AleSmith Lil’ Devil

Total Score: 5.8/10 Clove1Coriander1Flowers1Tulipglass1

Belgian Pale Ale, by an American brewer, there’s something you don’t see often (least not in Australia). I’m interested in how this one will turn out – I love Belgian Pale Ales, and Belgian beers in general, I also love experimentation in those styles so I’m keen to see how this turns out. So far I’ve only reviewed 1 beer from AleSmith, their IPA, which I didn’t rate too highly due to what I expected to be hop fade (it was too malty and lacking a bit in hop flavour, though that could have been intentional I doubt it). At least with a Belgian Pale Ale hop fade isn’t generally a factor (as Belgian styles tend to concentrate more on sugar/yeast flavours than malt/hops)… well, Geronimo it is then.

Poured from a 355ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Hazed pale golden body with a thin white lace covering where the head normally resides. Bit lacking in the head department for a Belgian Pale – looks like AleSmith needs a new “head” brewer… wow that really sounded funnier in my head [pun intended?]. 5/10.

S: Spicy coriander/clove yeast character upfront, bit of pepper too, barnyard characters as well… we’re definitely in Belgian territory here, but it’s a bit of a style mix – Blonde and Saison specifically. Hints of candi sugar and floral notes as well, but it’s difficult to grasp at this stage if it’s going to be sweet or dry… we’ll know soon enough though! 7/10.

T: Dry it is then. Flavours of the above: coriander/clove/pepper/barnyard yeast, mingle with orange peel and floral hops. Pepper and a long (looong) dryness in the finish. I never thought I would say this about a Belgian style – but it needs more sugar. Yep, I said it. Even as I said it I imagined Belgian beers that are far too sweet but nonetheless much better within the same style (Leffe Blonde, La Trappe Blond, Tongerlo Blond…) this is a disappointing AleSmith. 5/10.

M: Mid to light bodied with a reasonably active carbonation – fairly typical for a Belgian Pale here. More body, as always, would be appreciated. 7/10.

D: Rather disappointing brew from AleSmith… they flubbed up the yeast somehow, granted I know for a fact that getting the yeast right in a Belgian style beer is f**king monumental, I have a huge amount of respect for Trappist monks as a (former) homebrewer. That said – AleSmith are PROFESSIONAL craft brewers: this beer needs less yeast/more sugar, it’s obvious even to me. 6/10.

Food match: A glass of water to overcome this yeasty dryness perhaps?

Standard

8 Wired Rendition

Total Score: 8.95/10 Clove1Flowers1Bubblegum1Tulipglass1

Hmmmm, “Dry Hopped Belgian Style Ale with Brettanomyces” sounds right up my Belgian alley, this should be a pretty decent drop to add to my many reviews of pretty decent drops. Now, I already know that this beer is going to be good, as I’ve already reviewed their Wireless 100% Brettanomyces IPA (even gave it a 9.1/10!)… plus Brett is great… unless you’re a wine-maker, in which case it can be a real problem… but ‘yay Brett!’ regardless. Pro tip for those of you who have never had a Brett yeast beer: Open it over the sink, trust me on that 😉. So let’s crack open this “rendition” of an age old monastery beer already, my throat is feeling parched with all this talk of Brett brews.

Poured from a 500ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: She’s a gusher as expected – my pro tip came in handy with some beer foam finding its way into the sink. When it settled the head was a nice cream-coloured affair with fairly large bubbles, with a cloudy orange body also pleasing to the eye. 8/10.

S: That classic nose-smack of funky/spicy Brett yeast that never gets tired (at least not yet for me), followed by floral and bubblegum notes, and a hint of medicinal herbs – for a dry hopped brew the hops are fairly in line with the yeast/malt characters, surprisingly so. Nonetheless the aroma is spot on full of Belgian goodness which is hard to fault. 9/10.

T: Exceptionally tasty! If you love a Saison with a bit of kick then put this review down right now and go out and buy a bottle of this. Flavours are funky/spicy/barnyard right from the get go, with floral/bubblegum notes, hints of caramel and a decent long dry finish. Aftertaste throws in a light medicinal herb bitterness, other than that though the Brett is a bit subdued with less tartness than usual – not that I’m complaining, this is trucking tasty. 9/10.

M: Brett beers tend to be highly carbed: This is no exception. Medium bodied. 7/10.

D: Let me get the dad joke out of the way first: This is one extraordinary rendition. Yikes, that was the worst kind of dad joke: A dad joke in bad taste. Overall as a Saison lover (my #4 beer of all-time is Dupont Cervesia) and Belgian beer lover in general (6 in my top 10 are Belgian) of course I am destined to fall in love with Rendition. The one problem I had with this is: It should be corked & caged in a 750ml bottle – then instabuy every time 8 Wired! 10/10.

Food match: This is a perfect pairing for a cheese platter.

Standard

Birra Baladin Nazionale

Total Score: 7.9/10 Bubblegum1Clove1WhiteWine1Tulipglass1

Kindly gifted to me by an Aussie rep (for reviewing purposes) are 5 bottles from a brewery in Italy I have yet to hear of, which is of course surprising given I worked at Plonk! in Canberra a couple years ago (Plonk! having the largest selection of craft beers in Australia). So who are these Birra Baladin peeps? And are they as great as Birra Del Borgo (my current favourite Italian craft brewer)? Thanks to the gift of these bottles I will be able to tell you if they’re good or great… or shit, but judging by a quick glance at their average scores on BeerAdvocate I’m not expecting any shit samples here. On to the beer, Cincin!

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Presents with an eye-pleasing cloudy goldenrod body and a slightly off-white cappuccino foam head that sits firm at half a centimetre. The head agitates easily from the pour, looks great at 6.5% ABV. 8/10.

S: Spicy Belgian-style yeast brings in some interesting fruit esters – bubblegum upfront, apple and mead characters follow. Aroma lingers on the sweet side with a dash of cardamom/mace spice. Not sure if intentional by Birra Baladin but it conjures up images of a medieval banquet and pageantry… lovely stuff, this is an aroma I could sniff all day. 8/10.

T: Intriguingly not as sweet as one would expect from a Belgian counterpart, quite a balance is found between sweet/dry/spice that signals a brew of a highly adaptable nature. Flavours noted as above: Bubblegum/mead esters, cardamom/mace yeast spice, finishing with a dry white wine vinous note. This brew is uniquely Italian craft, much like Birra Del Borgo, with that merging of beer/wine flavours, nice! 8/10.

M: Mid to light bodied, and the Achilles heel of this brew: carbonation, in that it is far too gassy (I noted about 6-7 burps per bottle). We will forgive it one transgression given how the beer tasted though. 7/10.

D: As good an example of an Italian-Belgian Pale Ale gets IMO. Apart from the gassy nature of this brew there was little to criticize it for: flavourwise it was interesting and tasty, with flavours I enjoy in a beer, aroma = great, appearance = also great… so yeah, looks like there’s a new contender on the horizon for Doc’s favourite Italian craft brewer, although Birra Del Borgo so far are the more creative brewer in my eyes. However I do have 4 more Birra Baladin beers to go, they may still yet wrest that crown! 8/10.

Food match: Like a white wine – very versatile, salads and game meats/nuts FTW.

Standard

Tongerlo Blonde

Total Score: 7.3/10 Clove1Coriander1Peppercorns1Chalice1

Wow, there’s still a Belgian Pale Ale out there I’ve yet to try (he said sarcastically to himself). This one doesn’t appear to get quite the marketing that Leffe does but it looks alright in the overall presentation – classic looking label, description on the 4-pack as to how one should pour it (swirling the yeast and tipping it into the glass as one should), and I see it has won the “World Beer Awards – world’s best beer 2014” – which I will admit could be completely made up, I don’t really follow the festival scene. In any case it looks like a real Belgian Blonde, so let’s dive in!

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a Chimay chalice.

A: Presents with the typical cloudy amber body of most Belgian Blondes, perhaps a tad more on the orange side, with a miserly off-white speckled foam head which at least leaves some spider-web lacing on the side of the glass. 6/10.

S: Odd hint of cereals upfront mixes with bold candi sugar notes, there’s more sugar in this aroma than a sweet shop, some coriander and nutmeg spice comes through from the yeast. Overall aroma is not bad but not as finessed as some of more well-known Abbey beers – specifically the classic Trappist brews (you know who they are). 6/10.

T: Surprisingly well balanced in the flavour – why do I say that? Well I was expecting a truckload of sugar like in Leffe’s Blonde, however instead it’s all balanced out with the hops and yeast. Flavours noted: Bread, candi sugar, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, herbal/citric hops, with a dry/herbal bitter finish. Aftertaste is a bit of an odd vegetal/herbal combo which does distract a little, but otherwise this is an unexpectedly decent Blonde. 8/10.

M: Mid to light bodied with a dense but slightly sharp carbonation. 8/10.

D: For someone who is easily turned off by too much sweetness in beers (and in general since I cut sugar out of my diet) this Blonde really hits the niche I’m looking for in a Belgian Pale Ale – it’s a brew that gives enough balance with that classic Belgian yeast spicy/peppery character that we all sometimes crave. It’s not perfect, it could use work in the appearance, aroma and aftertaste – however this is outweighed also by a decent pricing ($15 for a 4-pack). Will I get this again? Yes. That answer says it all then. 7/10.

Food match: Abbey cheese and bread board, with rosemary roast lamb.

Standard