***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns or comments***
Enjoyed on 10/12/2010
Brewery: Brasserie De La Senne
Location: Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Belgium
Beer: X-Mas Zinnebir
Presentation: 750ml – Green Glass Bottle – Capped
Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Recommended Serving Temp: 50 degrees
The name Zinnebir refers to a term from Brussels tradition, — ‘zinneke’ — slang for the wild mixed-breed dogs that used to inhabit the poor quarters of the city along the Zinne. It means ‘little bastards,’ and has been applied more recently to those young men living in the poor quarters of Brussels who have flemish-speaking fathers and french-speaking mothers (or vice versa). De La Senne brewer Bernard LeBoucq identifies strongly with the ‘little bastards’; he is a French-speaking Bruxellois, brewing in the heart of the Flemish Payottenland. This holiday brew is rich and malty with a kick of spice and a warming feel in the mouth.
Food Pairings: Thai, white fish, meatloaf
Cheese Pairings: Edam, feta, romano
Beer Advocate: B+ (3.78)
Rate Beer: I can only assume that the bottle I bought this year is a 2010 vintage, which is not rated on this site.
I will never forget the first time I ever had a De La Senne brew. I was in ‘T Brugs Beertje in Brugge, Belgium – The Brugge Bear. One of the most famous beer bars in all of Belgium, it was an amazing experience to be there, amongst the locals – the many, many locals. It felt extremely full when we were in there, but our waiter said that it was nothing, not even close to capacity. Despite the fact that we were almost uncomfortably packed into a small table in the front room, I took surprisingly detailed notes about the De La Senne Equinox and the Stouterik that we enjoyed there. I remember thinking about how surprisingly “American” they tasted. There wasn’t that overly sugary aspect that is so common in most Belgian brewed ales. As it turns out, De La Senne prides themselves in their “getting back to the roots” attitude, or, returning to the brewing style of old, before everything was overly sweet, overly spiced and overly hopped. I can respect that.
We came to learn, from our wonderful waiter at the Bear, that (at the time of our visit) De La Senne beers were being brewed at Brouwerij De Ranke (makers of XX Bitter, Kriek De Ranke, etc.) until their new space in the outskirts of Brussels was completed. We were told that they would be moving into the new digs in the summer months, but the Shelton Brothers site still suggests that they are brewery-less. That may or may not be up to date. Unfortunately, the brewery website in not in English, so I’m unsure if they are still borrowing space.
A few hours later that day we stepped into ‘t Poatersgat, which by the way, was amongst my absolute favorite spots in all of Belgium. There, we found De La Senne’s Taras Boulba (Belgian Pale) on tap! It was a great beer day in a great city, to say the very least.
You can probably imagine how I felt when I saw this bottle on the shelves at Bottleworks. “A De La Senne beer, in Seattle?!” I was shocked, and very excited. I had never seen the X-Mas beer before. Needless to say, there was no hesitation in purchasing it. Tonight, I have the distinct pleasure of re-emerging myself in a little piece of my trip to the beer holy land. My greatest hope is that the memories rush back to me more and more with each sip.
Just about the only thing attractive about the appearance of this beer is the big rocky, off-white, approaching yellowish orange head. Just a few moments after the cap was cracked, a bit of foam peeked out of the top of the bottle, forcing me to pour before I was ready. Classic Belgian bottle refermentation at play. This unwanted urgency may have acted as an enabler to the glass monopolizing foam that quickly arose, but in the end it was an attractive sight as the head slowly receded and left large heaps of globular cloud cover over the brew.
The brew, here, is a very murky dark amber, near brown color. The fluid is doing an excellent job at suspending the rather large chunks of yeast that have completely infiltrated my glass, which may speak positively to the viscosity, but sure is unsightly. The only positive to the color of the beer itself is the fact that it’s not pale. I had my reservations about a pale ale acting as a holiday brew, and as it stands, I’m relieved.
My very first impression, when the beer was at its coldest, was of apple cider. As it warms a bit, it becomes much more exciting. Cinnamon coated, candied nuts appear. There is still an apple presence, but when it plays in tandem with the cinnamon, caramel and nuts, I’m thinking more about candied apples than cider.
I can already see why this is a holiday seasonal. It’s all coming together now. A bit more warmth brings out some unleavened dough, some vinous notes, more pie filling fruits like peach, pear, apricot… There is a definite baked quality that comes off of the malts, but also a fruity, perfume like waft. It’s not unlike being in Aunt Sally’s house on Thanksgiving day, and being so happily hugged by the smell of her famous pie baking in the oven, but then periodically being accosted by Mom’s liberal application of perfume. Yes, it may be a bit pungent, but that’s Mom’s scent, and it’s comforting. Without a doubt, this beer smells like the comforts of the holiday season. I sure could use a crackling fire and some turkey right now.
This is just what you would expect from a bottle conditioned beer from Belgium. Yes, it is a bit odd that a cork wasn’t implemented, but never-the-less, there is above average carbonation. Though this beer is not nearly as sweet as most Belgian brews of a similar style (the brewer’s stance on the subject is fully realized), it is still a dark winter ale of 7% abv, and from an American ale standpoint, there is an appropriate dose of remaining sugars to provide a smooth and slick feel to the liquid. Overall, I’m happy with the feel of this one.
The one word that came to mind after my very first sip was, “metallic”. This isn’t a good adjective for a beer, but I’m kind of glad that I sensed it because it spawned one of those memory flashbacks that I was hoping for. In Beer Blotter’s time in Belgium, we came across quite a stupefying amount of beers with this flavor attribute. I have yet to come up with a foolproof explanation for this. Some of my theories include the water source(s) used, the materials used in constructing the brew-houses, and simply, an undesirable byproduct of the house yeast strains that have been cultivated for centuries in Belgium. Luckily for X-Mas Zinnebir, a little bit of warmth allows more flavors to blossom, most of which are able to mask the metal.
For the most part, the odor belittles the flavor. The is so much happening in the nose, and unfortunately, not so much on the tongue. There is a subtle brown sugar sweetness and some hints of an aromatic malt, but otherwise the flavor is overwhelmed by Belgian yeast fruitiness. It’s a nondescript mish mash of tree and vine fruits. Red grapes and Granny Smith apples come to mind most vividly.
Immediately after the swallow, the flavors seem mostly wine like, with a slight dryness, and then move into a more malty, cereal like flavor. The deeper we go into the aftertaste the more these elements seem to meld together.
This beer is actually more inspired by traditional (or what I think of as traditional) Belgian styles than the way I remember the De La Senne brews I had in Brugge. I think that it’s the yeast that they used for this one. But still, there is no doubt that they are either taking cues from American ales or they have tapped into some much more “traditional” or “older” Belgian brewing process. There is something here that will no doubt set De La Senne apart from the pack, and that seems to be in the vein of the American Spirit. Anytime, anywhere, that the Belgian and American aesthetics collide… I want to be there.
If you like Brasserie De La Senne X-Mas Zinnebir, you should try…
Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard-earned money at a local bottle shop, and aged to perfection by yours truly.