Friday, 10 April 2015

Belgium to Kansas City

Everyone knows Duvel. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fully fledged beer geek like me, or if you’re just an everyday person who likes the occasional supermarket selection when you can’t be bothered to go to the pub.

For years now, the golden Belgian strong ale has been a mainstay in the fridges of many pubs and supermarket shelves. You can go to a seemingly average boozer with a less than interesting tap list and you’ll probably find Duvel. You will find it in all of the major supermarkets, too, rarely priced at more than £2 a bottle.

This 8.5% foreign delight that you see everywhere, with its crunchy nut cornflake sweetness, just enough booziness that teases you, telling you to drink more when you know you shouldn’t, has become as common as Fuller’s London Pride, and it’s not a bad thing.

Slightly harder to come by, however, is their yearly Tripel Hop release. This has been released each year for a fair few years now and I’m happy to say that I’ve caught 4 of them now. The idea is that they brew a 9.5% version of Duvel that puts focus on a particular hop variety each year. 2012 featured the ever popular Citra, 2013 was the true “marmite” hop Sorachi Ace, 2014 was Mosaic which seemed to be the popular craft beer hop of the year and this year, 2015, is a fairly new hop called Equinox. Again, a popular hop, in fact so popular that many British breweries are struggling to get it. The reason the chose Equinox is because we recently had a solar eclipse in Europe and they wanted it to coincide with the official launch date which is a brilliant idea.

The Duvel Tripel Hop 2015 (Equinox) is a juicy hop bomb of a beer... Tart grapefruit and bitter orange flavours hide the 9.5% ABV well before that sugary sweetness creeps up on you, forcing you to take another sip. “Go on, do it” it whispers, and before you know it you have an empty glass. This is a wonderful beer indeed and I’d recommend grabbing some before it goes.

Moving on from the Belgians, let’s take a look at Boulevard Brewing from Kansas City, Missouri. I’d heard good things about Boulevard from a buddy of mine I worked with back in Bournemouth. Ron is originally from Missouri and I recall him telling me about their beers. Well a few years ago I couldn’t make it to The Great British Beer Festival after I’d spent ages drooling over the American bottled beer list, of which Boulevard was a part and managed to get a friend to grab me a bottle of the Double Wide IPA. Of course, it was a couple of years ago now so I don’t really remember what it was like other than delicious (I generally don’t take any kind of tasting notes unless I’m reviewing a beer on here).

Fast forward to 2014 and we got the news that Duvel-Mortgaat in Belgium had bought Boulevard Brewing. Obviously in America it got the standard reaction of “omg, they’re selling out to a big brewery in another country. Dicks.” But from a business point of view it makes total sense for Boulevard because firstly they can expand their capacity to get their beers into states that it’s not currently available, secondly they can pub more money into innovation and even  making batches of their limited edition beers bigger and thirdly (the reason that matters to me) they now have a route into Europe. After hearing this, I was desperately waiting for the news that Boulevard would export to the UK and finally it happened. I got word that Duvel would be bringing kegs and bottles of their Famous Tank 7 Saison to the UK as well as bottles of their Single Wide IPA! I was elated!

A little over a month ago now, I was working behind our Redwell bar at Craft Beer Rising and as luck would have it, we were very close to the Duvel bar. Tank 7 on keg... Jaw hit the floor. I’d finally get to try it... First sip... Funky saison, yet somewhat reminiscent of a punchy grapefruit laden IPA with just enough sweetness to take the edge off the tart grapefruit. Wow. I fell I’m love and made that my go-to post session beer. I just needed to have it again!

I then checked my emails one day to find that I’d been invited to the official launch of Duvel Tripel Hop & Boulevard beers in the UK... Bugger, I was going to be in Paris that day! The one beer I particularly wanted to try was Single Wide so I did something I don’t usually do – I asked for a sample bottle. Obviously when offered samples I accept but the couple of times I have asked I’ve felt incredibly ashamed for doing so. Luckily Nicky from R and R PR is a gem and said that if they have any bottles left after the launch, they’ll send one over.

Last Thursday I visited my parents house and lo and behold, two small packages... One containing the above Duvel Beers and the other containing Boulevard Tank 7 & Single Wide IPA!

The thing is, I’m an impatient bastard a lot of the time and this was one of those times. I couldn’t force myself to wait for Single Wide IPA to chill for a while – I immediately made a beeline to the kitchen to grab my Spiegelau IPA glass...

Single Wide IPA pours a copper colour with a nice fluffy white head. The aroma is of peaches and cream with just a touch of toffee. You take a sip and that sticky toffee is there, although light so it doesn’t detract from the tropical yet earthy hops and the bittersweet finish. If there’s an imported IPA I want to drink many times, it’s this one and at a modest 5.7% it’s possible to drink a few in an evening.

All four of these beers were brilliant... From a Belgian classic and it’s slightly younger and more hip brother to an American take on a Belgian farmhouse ale & 18th Century British IPA. We have a nice bit of variation and I’ll happily drink them all again.

Thanks to R & R for sending me these bottles!


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