Archive for November, 2011

Once in a while (pretty rarely indeed…) I just don’t have enough motivation to rate beers and I only would like to sit back and enjoy the content of my glass. That is the major difference between a beerticker , who can just drink a beer and tick it, and a beer rater, who wants/needs to evaluate the brew and write a review. Well, it is my problem and I’m the only one to blame, mind you … Anyway,  I usually try to get advantage of such periods by “cleaning” my cellar and drinking duplicate and vintage beers.

First of all, a little introduction on vintage beers.

Some 15 years ago, I got pretty excited on aging beers and started to store a lot of different bottles in my cellar. I even wrote a dedicated page, which I still periodically update every time I can sample old beers. To be honest, my initial enthusiasm has been tempered since then. If it surely can be funny and interesting to see how each beer style is evolving during the years, it is not something I consider worth such time and effort anymore. There are definitely too few beers which will reward you at the end, so be sure of what you want to keep jealously in your cellar before starting with anything.

As I just had such a “rating-depression” period which lasted exceptionally long ( in fact the first half of November), I would like to share with you some of my impressions about the beers I had during these 16 days.

cap of a Westvleteren 12 from 1999

The Lancelot XI.I, a solid barley wine showing 11.1% alcohol, is perfectly able to resist some years of aging. My last two bottles, from 2005 and 2006, offer a pretty enjoyable beer which failed however to evolve and still, like younger samples, lacks of complexity.

The Belzebuth has been first brewed by the brewery Jeanne d’Arc at an impressive 15% alcohol content. Although being top-fermented, this beer shows indeed more characteristics of a malt liquor than of a Belgian strong ale. Taken over by the Brasseurs de Gayant in 2001, the brewery soon changed its name to Grain d’Orge and dropped down the alcohol content of the Belzebuth at 13%. Nowadays, you can even find versions of it at 11.8% and 8.8%. The 2004 version I just had remained quite respectable.

The Trappists:

Trappist beers are classical candidates for cellaring. For those of you who wish to know a bit more on Trappists, you can read my Trappist beer page or, for more in-depth knowledge, the excellent book of Jef van den Steen, Trappist – Het Bier en de Monniken (does also exist in french but I am not sure about an english version).

I am one of those people who think the beer of Chimay have changed somewhere during the mid-nineties. Since then, they definitely fail to enthusiasm me. The three beers I just had –Blanche 1999 and 2000 and  Rouge 2000 – were pretty dubious or at best quite tasteless. The Bleue (or Grande Réserve) is reputed to age better than her two sisters, so I will tell you more as soon as  my two bottles (2000 and 2002) will be uncorked.

The nice surprise came from the youngest of the Trappist breweries: Achelse Kluis. The three beers – Achel Blond 2001 and 2002 as well as Achel Bruin 2002 – were very tasty and enjoyable, showing no signs of weakness.

40 years old ?

As I’m a pretty big fan of the astringency of a fresh Orval, it is no surprise that I have not been really excited by the 2006 sample I had. Drink it fresh !

The beers La Trappe from the Dutch brewery of Koningshoeven (owned by Bavaria) are for me an even worse example than Chimay: they were definitely better in the nineties and nobody could convince me that nothing has changed in their recipes. Anyway, the sweet, oily and bubblegum-like Quadrupel 2000 has not altered my opinion.

Since the very beginning of my beer hunting “career”, I always had a soft spot for Rochefort, especially for the 10 which has been the leader of my ranking during many years. Many many beers came since then and, although I still consider the Rochefort to be very good beers, they are not on top anymore. I got mixed feelings from the aged ones I recently sampled. The two Rochefort 6 -both from 2006 – were uneven and quite dull. The Rochefort 8 from 2002 was on the contrary pretty inspiring. And what about the legendary 10 ? Here also some confusing conclusions: the 2006 was rather restrained while the 2001 still had pretty much strength and charisma. Would I have tried them blind, I would definitely have gone wrong in guessing the vintage.

Unfortunately, I had only one Westmalle, an excellent Tripel 2006. Give me more !

Since the “Best Beer in the World” competition put it on top in 2004, there has been a constant hype around Westvleteren. Years before already, this brewery meant something special for the beer geeks around the world. The quality of course, but above all the rarity of their beers made them mythic. Here also, my recent tastings gave me different impressions. While older ones – an 8 version from 2000 and a 12 from 1999 – were fully satisfying, the other two, younger versions of the 12 from 2004 and 2005, failed to be really enjoyable. One more example showing that cellaring beers is an inexact science.

Other Belgian beers:

The impressions here have been quite positive. They went from “above average” for beers like De Dolle Oerbier 2003, Bush Blond 2000, Bush de Noël 2001, Duvel 2000 and 2006 to “beautiful” for Liefmans Goudenband 1999, Boon Kriek 2001 and Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru 1999.

German beers:

Those of you who think Germany does not have a beer style suited for aging are wrong ! No, I did not had some 10 years old Weissbier or Lager Hell … But a Berliner Weisse from Landré brewed at Schultheiss. Berliner Weisse is generally low in alcohol and shows a sometimes very solid sourness and acidity due to a lactic fermentation. The beer I had was a gift from ratebeerian “Der Doppelbock” and, unfortunately, the age of the bottle, cannot be determined exactly. But it seems to be between 35 and 40 years old.  The beer remained fully drinkable and enjoyable with restrained sourish notes and subtle fruity tones. Impressive …

Swiss beers:

The two BFM Cuvée du 11ème I had (vintage 2008) were still more than respectable. The Cuvée du 9ème, an IPA brewed in 2006 by the same brewery, was even more than that. The hoppy character sure got more mellow but it looks like having now more depth and balance. I also had four or five BFM Alex le Rouge from 2007. This beer, for me the best Imperial Stout of the country, did not show any signs of weakness after 4 years of aging.

And finally, I have kept the best for the end, namely a Samichlaus 1996 from the defunct brewery Hürlimann. During the years, I have tasted this vintage at different ages: 5, 6, 7, 10 and 15 years old. I must admit that this beer never stops to amaze me: it seems immortal and its complexity is increasing while getting older. A beauty !

Die neuesten Zahlen des Schweizer Biermarkts, nämlich vom Braujahr 2010/11 (1. Oktober bis 30. September), wurden gerade publiziert. Was sagen uns diese Zahlen ?

Zuerst dass die Bierimporte weiterhin stark zulegen (+69‘284 Hektoliter), eine Tendenz, die seit dem Jahr 2000 praktisch konstant ist. Dann dass sich der Inlandausstoss um 38‘306 hl reduziert hat, was daraus ein bescheidenes Wachstum des gesamten Konsums von 0.7% resultiert. Die Entwicklung dieser zwei Werten über den letzten 20 Jahren sieht folgendermassen aus:

Der Pro-Kopf-Konsum in der Schweiz hat sich zwischen 1991 (71 Liter) und 2005 (54.8 Liter) massiv reduziert, was den sehr negativen Trend der Schweizer Produktion zum grössten Teil erklärt. Diese sah kurz danach besser aus, schrumpft aber wieder seit 2008. Da in den letzten 3 Jahren 100 neuen Brauereien eröffnet wurden und gleichzeitig die meisten Klein- und Mittelbrauereien ihre Produktion erhöht haben (wie zum Beispiel Schützengarten, Locher, Müller, Egger, Felsenau, um nur die grösseren Brauereien zu nennen), sind die (grossen) Verlierer einfach zu finden. Weiss das jemand ? Jawohl: Carlsberg (Feldschlösschen/Valaisanne) und Heineken Switzerland (Calanda/Eichhof) ! (die Frage war zu einfach, es gibt also keinen Preis zu gewinnen :-)).

Kaum bekannt ist die Tatsache, dass die beiden Giganten schon lange keine Zahlen mehr über ihre Produktion kommunizieren. Eine Zahl wird immer wieder in den Medien publiziert, nämlich dass die beiden zusammen 70% des Schweizer Biermarkts produzieren. Das ist ein totaler Quatsch, der vermutlich aus einer damals realistischen Schätzung vom Jahr 2000 herkommt. Gemäss meinen Schätzungen können diese zwei auf keinen Fall mehr als 60% darstellen. Etwas zwischen 57% und 58% scheint mir realistisch zu sein. Wie komme ich darauf ? Einfach mit einem Art Reverse Engineering: ich nehme alle Zahlen, die bekannt sind und der Rest gehört einfach zu Carlsberg und Heineken.

Nota bene Nr. 1: dies könnte wohl in Zukunft immer schwieriger werden, wenn man betrachtet, dass sogar Brauereien wie Egger, Felsenau oder Rugenbräu jetzt ihre Biermengen aus Konkurrenzgründen“ nur gerundet bekannt geben … Wie bitte ?!?
Nota bene Nr.2: dass meine Schätzungen ziemlich vollwertig sind, hat mir kürzlich eine sehr gut informierte Person bestätigt.

Hier also die Marktanteile in der Schweiz in 2011, made in Bov:

Was passiert also genau ? Jedes Jahr verzichtet circa 1% der Konsumenten auf seine Stange Feldschlösschen, Calanda, Cardinal, Tell, Gurten, Warteck, Halden Gut, Ittinger Klosterbräu oder wie alle diese ähnlichen Produkte mögen heissen und fliehen in 2 entgegengesetzte Richtungen.

Die erste Kategorie sind Leute für die Bier nichts anderes als ein Durstlöscher ist. Diese verschonen ihre Portemonnaie und entscheiden sich für billige Importprodukte (hauptsächlich die 5dl Dosen aus Deutschland).

Die zweite Kategorie bevorzugt zunehmend die Biere von kleineren Schweizer Brauereien. Sei es weil diese besser schmecken (was aber nicht immer der Fall ist) oder weil das Image der beiden Giganten negativ auffällt (fehlende regionale Identität sowie unzählige Übernahmen und Stellenabbau).

Was machen Heineken und Carlsberg dagegen ? Praktisch nichts ! Ihre Passivität ist wirklich verwunderlich. Sie motzen über dem landesweiten Rauchverbot in den meisten Restaurants und Bars, und bedauern, dass ihre Biervielfalt nicht wahrgenommen wird. Dabei realisieren sie nicht, dass Dutzende von geklonten Lager Hell bei weitem keine Biervielfalt darstellen … Umso besser für die Kleinbraureien ! Diese Lage ist aber mittelfristig für die Niederländer und die Dänen nicht tragbar. Ich gehe also davon aus, dass sie in den nächsten 10 Jahren entweder eine oder mehrere mittelgrosse Brauereien übernommen werden oder aber, dass sie aus dem Schweizer Biermarkt aussteigen.

Wer will mit mir wetten ?

cheers !

I like … what do I say ? I love ranking lists ! It’s like this, I am definitely more a scientist than a poet… That is why I would like to present you periodically my personal top tens of Swiss beers in different beer styles.

First of all, I must state something precisely: I do not judge beers to style. This is what is mostly done at homebrew or some other beer competitions. I do prefer and use an hedonic scale: how much does a beer please my senses is the most important to me. For example, even if I am usually more pleased by IPA than by Pilsner, I will favor an extravagant, original, well-made and challenging “not-true-to style” example from the latter over a true to style yet boring sample of the former every time.

This being said, a style classification is something important for the consumers, as it allows them, generally, to know what they can expect from a beer. But be careful: beer styles are moving targets and there is always plenty of room for interpretation, so you must be prepare to see sometimes wide differences in the same style. And be also cautious, talking about beer styles is like talking about religions: it can become very emotional …

So let’s take a closer look to today’s style. Well, I should say “styles” as I decided to put two of them together, namely Stout and Porter. There are two reasons for this: firstly, both styles share a lot of similitudes and can be considered as close relatives and secondly (in fact the main reason), I have only tasted 17 Porters from my country and at least 5 of them are now retired, so building a top ten out of 12 beers would be pretty ridiculous.

Porter has its origin in London at the beginning of the 18th century. It is the father of the later famous Stout. Porters are top fermented beers, dark brown to black in color and showing a roasted malty aroma. Cocoa and coffee are typical and they often present a hint of acidity. Baltic Porters, which appeared about 200 years later in the region between Denmark and the north-west of Russia, are bottom fermented, sweeter and stronger in alcohol (usually between 7.5% and 9.5%).

Also originated from England, Stout beers are top fermented, black in color and shows a roasted coffee-like profile with often notes of licorice and chocolate. Stout can be declined in subclasses: Dry Stouts (popular example: Guinness), Sweet Stouts (like Milk Stout and Oatmeal Stout) and Imperial Stouts, my personal favorite beer style, stronger (8 to 12% or even more), thicker and frequently more flavorful versions of basic Stouts.

The Old Cat, from the Brasserie Artisanale de Fribourg, has very certainly been the first Stout of the modern era brewed and commercialized in Switzerland (developed back in 1995 and sold since 1999). Then came the first Porter with the Sido’s Porter from les Faiseurs de Bière in 2000. Both beers are still produced but, although being very good, they do not appear in my top ten. Not long after came Stouts and Porters from other microbreweries: Haldemann, BFM, the legendary and now closed Bäre-Bräu, Altes Tramdepot and la Sierrvoise.

Stouts and Porters are absent of the big and middle-sized breweries’ portfolios. Decades of blond lager beers have led Swiss consumers away from dark beers and the biggest brewers are not ready to take some commercial risks and give them more visibility. So apart from Locher and his Calvinus Noire and Balik Beer (nota bene produced for two client brewers), you have to search by much more smaller breweries if you want to find something: BFM, Murailles, Sudwerk, Birrificio Ticinese, Altes Tramdepot and Öufi (by the last two though, not on regular basis).

Now it’s time to take a closer look to my personal ranking (please note that I have only considered beers which are still available!):

name brewery alc. comments
9th Black Cat Porter UHB  black chocolate and coffee are well present in this beautiful Porter
Arabica Degen 4.8% Swiss beer of the year 2009 in the category top-fermented, this is a beautiful Stout where the notes of coffee dominate
Äs Fyschter’s Mein Emmental 4.7%  a very roasted, fairly hoppy and much pleasant Dry Stout
Cévès Bâme Noire Bief 5.5%  don’t believe the brewers when they say this beer is lighter and less thick than Guinness … but better it is, that’s sure!
7th Weggess Stout 5%  a tasty Dry Stout showing notes of vanilla and walnuts
Bad Attitude Two Penny Birrificio Ticinese 8.15%  a very nice Porter brewed with American hops (Chinook, Amarillo and Willamette)
6th Pacific Pioneer Sudwerk 6%  unfortunately still a limited edition and not (yet?) available in the Coop supermarkets, this well-made, complex and dangerously drinkable Porter is for me the best of its kind
3rd Irish Stout Reinecke Bräu 6.1%  a pleasant, very drinkable and nicely complex Stout
Black Dream UG Bräu 5.1%  a tasty Irish Stout which makes Guinness look pretty ridiculous
la Noiraude Imperial Stout l’Enclave 7.5%  a complex full-bodied Imperial Stout
2nd Big Blackbier Rappi Bier Factory 8%  a seasonal Imperial Stout fermented four times: 2 tank fermentations, a barrel fermentation and a final bottle fermentation
1st Cuvée Alex le Rouge BFM 10.276%  brewed with Sarawak pepper (a pepper produced in the Malaysian portion of Borneo)

Cheers !

Le Mondial de la Bière de Strasbourg figurant au programme du mois d’octobre, il n’est pas surprenant que mon nombre de nouvelles bières goûtées ait été un peu plus élevé qu’en moyenne : 81. Bien que n’ayant passé qu’une seule journée au Mondial (le dimanche), j’y ai tout de même dégusté et noté 30 bières. Cela peut paraître (et est probablement) exagéré. Je dois toutefois dire qu’avec mes 24 années passées à noter des bières, je suis capable, dans la grande majorité des cas, d’attribuer mes points (apparence, arôme, goût, arrière-goût, impression générale ; voir aussi de manière très rapide, et ceci même après un nombre élevé de bières. Il suffit de faire attention à certains points importants, comme par exemple l’ordre de dégustation, ou alors de reposer quelque peu le palais et de prendre un peu plus de temps si une bière subtile et légère se présente à vous après un monstre sur-houblonné. Le problème se situe plutôt, et de manière naturelle, au niveau de la qualité des notes prises sur les bières en question…

Ces 30 bières dégustées sur place mises à part, j’en ai ramenées 78 autres de mon escapade alsacienne, explosant ainsi mon budget bière … Mais, chut ! Pas un mot à ma femme 😉

Que dire du mois écoulé ?

Tout d’abord que les bières suisses ont tenu, à nouveau, le haut du pavé au niveau du nombre (26), ce qui m’a permis de passer discrètement la barrière des 1’500 bières helvétiques ! L’Italie, grâce au Mondial de Strasbourg, suit avec 18, puis vient l’Allemagne avec 10. Parmi les 13 pays représentés le mois passé, aucun n’est inhabituel et je fini par me faire à l’idée que 2011 sera la première année durant laquelle je n’aurai découvert aucune bière en provenance d’un nouveau pays !

Un coup d’œil plus détaillé sur les bières suisses montre que trois nouvelles brasseries, toutes de qualité fort respectable, ont croisé mon chemin,: les Lausannois de Maupas, la brasserie grisonne Biermanufaktur Maienfeld ainsi que les Zurichois de Benedix Klosterbräu. La déception du mois provient de la brasserie vaudoise Bière Buse, pourtant capable de produire d’excellentes bières, avec sa Frivole, une blanche qui ne tient pas du tout la route. Nulle doute qu’Alexandre fera beaucoup mieux l’été prochain. Si les bières suisses sont absentes de mon podium, le chapitre satisfaction n’est par contre de loin pas vide avec entre autres (sans ordre particulier) : la Pacific Pioneer (un excellent Porter des non moins excellents Sudwerk), la Noiraude (superbe Imperial Stout de la fameuse brasserie l’Enclave), la Smoke Whisky Beer (produite avec ajout de Bowmore) de UHB et la sur-houblonnée Impériale IPA Capitana de Stozi-Bräu.

Quant aux autres pays, la déception est venue de la micro-brasserie italienne de Karma dont les produits présentés au Mondial de Strasbourg étaient fort modestes. Mais il y a eu d’autres flops, tels la Stöttner Neues  Helles, la Birra de zum Schwarzen Adler (brassée pour les magasins Coop en Italie) et surtout l’imbuvable Nobelaner Kesäolut des imprononçables finlandais de Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas Parmi les joyaux n’ayant pas atteint le podium, je citerai les bières suivantes, toutes dégustées lors du Mondial : la Triple Brune I.P.A. des français de Fleurac, la danoise et vainqueur de la médaille de platine du Mondial (la plus haute  distinction) : la Hornbeer Dryhop, l’italienne Amarcord Riserva Speciale et la Charbonnière des excellents Québécois de Dieu du Ciel.

Venons-en finalement aux 3 premières places où nous retrouvons tout d’abord (3ème) la brasserie Hornbeer avec sa solide (11%) et complexe Imperial Stout : the Fundamental Blackhorn. Le Québec et Dieu du Ciel sont encore à l’honneur en deuxième position avec leur Chaman, une superbe Imperial IPA qui parvient à maintenir un bel équilibre malgré une forte amertume. Et finalement, on trouve une bière dano-belge au sommet : la Mikkeller Texas Ranger, brassée chez De Proef. Cette bière est brassée avec des piments chipotle, une variété fumée et séchée. Je tiens à rassurer tout de suite ceux à qui le mot piment évoque d’horribles souvenirs d’une Chili Beer genre Cave Creek : la Texas Ranger n’a rien à voir avec ça. Le goût épicé, au lieu de partir dans la force brute, rajoute ici une dimension et une complexité supplémentaire à une bière qui n’en manque pas avec, entre autres, des notes chocolatées et une belle amertume.

Je vous rappelle que la liste des mes 200 dernières bières testées se trouve online sur le lien suivant :

cheers !