Three from Far Shores

Over the past week or so, I got on a little import jag. Herewith are my findings on the three I tried. Deschutes' Anniversary is in the fridge, so a report on that soon, too.

Cantillon Organic Gueuze
The appellation "gueuze" looks unpronounceable and pretty much is, and its etymology is unclear, so I wonder whether we'll have a new name in English sometime. "Blended lambic," for example. For the record, you can pronounce it just about any way you like: gooz, gooz-ah, gerz-ah. Jackson describes it as being very similar to "cursor," but he's a limey and who knows what that means. I opt for gerz-ah.

Cantillon's offering is a blend of young, middle-aged, and elderly lambics (1-3 years in the cask). The blending allows a certain consistency of flavor, as the brewery combines different ages in combinations to produce the right level of sourness and complexity (lambics get funkier as they age). Resting in the cask, lambics tend to go "still" (flat), but Cantillon's gueuze was extremely lively. In fact, as it poured out, straw-pale, bubbly, bright, and white-topped, it looked distinctly like a pilsner. Only a very slight haze hinted at the wheat used in the grist.

What an intense beer! I'd love to bust this out on unsuspecting guests I'd just reeled in with a Duchesse de Bourgnogne, just to watch their eyes pop out. Despite the mellow appearance there is a wicked nose--sour and distinctly cheesey. A sweaty, been-sitting-on-the-counter fo a coupla hours cheesey. If anything, however, the nose understates what's to come. The two strongest notes, and they compete like prizefighters, are a withering crabapple sourness a bark-like medicinal bitterness which is evoked by thinking about some of the harsher grapefruits you might have tried. You can find other notes--anise, lemon--but they appear between the sharp sour and bitter jabs. This is a beer for those who like extremes in brewing. I thought it was extraordinary and would drink it occasionally--but only just. Like a nice Islay malt or jalapeno, it's something you need to be in the mood for.

Young's Oatmeal Stout
I want to like Young's, the venerable old London institution that pre-dates Shakespeare. I buy bottles, thinking that I will be transported to the roots of brewing, as when I have a beer from their city rivals at Fuller's. But each time I am disappointed, and so it was with this new version Young's offers.

Oatmeal stouts are generally creamy and light, a touch sweet and eminently drinkable (the opposite, perhaps, of gueuze). Young's is none of these. It is burly and chalky while not being particularly creamy. The brewery touts its use of roasted barley--maybe they're trying to attract Guinness fans--but it's this ingredient that fouls the beer up. Roasted barley can be harsh and tannic, and it is here. It doesn't dry out the palate like a nice Irish stout, though. The brewery seems to have cadged the worst elements of each stout variety and highlighted them in this recipe. Not good.

Brasserie Caracole "Nostradamus"
I'm not entirely sure why I picked this beer up. It's a wintery sort of tipple, brown, rich, and very strong at 9.5% abv. Somehow my hand was drawn to the bottle, though, and I tried it out. Fortunately, it's been kind of wintry in Portland lately (69 as our high yesterday), so I didn't mind and out-of-seasonal.

Caracole is a new company, but like so many in Belgium, the residents inhabit an ancient brewery. Located in Wallonia, near the French border in Falmignoul, Brasserie Moussoux was founded ten years before America was born. In the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the name was changed to Brasserie Lamotte before eventually becoming Caracole in the year Clinton was first elected. The brewery is proud of its artisinal heritage, and still brews the old-fashioned way, over a wood fire.

Two things I didn't expect about this beer: it had an enormous, fluffy head that persisted to the final sip (amazing for a beer of this potency) , and it had a distinct hazelnut flavor. I looked at the website after I bought it to see what I'd gotten (the label was terse), but they offered this useles information: "piquant in the mouth with liquorice, mocha flavors, pear and toasted bread background." Which makes me wonder--do they even try the beers, or just select adjectives at random?

For me, this was a strong nut ale, neither piquant or bearing pear. The strength and thickness of the beer demanded a slow, sipping experience, but the hazelnut note was sweet and approachable enough that I was almost drawn to quaff. I suspect a good part of the sweetness comes from caramelization that occurs over the wood stove. I wouldn't describe it as an incredibly complex beer, but it is quite pleasant. I will have to remember to try it during the actual winter, perhaps in front of a fire.


All of these beers are available at Belmont Station. The Caracole and some Cantillon offerings (but not Organic Gueuze) can be found at the New Seasons on Division.