Written by Oakes
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Oakes Weekly - May 27, 2004
Old Beer, Sour Beer, Raspberry Wheat Beers - Bring ’Em On!May 27, 2004
Vancouver, CANADA -
A couple of weeks ago, I conducted a Swillfest, an extravaganza of awfulness to tickle the senses. I figured this past weekend I’d one-up myself and partake of a session of truly problematic beers. The gracious host MartinT held court with myself, mr_kimchee, tiggmtl and Rastacouere for a tasting of old beers, sour beers and raspberry wheat beers.
The best of these was a combination of all three but first came a four-year-old Schultheiss Berliner Weisse, the penultimate from my now-famous stash. It all started one fateful August day in 2000. I had to move some information at work from old software to new software, and was having trouble finding the time during my regular work days. I went in on Saturday, and was done by mid-afternoon. I figured since I was already downtown I’d head to the store and buy some beer. Just sitting there, completely innocuously, was Schultheiss Berliner Weisse. I’d never heard of this being exported anywhere before, (except Gammel Strand in Copenhagen) so I had to do a quadruple take. Tax on alcoholic beverages in Ontario is partially based on alcohol content, so it was priced very affordably. Over the course of its availability, which amounted to about two months give or take, I built up a small stash. I’d have built up a large stash except a) it was really, really good and b) I got laid off but still had an Iron Liver Tour to save my cash for.
As Ratebeer grew, I decided to share some of my stash, by trading a couple of bottles and bringing others to each of the first two Ratebeer Summer Parties. Now I had only two left. I can say two things now about these bottles. The first is that I am drinking the last one by myself. The second is that four years is too long for Berliner weisse. I think that this beer hit its prime after two years in the cellar, was quite good after three, but clearly was showing some wear and tear this past weekend.
The next bottle was Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze, which I’ve had about a year and a half. Thanks to PsychProf for donating this bottle. I found this example to be very mellow by oude gueuze standards. Still very tasty, but not as sharp as when fresh.
Then it was time to dust off some beer that would clearly be deemed unfit for human consumption by the LCBO (much like Cantillon Kriek). This was Cantillon Cuvée de 9 Nations. This bottle was dated 1991 and came direct from the world-famous cellar of JorisPPattyn by way of MartinT, who had the pleasure of a Ghent pub crawl with the Flemish master a couple of weeks ago.
The wire had rusted into the annals of history in some places, and the top part of the cork had turned into topsoil. The Cuvée de 9 Nations was the forerunner to Druivenlambic, which in turn was the forerunner to Vigneronne. After thirteen years, most beers lose their carbonation, but this gave a loud pop upon opening. Reviews of this beer from the participants will be found as addendums on the Vigneronne listing. Age had treated this beer very well. The body remained full, toasty and lemony notes abounded, and a slight balancing sweetness carried the beer in the background. I didn’t get much grape, but as a gueuze the balance was fantastic.
This was followed by Vapeur d’Antan. The Vapeur beers, perhaps even moreso than the famously variable Fantômes, exemplify the vagaries of farmhouse brewing. My first one was an absolute classic, but subsequent samples have been merely decent. This was another one – still ridiculously drinkable and refreshing, but lacking the intense sharpness and herb/spice notes that made that first one stand out so much.
That was the first flight, and we had some papaya soup in the interlude. This is a simple soup – papaya, ginger, mint, onion, butter and water – and can be eaten hot or cold. I’m also working on a version made with witbier instead of water but that won’t appear until I’m happy with the results.
The next round began with a ’97 Boon Framboise. This version was clearly sweetened, but contained enough proper lambic character to make it a respectable dessert lambic. However, it was not in the league of many of the other beers that night, and especially not in the league of our second raspberry wheat.
Martin related that the past weekend he’d had the opportunity to sample Drie Fonteinen Framboos (listed as Frambozenlambik on Ratebeer). He declared it a masterpiece and I looked at the research and saw it listed as Joris’ highest-rated beer on the site. He being the person in this world with the most experience in lambics, I figured that was pretty high praise indeed. He provided Martin with a bottle of this beer, from 1986. The wire and cork were in much the same condition as the 9 Nations.
In short, this beer was nothing short of outstanding. I couldn’t find the appearance to be perfect, but it was pretty. The aroma and palate, however, were divine examples of beer as art. Beers like this make one re-evaluate their entire way of looking at beer. It is a shame that sometimes microbrewers get choked up when I don’t rate their beer anywhere near classic, but if they had a chance to sit down with something like this, maybe they’d understand better where I’m coming from.
Everything was there – stinky cheese, earth, raspberry, nuts, leather, oak. It had a carriage and demeanour only found in a perfectly aged beer. Peeling back the layers of complexity was like peeling back layers of time. Insane complexity challenged me and yet everything was so cohesively integrated that it was just as easy to see the beer as one flavour and it was to see its constituent parts. This ranks alongside the other great vintages I’ve had – Courage Imperial Stout and Bell’s Expedition.
I like Weyerbacher Raspberry Imperial Stout – it’s a fine dessert beer in its own right. But following up the Drie Fonteinen with the Weyerbacher was an exercise in futility.
We took another break, this time to enjoy some pear and blue cheese pizza with Thai basil and béchamel sauce, courtesy of Martin. For the fun of it, we tried a couple of doppelbocks right in the middle of all this old, sour beer. The insanity to that point basically rendered the first one, Spaten Optimator, worthless. My palate wasn’t ready for that sort of adjustment. Thankfully, the Optimator provided just enough shock that I was ready for the Nachod Primator Double Bock (listed as Primátor 24% Specialni Tmavé)that followed, though I found it too one-dimensionally sweet.
Another break and it was time for some pink peppercorn foie gras and some mousse foie avec porto. There were baguettes and pumpernickel. There was a cheese plate, with roquefort, stilton, a quebecois imitation morbier and a new blue we discovered earlier that day. This was called rassembleu, and is a firm, lightish blue made from unpasteurized organic cow’s milk. This was found at a store called Le Marché des Saveurs, which is a store at Marché Jean-Talon that carries only Quebec products. Well, things like esplette and coriander are merely packaged by Quebec firms, but for the most part the products were indigenous. This includes microbrews, cheeses, ciders, meads and duck in many forms.
Another flight of beer arrived, with three big names. First was Fantôme d’Été. I had this last winter at my Christmas party and my rating of it then was almost identical to my rating of it this past weekend. I’m going to have to carry these notebooks around for the next time some joker starts questioning my rating techniques and/or abilities. I’ve been doing this too long to have an inconsistent or unreliable palate.
This was followed by a beer that made a big splash on Ratebeer when it was launched – Épluche-Culotte, from Midnight Sun in Anchorage. I found it a good tripel, but not great and probably with too much accent on spices and alcohol. I guess I find it is trying to be similar to Westmalle Tripel, and I prefer my tripels slightly sweeter and more perfumey, as opposed to dry, alcoholic and spicy.
Next we opened a big bottle of cologne…er, Deus. This surely is a beer that gets you talking. There isn’t anything quite like it. Each bottle seems distinct, too. I found it odd to look at the ratings and see that the most dominant characteristics – cologne and pine needles – were not noted by anyone (perfume was mentioned by jokes and TAR). Some really cool spiciness was also found (mace, cardamom). The mouthfeel was unique as well – notably spritzy but also quite thick. I believe the thickness is why the brewer recommends it be served very cold – it can be slightly disconcerting to have the contrast of richness and lightness at the same time on the palate. Slightly caramelized bready malts dominate with alcohol and pine needles strong on the palate as well. All in all, a strange beer. Fun, though, and worth trying.
This was followed by more cheese and bread, and then we got into the last flight – kriek. I know, I know. I really shouldn’t drink kriek, as I’m liable to die of cyanide poisoning (at least that’s what the gurus at the LCBO say…this time). But old beer, sour beer, and fruit-flavoured wheats were the theme of the tasting and we still had some more of these to go, so we figured we’d roll the dice. Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek is a favourite of mine for the way the fruitiness dominates the assertive lambic underneath. Oh, and I gave it a 4.4 again, just like last time.
Drie Fonteinen Schaarbeekse Kriek came next. Sweetish, balanced, leathery, and nutty, this is a solid effort, if not quite in the upper echelon for the evening. It is not without a little bit of sadness that I realize that 360 days of the year, this would be the best beer I try, but I had to have it on a day like this where it seems somehow inferior. The flip side is just as bad – I rarely get to try beers like this. I need to rectify that situation, perhaps by taking my laptop and a pillow and moving into Joris’ cellar.
The next beer was Rodenbach Alexander. I bought this one in 2000, and like the Schultheiss I probably didn’t buy enough. I also found myself one of very few people to still have a supply of this. There are two key differences compared to the Schultheiss. The first is that the Schultheiss is still being brewed so I can restock my supply. I can’t do that with Alexander. The second is that Alexander is still in fine condition so the remaining bottles aren’t going anywhere fast, I can assure you. While it plays second fiddle to Rodenbach “when I die I want to die choking to death on this glorious brew” Grand Cru, Alexander is no slouch, as the influence of its unadulterated brother exerts its will to create a highly complex and enjoyable dessert kriek.
Even more of a dessert kriek is Kasteel Kriek, the last beer of the evening. There are interesting elements to this beer, such as the dark malt/sweet fruit interplay, but overall it seems simplistic next to the lambics. I really would like to get this again on another day, to put it in its proper context.
All told, we had a most impressive lineup of beers at our disposal. Much credit has to go to Joris for that, as he hooked Martin up with the top two beers of the evening. I would credit the Lou Pepe as my third favourite (thanks, David) and then the Rodenbach Alexander, which by now is like an old friend to me.
Yes, folks, give us your old, your fruit-flavoured wheats and especially your sour beers. We’ll drink them, and we’ll love them.
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