As I write this I am enjoying a small glass of Leffe and awaiting my Eurostar at Brussels Midi station. It’s actually really nice in that sweet, clovey, characteristically yeasty familiarness that we know most quality Belgian beers to be.
Think “Belgian beer” and at one end you may think the genius of Trappiste monks, and at the other the ubiquitous Stella Artois. My Brussels-based beer connoisseur colleague tried to convince me that the Stella Artois in its home town of Leuven is worth trying. I’m not so sure, but I was happy for him to introduce me to a sample of other local delights, starting with La Chouffe.
Coming in a 750ml bottle, this unfiltered blonde beer was made for sharing. Rumours that the Belgians can hold their consistently strong beers in by nursing one per night are wide of the mark, but visitors could be caught out.
La Chouffe is 8% ABV and is horribly easy to drink. Weirdly, it reminds me of a cider. If you “drink with your eyes”, so they say, then you’re psychologically teed up to think “cider” when you see the green La Chouffe bottle with its garden gnome cover. As it happens, it even looks a little like a cider, smells like a cider and tastes – you guessed it – like a cider. I think it’s just the fruity yeast that makes it that way. The colour is probably from a caramel malt mix that gives it a rich, deep amber colouring.
La Chouffe was gone pretty quickly and followed with a Gueuze, which I found remarkably similar.
Time for something dark and moody; the Rochefort. At 7.5%, this is another heavyweight that deceives with its smoothness and ease to drink. It’s a murky dark colour, south of a porter in darkness but pretty brown. The head is an inch-thick froth that carries the last drops of the brown beer in its caverns. It’s delightfully tantalising to look at.
The experience is different from the sweet La Chouffe and Gueuze. It’s malty and there’s a cheeky amount of bitterness, but nothing major. If you like your porters, this is for you.
I’ve reviewed the Kwak beer before, but wasn’t willing to give up my shoe – the traditional deposit – to receive it in its traditional bulb glass and wooden holder [pictured]. It’s all brilliant marketing, because it gets us talking about Kwak, but aside from that the Kwak is, in its own right, a truly impressive beer.
It has a rich, ruddy complexion with a floaty head. It’s got an almost sickly sweet caramel quality to it and just nudges towards a fuller body. This is no session ale, this is one to be nurtured for an hour or so over good conversation and the hum of international politics in the air. When in Brussels…