One of my haul of Belgian ales acquired from Belgiuminabox late last year, La Vermontoise (6%) is notable in my selection for being a collaboration, on this occasion between Brasserie de Blaugies near Dour, Hainault, in spitting distance of the French border, and Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vermont.
Writing before Christmas on the joys of sour beer, and the importance of Belgium in their survival and revival, inspired me to top up my reserves. Earlier research had led me to Belgiuminabox.com, an online retailer based in Antwerp. The experience was a memorable one, the drinking likely to be even more so.
Run by beer aficionado Kurt Verblest, Belgiuminabox offers a near unassailable selection of Belgian classics and rarities at prices rarely seen this side of the English Channel, if they ever appear at all, and with the inclination and ability to ship worldwide.
I seem to have been consuming a fair number of deliberately sour beers of late. I’ve even made a point of attending a couple of tastings in London earlier this year featuring such brews. These have included an excellent event given by Canterbury’s Bottle Shop in Covent Garden back in May and an eclectic sour-beer-meets-sour-mash beer and bourbon tasting at Craft Beer Co Brixton in June.
In July I even had the pleasure of exposing some relative beer novices to the delights of a couple of classic Belgian “sours” as part of a tasting I myself hosted at The Rake in London Bridge on behalf of my friends at Whisky Squad (barrel aging being the slightly spurious link to the whisky making process I used to justify their inclusion).
While my everyday preference is currently for good old English bitter – probably the first time in the past twenty years that this has been true – I’ve never failed to be drawn to the parallel universe of beers that lie on the sour side and their potential to turn drinkers’ expectations on their heads. Increasingly it seems that many others feel the same.
Among all beer kind, the brews from French-speaking Belgium labelled “saison” can lay claim to being among the most idiosyncratic species I’ve sampled. Perhaps even more so than lambics, where a distinct family resemblance is at least clear, the beers described as saisons by Walloon brewers have often seemed to have little in common but their name.
Sometimes weird, usually wonderful, and often among the most spectacularly lively beers I’ve ever encountered (some of the saisons I’ve tried down the years would put Champagne to shame during a Formula One podium celebration), the saisons of Dupont, a Vapeur (Saison de Pipaix), Blaugies (Saison D’Epeautre), Fantome and others (as well as the other, clearly related beers not under that label from Walloon country brewers) were unsurprisingly, given their explosiveness, well attenuated and often very dry.