like an 8% beer. Not in the slightest. I felt like I could have kept on drinking the stuff for three or four bottles… at least, at first. But it packed a punch, though less then the Duvel. Maybe that’s because of the delicious pork belly I had with it.

Delerium Tremens: This beer was like a dream, and I was delighted to find another bottle at a bottle shop nearby so I could bring one home to share with Miss Jiwaku. I remember it as a bright and rich blond beer, with a subtle but arresting tanginess, but I think I’d rather write about it after having had a chance to try that bottle in my checked luggage. (Assuming it survives the trip to Korea.) It’s a beer to be sipped slowly, with over 8% alcohol and a nice, bright flavor.) I do remember that even just a small sip of Mark’s bottle of the stuff on the first night was a highlight of the evening, so much so that I had a hankering to return back and have a bottle of my own sometime before leaving. Yes, it’s that good.

Supposedly, this beer can be gotten in Fukuoka, according to some guys on my homebrew forum: well, while I would never suggest a trip just for the purpose of getting beer, it certainly doesn’t disincline me to make a jump over there. I got this mainly because the darker brew by the same brewery, Delirium Nocturnum, was sold out. (I think I also asked for a nice brown flanders ale, but they’d run out of that, too.)

Belle-Vue Kriek: This was a little bit like candy, but in a somewhat garish way, which disappointed me as I was hoping that, being as it was draught beer, and not Lindemans’ (which I have tried before) it might be less sweet. I read, in James Sparrow’s book Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition, that the days of the lambic were long gone, and that many Belgian lambic brewers tend to oversweeten their lambics, framboises, kreiks, and so on — even their gueuzes, which was reason enough, to me, not to bother trying the gueuze. Well, if the lambic available in draught form in Melbourne was any indication, that seems to be correct. The beer was acceptable as a dessert beer, but it didn’t have much sourness, or wheatiness, or indeed much beeriness. My first impression was of a kind of cloying cough-syrupy flavor and sweetness, to be honest, though after it had warmed a bit — I had the last third of the glass, switching with Mark — yeah, I gave him the last third of the Delerium Tremens. I have the feeling it’s a beer for people who say they don’t like beer, especially the beer-hating partners of people (er, I mean, beer-hating girlfriends of guys) who are crazy about Belgian beers, a function which is probably only further served by the low (~4.3%) alcohol content. It was something like a soda pop at first, and while that diminished, it never became anything too much like beer. But I did pick up a few bottles to share with Miss Jiwaku.

Duchess de Bourgogne: This 6.2% alcohol beer was an absolute revelation. It was one in a series of beers I attempted to order, only to be told that they were out of stock. The guy who was working at the bar ended up hearing my explanation of sparging to Mark and realized I was a brewer. Anyway, at some point he ended up discovering that they were not actually out of stock of that beer, and asked if we wanted to try it. Intent on being fashionably late for the Hugo Awards Ceremony — which we failed, as the ceremony was rather late as well — we decided to split a bottle.

At which point we discovered something akin to love for the Duchness. This beer is a very complex brew, and I’m going to paraphrase our explanation of it to Ian here, but only as an encouragement to all who have the chance to dive, wrestle, fight, beg, dance, sing, or pay whatever you must (within reason) to try it.

The beer, which is brewed with both wheat and barley, is quite dark, and when poured it has an arresting sourness in the nose. This is just a hint of the lactic character that kicks in when you taste the beer. The sourness at the front of the mouth (surely inoculated into the beer during its oak cask-aging, though I couldn’t detect much explicit oakiness) is followed by a dark cherry tone as well as the tickling, bright effect of the carbonation. A gentle sweetness follows, not cloying but simply rich and assured. Beneath all of that, there is a constant, slowly crescendoing and then descrescendoing caramel fundament. This is a beer that one sips, not only to savor it but to experience this vivid progression of distinct flavors and elements time and again. We sat for what must have been at least 30-40 minutes sipping it, and talking; often, — and this is a hint of how amazing it was — the subject of the conversation was the beer itself.

I would love to make such a beer, but I note from the menu that it is a blend, and would likely be quite a challenge. I’ll have to look around online to see if anyone has more information on the process, as I would be very, very happy even remotely approaching the beauty and complexity of this one beer. It’s not the sort of thing one wants every day… but on the other hand, for special occasions, it’d be just the thing!

My final comment on the Duchess was that, had I been exposed to such beers as a young man, my life would have turned out very differently, I imagine for the better — not that I am bemoaning my life now, but rather I think I could have learned many things that I had to learn in other ways, often the hard way. One learns something of a life lesson in such beers: in the importance of savoring something to appreciate it; in the importance of a little sourness with the sweet; in the importance of taking the next sip only when one is truly ready for it. I do actually believe a beer like this can make for a more thoughtful, measured, balanced, and savoring approach to life.

Which is why I feel the cultural loss that has followed by the consolidation of brewing in much of the world outside Europe is such a horrible loss: if everyone could have a chance to try a beer like this, I think there would be a lot less chugging of beer in our world. One beer, beautifully crafted, is worth far more than any keg or vat of mediocre, tasteless industrial lager. As Mark commented, regarding the fact that a number of the Trappist beers he has enjoyed and we shared were brewed by monks, “It says a lot for a life of contemplation.”

Which reminds me further: on the flight from Melbourne to Sydney, there was a documentary on — which I didn’t hear since I didn’t bother with the headphones, but I watched it — about craft cheesemakers in Japan. It looked like there was a pretty good variety available, and it was cool to see the process. While I think we’ve lost less in terms of cheese than beer, when I walk down the cheese aisle in my local grocery stores and see two dozen types of “cheese slices” (ie. petrol byproduct sandwich filling) and only one or two of the actual — and overly familiar — cheeses, it saddens me. I really wish I’d gotten a chance to pick up some good cheese, but then again, compared to beers, there’s a stunning variety of cheeses available in Korea. Nothing local, nothing I’ve found particularly mind-blowing, but one isn’t stuck with either slices or nothing.

Perhaps there’s a reason to be thankful for the absence of a local cheese industry, since it’s the protectionism of the beer industry in Korea that ensures so many barriers to greater beer diversity there. And while I am happy enough making beer, making beer and cheese is too much for me to really get into, at least while I am holding down a busy job and trying to get writing done consistently.

One more thing: I saw, for the first time ever, the full-sized bottles of Duvel in a few places in Melbourne. The full-sized bottles being 750 ml of Duvel, which is a rather strong blond beer at 8.5% alcohol. All we ever have in Korea are the little 330ml stubby bottles, but for me that’s more than enough, so I didn’t pick up one of those, but I did get a few different beers: a Delerium Tremens, a Kwak, a bottle of the (non-Belgian) Banana Bread Beer, another Belgian beer the name of which I can’t remember, and a few fruit lambics (a framboise, a kriek, and a fraise).

Speaking of which, I should do some, so off I go…

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