Alvinne

No More Heroes XXII – Brouwerij Alvinne Wild West

At some point over the last few years the use of the word “sour” in beer circles has shifted from being an adjective to a noun. From gose to gueuze, sours are more popular than ever, with more and more breweries trying their hand at producing them deliberately than ever before. We’re even seeing new breweries opening that are dedicated to producing nothing but sour and bretted beers, such as Crooked Stave in the US.

But to use the word “sour” as a catch-all term for any beer that’s a little bit funky feels a little bit lazy, to me at least. Many of the world’s best sour beers such as lambic, gueuze, gose and Berliner weisse have a name that not only begins to describe the beer but also conveys a sense of place. I also feel that it’s lazy to borrow these terms that indicate a beer's provenance. If a brewer is making a spontaneously fermented, oak aged beer in California do they have the right to call his or her beer a lambic? Legally yes, but does that mean they should? I don’t believe so. The brewing industry needs to find a better way of describing the myriad genres of sour beer now in existence.

The good thing about the prevalence of sour beers however, is the increased availability of really tasty ones. Brouwerij Alvinne, out of Moen, Belgium produce some absolute corkers. In fact I was surprised when Hop Burns & Black took a generous delivery that they didn’t sell out immediately, because beer this good deserves the hype.

Wild West is as close to a core beer as Alvinne produces. It’s a subtle, nuanced tartness as opposed to a sharp and intense sour note. The low carbonation seems to allow the oak and vanilla notes imbued by the barrel to shine through, but there’s still enough carbonation to make it prickle on your tongue. When it comes to sours I prefer them straight up, as opposed to fruited variants, but the plum version of Wild West also deserves a shout out because it’s equally as superb as the “normal” version. If you like Belgian sours, then this beer will be in tune with your chakras.

Music Pairing - Run DMC, It’s Tricky
It’s tricky to get your head around sours when you first taste them. It’s even trickier for the beer industry as we attempt to define such a broad scope of flavours with a single term. What isn’t tricky is enjoying this banger from Run DMC. Ideally paired during a lively bottle share when you start bringing your lambic collection up from the cellar.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Alvinne Wild West delivered to your door via our online shop.

Golden Pints 2015

The annual Golden Pints awards are the UK beer blogging community's version of the Oscars and are gaining steam every year. We've been lucky enough to win eight Golden Pints awards so far this year (thanks Beer O'Clock Show, Brew GeekeryAndy Parker, Beer Is The Answer, Jonny Garrett, Kat Sewell, Beer Revere and Yeastie Boys UK), so thought we should do our own in return.

We don't get out much (which is why, for example, we haven't named a favourite pub below) so a lot of our opinions have, by necessity, come from our daily life running a beer shop. And for us, great beer is about the whole experience of drinking it - where, when, who with, what's going on around us - not just the technical expertise used to brew it. That's why we've adjusted the category names slightly, replacing 'Best' with 'Favourite' - they reflect our own personal and highly subjective journey through an awesome year of beer.

Likewise, we've steered clear of naming a Best Blogger or Tweeter - so many of the UK's greatest bloggers and tweeters are customers, and in some cases, they even write for us, so we wouldn't want to play favourites... You all know who you are. xx
 

Favourite UK Cask Beer

Jen: Moor B Moor Porter at the Crown & Anchor in Brixton. Enjoyed alongside a well-matched dessert and in the company of the two Justins from Moor - the pleasure, the privilege was ours.

Glenn: Arbor Beech Blonde at the Old Nun's Head during one of our more riotous Hop Burns & Boogie excursions. We love pretty much everything these Bristol superstars do.

Favourite UK Keg Beer

Jen: Magic Rock/Stillwater Pina Collision Pineapple Sour Saison. This juicy delight was the beery soundtrack to our summer, enjoyed with many a BBQ. Miraculously we even had enough left over to sell to customers.
Honourable mention: Cloudwater's magnificent DIPA.

Glenn: Wild Beer Tom Yum Gose. Andrew from Wild Beer was kind enough to meet with us before we opened the shop, taking us through the brewery with a full range tasting afterwards. We love the way they blur the boundaries and this crazy concoction was one of the favourites of our summer.

Favourite UK Bottled Beer

Jen: Mad Hatter Tzatziki Sour. Yoghurt, mint and cucumber just shouldn't work in a beer. But they do, and it's amazing. And I hate cucumber!
Honourable mention: Siren's Bones Of A Sailor Part III.

Glenn: My bottled beer of the year is an English bitter - a possibly unexpected result. Moor Ready Made 2, brewed with Birrifico Dada, is rich, caramel, malty, hoppy perfection. A beautifully balanced beer.
Honourable mention: Wild Beer Squashed Grape.

Favourite UK Canned Beer

Jen: Moor Return of the Empire English IPA. When we heard Moor were launching in cans, we knew Justin 1's fastidiousness would ensure they launched with the best cans the UK had ever seen. This IPA is a showcase for the new UK Jester hop and it's glorious. Moor's Hoppiness IPA usually gets all the love (and deservedly so), but my heart belongs to the Empire.

Glenn: Could have been any of the Vocation range so went for the one in the middle, Pride & Joy APA. Yet to have a bad beer from these guys - every can we've had in has been exceptional. Have my eye on a 750ml bottle of Naughty & Nice chocolate stout for Christmas Day too.

Favourite Overseas Draught

Jen: Yeastie Boys PKB Remix Dark Matta - one of the only two kegs in the UK, launched at the Beer O'Clock Show's live podcast in November. (Disclaimer: we invested in the Yeasties' crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, but this isn't the only reason this beer won. Though we do want a good return on our investment, right?) 
Honourable mention: Renaissance Fresh Hop Black The RIPA. We put this on at our NZ Fresh Hopped celebration event and people haven't stopped talking about it since. Tastes great in the bottle too.

Glenn: Unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell Tankovna at Duck & Rice in Soho. Almost as fresh as drinking it at the brewery door. The perfect accompaniment for a plate so loaded with sichuan peppers and chilli that it made the back of my head sweat. 
Honourable mention: Tuatara Sauvinova. Lush.

Favourite Overseas Bottled Beer

Jen: Alvinne/Stillwater Wild West, enjoyed at Nuetnigenough during our 36-hour beerathon in Brussels back in February. The staff at this restaurant really know their shit, and recommended us the most incredible beers to go with our food. Go there! 
Honourable mention: Tuatara Conehead, an "air-hopped" IPA (i.e. made with fresh hops that they flew over from Nelson to Wellington) from New Zealand. Dank and resinous, this blows the mind of everyone I push it on. Makes me feel a bit like Timothy Leary.

Glenn: Bruery Rueuze. Everything I look for in a gueuze - funky, fruity, tart, thirst-quenching... Exquisite. Next time I won't drink it at 3am.
Honourable mention: New Belgium Lips of Faith Le Terroir 2015. Cheers Matt Curtis.

Favourite Overseas Canned Beer

Jen: Westbrook Gose. Salty sour goodness has never tasted so good. Could drink this by the bucketload and would, given half a chance.

Glenn: Founders Centennial IPA. For all the reasons Matt Curtis details here.

Favourite Collaboration Brew

Jen: Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau was the hands-down stand-out at this year's Rainbow Day. I ran across town to beat the crowds at Beavertown and had to cram as much sampling as possible into two hours before heading back to work, which sadly meant a lot of pouring away of great beers. Drinking this - a kettle-soured, lactose-infused golden ale brewed with fresh lime zest and lemongrass - in the blazing sunshine with good people was pretty much beer heaven.

Glenn: Moor/Birrificio Dada Ready Made 2, as detailed above.

Favourite Overall Beer

Jen: Mad Hatter Tzatziki Sour.

Glenn: Wild Beer Tom Yum Gose.

Favourite Branding

Jen: Brick Brewery. When you stand behind a counter and look at 300+ beers all day long, you quickly work out what works and doesn't work on a beer bottle. I love Brick's branding because of its beautiful simplicity. Its clean design is reminiscent of Penguin Books' classic design.
Honourable mention: Wiper & True and Beavertown's clever 'starry night' initiative for limited edition can runs.

Glenn: Naming no names, but a lot of cans from mobile canning units look terrible. Vocation's labels instantly attract attention and make you forget they're just stickers on a plain metal can. On closer inspection, the intricate designs, different on every can, tell their own stories. 

Favourite UK Brewery

Jen: Moor, but Vocation and Arbor are close contenders indeed. And you should never overlook the Kernel - every time a coconut. It's impossible for them to make a bad beer.

Glenn: Wild Beer, for all the reasons given above and more. They've always blown my mind.

Favourite Overseas Brewery

Jen: 8 Wired Brewing. Saison Sauvin and Tall Poppy were two of my standout beers of the year, and there's nothing like Superconductor when you need a wake-up call. (On a side note, it's weird how New Zealand-centric many of my choices have been for this exercise given how much I couldn't wait to leave the place. But there's no denying the colonies are making great beers. And we're looking forward to trying all of them in January.)

Glenn: New Belgium. I've never been there but read Matt Curtis's blog and tell me it's not one of the most fascinating beer destinations on the planet. We were lucky enough to enjoy a muled bottle of Lips of Faith Le Terroir 2015 that Matt muled back from Colorado at our No More Heroes event in November... no words.

In Brussels, no one can hear you scream...

(Unless it's for more beer.)

Our mission is to showcase the world’s best beers in our store so we’re always on the lookout to boost our range we have on offer.

One thing we thought we could improve upon in was our Belgian beer section. Tucked away at the back of the shop over just a couple of shelves seemed a little unfair for the country that’s brought us some of the finest beers on the planet, so we thought we’d better do something about it.

The best way to go about this seemed obvious - get inspired by spending 36 hours immersed in beery wonderland. The fact it was our seven-year anniversary had absolutely nothing to do with it, of course. I mean, who spends their anniversary in Brussels? (As it turned out, not even us - both Glenn and I forgot what the actual date was and inadvertently spent our anniversary sanitising flagons in the basement. But we did eventually make it to Belgium the following day.)

In case you fancy doing a similar beer-odyssey, we’ve listed some of our highlights below. A big thanks to the wonderful beer geeks of Twitter, who came to the party in fine style when we threw out the call to crowdsource our trip and ensured we didn’t waste a minute. Of special note: @lambicqueen, @T_Marshall1982, @pisci and @pauldavieskew, who went above and beyond. Cheers guys! We can also highly recommend having a copy of Joe Stange's excellent book Around Brussels in 80 Beers to hand. 

Not only did we have a fantastic time, we now have a bigger, better and brighter Belgian section, so we all win. It’s not finished yet either - we’ll be continuing to add to it as more beers become available to us. Come check it out in store and let us know what you think.

36 hours in Brussels - highlights:

  • La Villette for some excellent traditional Belgian fare and Cantillon lambic on cask.
  • Brasserie Cantillon - it’s everything it’s hyped to be. You really can explore every facet of the brewery in action before sitting down to enjoy the beers themselves. The tour includes two free glasses, then you can purchase an insanely reasonably priced bottle of whatever you fancy and relax by the fire and enjoy it. We went home with enough bottles to fill up two suitcases and more…
  • Nuetnigenough - a fantastic little restaurant with great food and even better beer selection. Our waiter was wonderfully knowledgable and pointed us to the best beer we tasted during the trip, Alvinne’s Wild West sour ale.
  • Moeder Lambic - we only made it to the Fontainen bar, at which we enjoyed - you guessed it - more lambics, but we suspect the original would have been even better.
  • Booze n Blues - the best late night bar in Brussels and the best part of our trip. We’d go back to Brussels just to while away a couple of hours at Eddy’s bar, hijackjing his jukebox and trying to elicit a smile.
  • La Brocante - a must-do when you’re exploring the flea market (keep an eye out for cheap records at the nearby corner stores too). Great beer list and cracking hot chocolate as well.
  • Restobieres - wonderful spot run by the charming Alain whose mission in life is presumably to incorporate beer into every aspect of life, cuisine-wise at least. Make sure you have a Bink Blonde with your meal - it’s his favourite beer and not at all a bad drop.
  • Delirium - don’t go here expecting a quiet drink (unless you head upstairs to the more subdued loft), but with a beer list totalling nearly 3,000 you’d be a fool to miss out.
  • Record shops! Brussels rules for crate digging, and the excellent Caroline Music and B Sides, Veals & Geeks and 72 Records were well deserving of our euros.