***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com 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.
Previous Belgian preparation nights have seen Beer Blotter sample Belgian Trappist beers from both Orval and Rochefort. We decided this day that we should sample the remaining three that are available in America: Chimay, Westmalle and Achel.
The Trappist beers are by no means the be-all and end-all examples of Belgian Brewing, but they are important pieces of the puzzle. They are excellent examples of the long, rich tradition of brewing in Europe.
For many, the thought of Belgian beer evokes visions of robe-clad monks using any time not dedicated to worship, to laboring by the brew kettle. The marriage of a holy lifestyle with the meticulous formulation of the most holy of intoxicants. This is a powerful image. All ingredients carefully selected by the hands of the chosen, combined in the fashion overseen by many a generation, for hundreds of years. Weighing out proportions, exacting recipes passed down through generations. Fermentation with yeast strains that have been ever so precisely perfected and kept secret by any means necessary. Continually creating flavors undoubtedly unique.
Even if the flavors experienced don’t make you weak in the knees, which they often do, the deeper, historical experience can move you. In the mid 1800s our ancestors were drinking the same delicious beers that we are tonight. We like the way this makes us feel. It’s a beer tradition unique to a very small part of the world that we feel very fortunate to be able to visit in just a few short weeks.
We started with Chimay, brewed in the Scourmont Abbey in Chimay, Belgium. Chimay seems to be the most widely recognized Trappist brewery here in America, which caused us some surprise when we discovered that it is second to Westmalle in production. Though numbers rarely lie, the flavors of this beer, in comparison to other Belgians we have tried, speak of mass production. Of course, though Beer Blotter may wish it so, not all beers need to be flavor bombs. Chimay’s brewing monks deserves no less respect, after all, it is the Trappist way to use all monetary gains from the production of their products to assist in the advancement of their community, based on Monastic values, and not toward financial profit.
Specifically, we sampled Chimay Premiere (Red Label), which is the lightest of Chimay’s offerings, coming in at 7%. The pour revealed a glowing amber hue with a rocky head that eventually mellowed and disappeared. Some floaty, yeasty bits were found swimming within. The scent out matched the flavor, with a lot of fruitiness to be found such as apricot and pear. Behind that, as it warmed, some metallic and soapy qualities could be detected. There is mild sweetness present on the pallet, and a graininess that is nearly lager like. This is most confusing. Belgian ales rarely have a flavor profile so subdued. Beer Blotter would probably never seek this beer out, but if Chimay Red were the most plebian of craft beers, we’d be living in a much better place.
Our second Trappist brew of the night was from the Trappist Monastery of Westmalle in Malle, Belgium. Their 9.5% Tripel is one of only three beers produced and is often referred to as the best example of a Belgian Tripel available. If we didn’t know that this one was bottle conditioned, we would have learned quickly. The moment the cap was cracked a geyser of foam spilled forth. A monk’s meticulous labor puddled on the table…a sad sight. What remained in the bottle made it to our glasses and shown a cloudy yellow-gold with, paradoxically, very little carbonation. The nose was dominated by banana bread and a little soap at first, but transformed into a very white wine like experience as it warmed. The yeast provided a slight bubble gum presence and the booze was evident. Words like “bright” and “sharp” and “grainy” could be used, which again could be used to describe a light beer with minimal complexity. Pleasant to smell and easy to drink, but the quantity produced seems to have had an effect on the quality. Never the less, you hand me a Westmalle Triple and I will thank you.
The third and final Trappist creation of the night possessed all the exciting complexity that we hope for in a Belgian beer. The Saint Benedictus Abbey of Achel in Hamont-Achel, Belgium makes 5 beers, of which two are only available at the abbey itself. We had the 8% Bruin. She poured a very cloudy brown, near dirty river water in complexion. A really nice, frothy head of foam rose high on the pour and offered remarkable lacing. The aroma was busy to say the least, and seemed to shoot deep into the nose. It was as if you could feel the sensory nerves dancing with delight. Cherries and strawberries were in play, with a distinct sour wood aged quality. A lot of sweetness could be detected before even tasting it. This quality of intense sweetness seems to be ubiquitous in well made Belgian beers. The flavor is sweet, yes, but also tart, nearly sour. The body is thick. The fluid’s legs on the inside of the glass are very telling of this. Dare I use the word cloying? Syrupy. This beer is like cherry or rhubarb pie filling aged in oak. It’s really freaking good.
Beer Blotter had one more very special beer this evening.
Pannepot – Old Fisherman’s Ale, 2006 vintage from De Struise Brouwers in Oostvleteren, Belgium (not Trappist). This was our showstopper. This ratebeer.com top 50 brew is quite hard to come by, but Beer Blotter is quite crafty, and we just had to have it. This 10% Belgian Strong Ale pours a dark, swampy brown color with a nice tan head and plenty of stickage. The foam slowly diminished to a wisp, but never fully departed. The scent was full of licorice and root beer barrel candies. Deep and complex caramelized sugars and butterscotch would be found in the flavor, which had a depth that nearly drowned us. Literally breath-taking. Booze was evident as we allowed this to warm. Thankfully, the fluid coated the mouth completely with its brilliance and left an aftertaste that lingered and lingered. We were reminded of a well-aged barleywine. At one point, we were firmly struck with a realization of…pretzels. The scent of pretzels was so clear and precise. Even the salt crystals resting on top could be tasted. Definitely one of the best beers we have ever tasted. For the love of God, seek this one out.
This concludes another wonderful Belgian night for Beer Blotter. The anticipation is really mounting. If you have any recommendations for our journey please speak up.
Last night, the creators of Beer Blotter joined forces to learn about Belgium culture, learn the Dutch language and most importantly learn about Belgium beers (with the help of Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium).
Basically each week until our trip, we plan on getting together and sampling Belgium beers, eating Belgium foods and becoming more familiar with the arts, cultures and languages that we will encounter. Wij zijn Beer Blotter. Wij zijn van Amerika. Wij zouden van een bier houden. Thats all we have thus far. We are Beer Blotter. We are from America. We would like a beer.
Last night, we embarked on a journey of four Belgium beers, one Tripel, two Trappist and a sour pale. For your viewing pleasure, I bring you:
Brouwerij Bosteels, Tripel Karmeliet: This beer smells like a Pilsner, is light in color, tastes grainy at first (it is brewed with three different grains after all) and finishes with a sweet, berry flavor. All in all, this beer is not very complex and lacks character. However, kudos to the history of the Tripel Karmeliet as it is brewed from the same original 1679 recipe.
Petrus, Aged Pale: Let us just say, WOW. This beer is sour, sweet and does actually have some hop presence, although barely detectable. Michael Jackson named this beer “aged pale” back in 2001 when the beer was first released. In his book, he states that the brewers we concerned that “pale” meant weak and “aged” meant stale. This beer is quite the opposite and named appropriately. The pale characteristics are reminiscent in the smell, the color and body of the beer while the aged portion provides the sour qualities and complexity of flavors. This beer comes highly recommended!
Orval, Trappist Ale: One of the six trappist breweries in Belgium, this ale is not constrained by a style and goes above and beyond expectation. Brewed in Abbey Orval, this Trappist Ale is the only beer produced and is perfection. Orval is a very dry (like so dry you need to sip on water), yet rich beer. As time passes during your enjoyment, the flavors develop, open up and thats when you know its a damn good beer. The commercial description reads: In contrast to all the others, the Orval Trappist brewery makes only one beer for the general public. It has an intensely aromatic and dry character. Between the first and second fermentations there is also an additional dry-hopping process. Through this the beer acquires its pronounced hoppy aroma and extra dry taste.
Trappistes Rochefort, 8 or “Green Cap”: Another Trappist brewery from Belgium, Rochefort, makes three beers, 6, 8 and 10. This beer truly knocked our socks off, but lets start with the commercial description: Deep brown color; the flavor is vigorous and complex, with firm body to support the strength. The aroma has elusive notes of fresh fruit, spice, leather and figs. Vigorous is right! The smell is all consuming and utterly complex. Smells sweet almost like soda, candy apples, maple syrup and cherries with hints of a roaring fire. The “datey” flavor is very prevalent even through all of the joining flavors. This beer is like a perfectly composed melody with a bitter, coffee quality to finish. Please, do yourself a favor and get this beer because you can and why the hell wouldn’t you?
Next week Beer Blotter will have four more Belgium beauties, some mussels and frites and will hopefully learn another Dutch phrase or two. If you have any recommendations on which Belgium beers we should try and/or some Belgium food recipes, please leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input is valued and needed!