Moody Brews

MOODY BREWS

In anticipation of his new book Seven Moods of Craft Beer, Adrian Tierney-Jones looks into the soul of beer

Are you in the mood for a beer? Of course you are. But what kind of mood are you in and what kind of mood is the beer that you fancy drinking in? Will there be a row when the two of you meet (and I’m not talking about the kind of tension that comes with badly made cask beer or under ripe keg), or will you get on famously and stay together for the next three glasses or so?

When I think about the mood of a beer, I like to try and guess what the beer in the glass is saying to me. Then I try and think about the kind of discourse I am having with the beer in my hand. What is this beer saying to me, what am I saying back to it? Or is this all a bit too fanciful, a conceit conjured after a few too many?

After all, many might sneer about the idea that a beer can have a soul, a mood, a way of influencing your life, an outlook even. After all, it is just a beer, an intoxicating liquid, coming along in different colours, aromatics and tastes, but it’s still a beer, to be drank and quickly forgotten.

On the other hand, I’ve always wondered about beer, always thought it could be something more than just an intoxicating liquid, a rhyme and a reason for talking to the person on the next table in the pub that you visit on a Sunday afternoon, or a clanking assemblage of carriages ready to take us through the journey we call life. I have always wanted it to be more; I have always wanted it to have its own life, its own personality — which takes me back to the mood of a beer.

So how do we define the mood of a beer, especially when this bottle or glass that you are admiring and trying to understand is just one of many from a single brew (and then there’s the next day’s brew of the same beer). I’m not interested in being pedantic, it’s a leap of faith, a imposition of the imagination, in the same way as you can believe a great meal has a soul or that a poem speaks directly to you. I’m suspending belief and believing in the mood of my beer.

Brief philosophical debate over, let’s move on to see how the beer can chime with our mood and act in harmony. If we are feeling contemplative, thoughtful, quiet almost, in need of some time spent alone, let’s look at the mood of a beer that might be best for this. There’s no need to pick a Czech-style Pilsner for instance, a blond, Saaz-ravished creature of light, chattering away in the glass, lively and loquacious, a great beer in its own right not in the right mood. This is a social beer.

Let’s not go for a saison either, angular and jazz-like in its free form on the palate, brisk and bustling in its mouth feel and sashaying across the tongue with its spice and fruit. That’s a beer for a different mood. Bucolic perhaps; this is a beer to make you think of a lonely Wallonian farmhouse with a history of brewing spanning generations and where the brewing kettle is still direct-fired (I’m looking at you Dupont!).

Instead, when we think about contemplation, maybe we think about stillness, about being in the eye of the storm, of being calm and collected and expecting a beer to possess those same virtues. It could be what Michael Jackson called a ‘book at bedtime’ beer, a slow-drinking barley wine to be enjoyed in a comfortable armchair while the weather does its worse outside. For that sort of contemplative beer I recall a glass of Duits & Lauret Winterstout on a wet night in a canalside bar in Amsterdam several years ago.

However, from my own personal experience, one of the more memorable contemplative beers in the past couple of years has been Alesmith’s Speedway Stout, a glass of which I enjoyed in the Pine Box in Seattle. Yes, the venue was lively and there was music playing, but I personally was thoughtful and contemplative and Speedway Stout was the very beer to mirror that mood. It was sombre in its darkness and its chocolate, coffee, roast grains and bitterness, alongside the heft and weight of its 12% alcohol, were calm and custom-made to be this beacon of tranquillity and contemplation within the noise of the bar (which incidentally used to be a funeral parlour and was where Bruce Lee was laid out — maybe this information helped with the mood).

The beer spoke to me, encouraged me to think about it, to think about its tastes, to enjoy and plug into every facet of its taste and aromatics. I was one with this beer, there was no other beer in the world that I’d rather have at that moment and I contemplated with it, communed with it, as deeply as if I was meditating or doing a session of yoga. This was the true meaning of the mood of a beer, a way of getting close to it, of enjoying without making a fetish of it.

I don’t always want contemplative beers. Sometimes I want social ones, like the Pilsner I mentioned; beers that ring like the finest lines of poetry or beers that are as adventurous as Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood. Beer has a mood, which if you allow yourself time and imagination can match your mood and add lustre and luminosity to your drinking life.

Adrian Tierney-Jones’ The Seven Moods of Craft Beer is out now and available here.


An unreport from a day at the Brewers’ Congress

AN UNREPORT FROM A DAY AT THE BREWERS’ CONGRESS

Adrian Tierney-Jones reflects on a day at the second Brewers’ Journal’s Brewers’ Congress.
Photos: Nic Crilly-Hargrave

How on earth do you write about a day-long conference, or in this case the Brewers’ Journal’s Brewers’ Congress (which was, as last year, held in the August and stirring surroundings of the Institute of Civil Engineers just around the corner from where Churchill stands, that’s the statue btw not the real thing, he’s been dead since 1965)? How on earth do you write about it without getting on a conveyor belt of who said what and who mumbled and who electrified the audience and who went home in tears?

How on earth do you pay justice to the essential eloquence of Garrett Oliver as he blew a metaphorical whistle on the day’s words by stating that craft beer ‘is a return to normality’, and then went on to use the plasticity and toll-booth cheapness of ‘American cheese’ as an example to highlight the way ‘American beer’ had travelled in the same direction since World War II? We’ve obviously talking big beer here. Garrett was, as ever, elegant, articulate and funny, a speaker who I first encountered in 2003 (a cheese and beer tasting at GBBF) and always love listening to. Good hat as well.

How on earth do you ‘review’ a day-long event like the Brewers’ Congress, which was rammed with engaging and light-sabre wielding speakers such as Ulrike Genz from Berliner Weiss brewery Scheeeule, who highlighted the role of Brett in the beer style; or what about Fuller’s head brewer Georgina Young on the joy of collaborating with other breweries, whether Sierra Nevada or the brewers who join in with Fuller’s and Friends; or Colin Stonge from Northern Monk elaborating on his journey through dark beer with a few words on how to make a pastry stout (ok I’m convinced now)?

Well, this is Original Gravity, and we’ll have a stab at anything apart from folk dancing and incest, so here goes.

Only in its second year the Brewers’ Congress has already become an essential part of the calendar, a Goodwood Races of people, information, education and great beer. Even though I have no intention of brewing, it’s an event that cements my allegiance and my sense of ceremony to beer and its satellites. It’s an event, that if I were a brewer, I would mark down in my diary as soon as it was announced, as soon as it was intended. If I had attended in my alter ego as a brewer this year (which will never happen, the alter ego that is), I have would learnt about best cleaning practices (Pete Lengyel, KCBC), cask beer (Andrew Leman, Timothy Taylor), consistency (Sophie de Ronde, Burnt Mill), barrel ageing beer (Chris Pilkington, Põhjala) alongside various panel discussions chaired with characteristic humour and wisdom by John Keeling (if you don’t know who he is please share your secret of space travel because you’ve obviously been on Mars for a while), who came up with another quote of the day, during a debate on whether breweries should focus on their core range or pursue the new: ‘with London Pride, you learn to love it through all the seasons of the year, while a new beer is like a snapshot of a moment in time.’

Your thoughts will be very welcome.

Adrian Tierney-Jones


How to age a bottle of beer

HOW TO AGE A BOTTLE OF BEER

“Yeah, I’m ageing some Orval at the moment.” It sounds quite technical, perhaps even daring. But ultimately, ageing beer is simply resisting the urge to drink them straight away.

All beers age if they aren’t drunk.

They oxidize, and most beers will start to taste stale and papery after their best before date. But some beers age in interesting ways, and even attributes like oxidation can come through positively if they’re in a beer that’s complex enough to work with them.

I WANT MY BEER TO AGE:

  • Choose strong styles such as barley wines, imperial stouts or Trappist ales. If they’re bottle conditioned this will help, as the slow production of carbon dioxide from the secondary fermentation will slow oxidation. But beers age in other ways too so any strong, complex beer is worth a go.
  • Store in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard, or, if you’re lucky enough, a cellar. Warm areas age beers faster.
  • Unlike wine, beer bottles should be stored upright, so the beer doesn’t come into contact with the cap.

I DONT WANT MY BEER TO AGE:

The first change in ageing beers is that the strong, hoppy character breaks down. If you want to drink a juicy IPA at its best, drink fresh and store chilled at all times.


Beer Traveller Guide: Chicago

CHICAGO

By Pete Brown, Like New York, Chicago has the power to make you marvel at its very existence.

When you walk its streets, they whisper of greatness. The soaring buildings make you feel special, privileged to be here. It’s not a coherent feeling – immediately you’re questioning its reality, remembering who you are and what your life is like, and there are always homeless people to remind you that any gilded city has its troubled underside.

But that doesn’t stop the cityscape pumping it out, a constant wave of awe and seduction, soundtracked by Gershwin within your head, and the constant peal of sirens without. It’s created by humans, but superhuman in scale: you see glimpses of Gotham around every corner, partly thanks to DC shooting its movies here while Marvel takes New York.

Chicago certainly has a heroic reputation for drink. People here have an easier attitude to alcohol and are proud of their drinking prowess. From dive bars to restaurants, the tables are always full.

But until recently, the Second City lagged behind most other major cities in the US when it comes to a thriving craft beer scene. A few years ago, Chicago noticed this. Now, if you sit at the bar in a legendary pub like the Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave, www.maproom.com) you’ll soon be engaged in conversation by a local aficionado insisting that this is the best city for beer in North America, bar none.

While I can’t quite agree that it’s there yet, it’s great and inspiring fun exploring the case for the defence.

For nearly thirty years, Chicago has been synonymous with Goose Island, the craft brewing pioneer that was bought by Anheuser Busch in 2011, and is therefore, according to America’s official definition, no longer a craft brewer. More on that later.

But having such a brewing behemoth in town has a ripple effect. Some brewers who learn their draft with Goose Island go on to smaller things, and there’s now a thriving microbrewery and brewpub scene driven often by Goose alumni.

Beyond that impressive downtown core, Chicago sprawls north and south along the shore of Lake Michigan and inland, reaching for the plains of the Midwest. Pub-crawls are only really possible with Uber, or its more appealing new competitor, Lift. Each chosen destination seems to be ten minutes away from the last no matter how you plan it.

A good place to start is Logan Square, west of downtown. This is Chicago’s answer to Dalston in London, or Brooklyn’s Williamsburg – the formerly run-down, scuzzy bit that’s now gentrifying faster than the rest of the city and is currently synonymous with hipsters. Across the road from where the L-Train rumbles between the upper storeys, amid a flurry of Mexican restaurants and grimy bottle shops, stands Revolution (2323 N Milwaukee Ave https://revbrew.com/)founded by former Goose brewer Josh Deth in 2010. As well as the mandatory range of pale ales and IPAs, Revolution has a refreshing exploration of traditional styles such as Kolsch, English style golden ale and even mild. These show that ‘balance’ is not a dirty word, and that American brewers can create tasty beers below 5% ABV. The pizza is great too.

Further north is Half Acre (4257 N Lincoln Ave, www.halfacrebeer.com), just down the road from new cider bar the Northman (4337 N Lincoln Ave, www.thenorthman.com). Half Acre’s Gone Away IPA won silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014 and is revered as one of America’s best IPAs, but again, the full range is far more varied stylistically.

More experimental are Off Color (3925 W Dickens Ave, www.offcolorbrewing.com) founded by former Goose brewer John Laffler and his business partner Dave Bleitner, and Forbidden Root (1746 W Chicago Ave, www.forbiddenroot.com) a brewery and restaurant in which revered beer writer Randy Mosher is one of the partners.

Both these breweries have an experimental approach to ingredients – Randy’s title is ‘alchemist’ – and in each case you feel you’re in the presence of someone who really understands flavour on a deep level. Even the most unlikely sounding beers (Off Color does a beer with graham crackers and Forbidden Root one that uses the botanicals that create FernetBranca) are thoughtful and intriguing rather than brash and sensational.

But no beery tour of Chicago is complete without a visit to the new taproom at Goose Island (1800 W Fulton St, www.gooseisland.com). In a space carved from the heart of the brewery, beers as flavourful and experimental as any in town constantly rotate. The vast acreage of the barrel warehouse nearby, where stouts are aged in bourbon casks and fruit beers aged in wine barrels, proves that in this case at least, the big nasty corporate is heavily investing in good beer rather than compromising it or watering it down.

I’m sure they have their reasons, and if you’re just after good beer, it’s refreshing and inspiring to see how the big money is being spent. But if your definition of craft beer means you can’t drink anything owned by a macro brewer, well, they say a principle is worthless until it cost you something, and Chicago offers plenty of alternatives, on every scale. Finally, this larger-than-life drinking city has a beer scene that lives up to its needs.


How I made Magic Rock's Cannonball

HOW TO BREW A WORLD-BEATER

Magic Rock’s Head Brewer Stuart Ross tells the story of how he made the truly amazing Cannonball

When it came to brewing Cannonball, we wanted to brew a US West Coast style IPA because it was our (me and brewery founder Rich) favourite style and we had found that the imported beers had usually lost some of their hop character by the time they reached the UK. We wanted to make a modern IPA which would taste like the IPAs we had tasted fresh at the breweries over there.

We have been brewing Cannonball since day one! It was our first brew and the recipe has been perfected over time and we have got to a point where we are very happy with the way we brew the beer. We use British grown Golden Promise pale ale malt for the base with a small amount of Vienna malt, we want high attenuation from the mash so that we get a very dry light body in the beer so that hops are able to shine through. We use a hop back full of whole hops after the boil; the dry hopping is the most important part of the process in this beer. The hops are Centennial, Columbus,  Citra, Amarillo and Simcoe. As for inspiration, this came from Pliny the Elder, Ballast Point’s Sculpin and Port Brewing Mongo IIPA and Wipe Out IPA. One last thing: always drink Cannonball FRESH!!

Stuart Ross, Magic Rock


Fyne Ales reveals new look and first canned beers

 FYNE ALES REVEALS NEW LOOK AND FIRST CANNED BEERS

Independent Scottish brewery Fyne Ales has unveiled an updated brand identity and outlined plans to introduce new products to its core range, including two canned beers.

Fyne Ale’s new look, set to be rolled out in the coming weeks, draws inspiration from its farm brewery status and rural location on a 4500-acre estate at the head of Loch Fyne. Not only will the brewery’s current core range, including flagship pale ale Jarl, be updated, but three beers have been added to the Fyne Ales’ year-round brews.

From December 2018, the Argyll brewery’s Workbench, a 5.5% IPA, and Easy Trail, a 4.2% session IPA, will be available in 330ml cans, and North West, a New Zealand-hopped lager will join them as a permanent keg offering.

“Fyne Ales has always been recognised for the diversity and quality of our beers, but the look and feel of our brand put us at risk of falling behind in this fast-moving industry,” commented Fyne Ales managing director, Jamie Delap. “We set out to create a new identity that better tells the story of who we are and where we come from, but also reflects our ambitions as a modern, progressive brewery.”

Fyne Ales partnered with Glasgow brand and design consultants O Street for the project, working closely with them to create the new look – each beer features stylised textures created using photography from the brewery’s farm estate, chosen to help tell the story of the beer and brewery.

“We’re proud to be a farm brewery; being a working farm in such a historic, beautiful and isolated location is part of everyday life at Fyne Ales,” commented Fyne Ales marketing manager Iain Smith on the new designs. “O Street has created a unique, striking brand identity that celebrates our provenance and we can’t wait to showcase it across our core beers and introducing Workbench and Easy Trail cans.”

Fyne Ales, which launched its small-batch farmhouse and mixed fermentation brewing project, Origins Brewing, in 2017, believes the new, more rustic branding will appeal to its current followers and new drinkers alike. 

The brewery also revealed details of three bottled limited specials which will debut with the new branding – Remote Parts, a 7% West Coast IPA brewed in collaboration with Cigar City Brewery; Perfect Silence, a 6.9% red IPA and an 11.1% bourbon barrel-aged version of Brouwerij De Molen collaboration imperial stout, Mills & Hills. All three will be available in 330ml bottles later this month, with Remote Parts also available in keg and Perfect Silence in keg and cask.

The new beers and updated branding will be supported with an ongoing sales and marketing strategy designed to increase brand and product awareness and increase the availability of the brewery’s beers. Activity begins today, with the launch of a new Fyne Ales website.


The Q&A Robert Middleton, Founder of London brewer Orbit

THE Q&A

Robert Middleton, Founder of London brewer Orbit

You’ve recently changed the brewery’s branding. Why?

We wanted our new branding to better represent who we are, what we stand for, our personality. We also wanted it to communicate all of that more strongly to the customer. We’re committed to making timeless styles with an eye for balance and finesse, we strongly value our independence and we love music. We really hope people love our new branding as much as we do.

Which beer of yours gets you thinking ‘yeah, I’m glad I am a brewer’?

That would have to be our Kölsch, Nico, which is our take on the traditional beers of Cologne. This beer has so much going on within it – it’s fragrant and light, with beautiful fruity esters from the Kölsch yeast, alongside herbal, slightly spicy Tettnang hops. Clean, balanced, dry and refreshing. Like Altbier, its an Obergäriges Lagerbier – warm fermentation followed by cold conditioning – genius.

What are you listening to at the moment and what is so good about it?

I’ve been hooked by the Lemon Twigs, Methyl Ethel and The Big Moon recently. Original, genuine, creative tunes with personality. Bands doing their own thing in the spirit of independent music. I’m off to End of the Road and Austin City Limits this year, so will hopefully discover some more new music.

You took a van around Scotland and visited loads of breweries — what’s your next expedition? Cycle about London and visiting pubs with Barclay Perkins livery still on them perhaps?

Brewing in London feels like a pretty exciting journey in itself, but we keep the spirit of travel alive with our annual team trips. Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bamberg have featured so far. Looks like Prague is the favourite next time around.

Do you think it takes a certain person to be a brewer and what is that certain something?

I got into brewing primarily because of the brewers I met on my tour. We probably all have our quirks, but share a passion for beer, a desire to create something special and a collaborative nature. It helps to let your heart rule your head most of the time.

Where are you going on holiday this summer?

Actually, we’re off tomorrow in our camper van Brian – star of the Scottish brewery tour. Probably head to France, but the joy of campervanning is that you can enjoy the journey without knowing your exact destination. A bit like starting a brewery.

First publishing in Issue 14 of Original Gravity.


Holding out for a hero

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

By Pete Brown

Moving from playground to boardroom to Instagram, Pete Brown charts beer’s journey from hero to zero and back again

1980s

“Did you see it? Did you see it?”

“Stop! Stop! We’re going round in circles!”

We all remember what it was like. You’re 12, and one of the most important veins of playground banter is repeating the latest sketch from your comedy idols. If you weren’t allowed to watch last night’s episode, you are no one. If you can remember more of the lines and catchphrases than anyone else, and get the funny voices right, you’re a classroom god.

Depending on your age, for you, it might have been Monty Python, The Young Ones, The Fast Show or Little Britain.

For me, it was adverts.

In the space between Python and the 1980s alternative comedy boom going mainstream, ads on TV seemed funnier than the programmes. Terry and June may have been critically rehabilitated now, but it was hell to live through the time when it set the standard for sitcoms.

Salvation came in commercial breaks. In the 1980s, it was considered rude to try to sell you something directly, so a good ad would make you laugh, move you or dazzle you, and then politely remind you of the product’s name at the end.

Beer ads bossed the box. Christopher Biggins was a Roman emperor sinking pints of lager; a young Jonathan Ross drank Harp to ‘stay sharp’; and back in ancient Rome, the slaves rowing on one side of a galley were refreshed by Heineken, while those on the other were given ‘another leading lager’, and our school playground had its latest catchphrase.

1990s

“Can we hero the product?”

Around the boardroom table, eyes roll.

Beer ads have had their teeth pulled. The Hofmeister bear has been shot with the fatal dart of regulation. His alleged crime? Being so popular that he made children want to drink beer. He didn’t make me want to drink beer; he made me want to do something far worse.

He made me want to work in advertising.

Fifteen years after chanting Heineken slogans in the playground, I’m in the boardroom of their ad agency. It’s my job to look after the strategic direction of the Heineken and Stella Artois ad campaigns.  

Advertising has a way of mangling the English language. It doesn’t have to invent new words when it’s happy torturing old ones. We often have conversations about who or what the ‘hero’ is in the ad we’re working on. Is it the housewife trying Daz instead of her normal powder? The frog in the Budweiser ad croaking out the brand name? Or could it actually be the product itself?

Inevitably, ‘hero’ becomes a verb as well as a noun. ‘To hero’ the product is to put it centre stage and forget the distractions. Unfortunately, each time we try this with beer, it stands there mute and awkward. No one knows or cares what ‘cold filtered’ means or what ‘dry beer’ is.

Just as I get my chance to work on them, beer ads start getting boring.

2000s

“What’s the point in advertising anyway?”

In the 1980s, there were two commercial channels. Now there are hundreds. Even if you could somehow make a great beer ad, the mass audience that would see it has now shattered into a million fragments.

Instead of wasting money on anodyne ads that no one will see, the great beasts of the beer world now spend their budgets on supermarket price deals.

Where beer was once chosen based on its image, it’s now chosen on price. Instead of being loyal to one brand, there’s a range of ‘acceptable’ brands, and people choose whichever is on the best deal.

2010s

“New England IPA is a product of Instagram culture.”

The words of Garrett Oliver flash across the global beer community thanks to sensationalist reporting of a chat about 2017’s most controversial beer style. Beer writers, bloggers and Instagrammers line up on both sides of a debate about the style’s validity. It’s the biggest argument over beer styles since the spat over whether ‘black IPA’ is a valid style.

Having left advertising and now written on beer for 15 years, I realise that heated conversations about beer styles have been a common theme across all my feeds since 2010. My last book was about beer’s ingredients. Every day on social media, I see professional writers and amateur drinkers alike trying to encapsulate the flavour of the beer they’re drinking.    

Finally, the beer itself has become the hero. The big, commoditised brands that once had heroic advertising still dominate market share, but they look enviously at craft beer, at the buzz of excitement around it. They remember what it was like, and make half-hearted attempts to steal the language of craft, to reflect in its glory. Beer is now bought and drunk on its own merits, rather than because of its manufactured image.

Or is it?

I’ve heard people recently saying that sour beers are ‘over’, despite the fact that there are more excellent examples available than ever. Beers that were once hailed as the world’s best on rating sites have sunk without trace, despite the fact that they haven’t changed. And then there’s the question of New England IPA…

Beer helps us express ourselves and mould our identities. It doesn’t need dancing bears and croaking frogs to do that.

The image of beer is as important as ever, even if it is now based on what’s in the bottle as much as what’s on the label.


First published in Issue 16 of Original Gravity


Beer meets ... cider

BEER MEETS CIDER

Several years ago travellers through the cider-lands of the USA (ok, Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw researching their World’s Best Cider book) came back with reports of hops being added to cider. Just like the reaction to some of the stranger tales in Herodotus’ Histories, hops in cider seem outlandish. However, since then hopped cider has become a familiar sight in the world of craft cider, a spearhead, perhaps of what happens when cider meets beer as this three exemplary examples show.

/ Mills Brewing/Oliver’s Cider, Foxbic 4.7%

Mills Brewing always brew with wild yeasts. For this one, they brewed a pale ale in the lambic style and then fermented it on Tom Oliver’s cider lees (the sediment from the bottom of barrels of fermented cider) for eight months. The result is gently tart, distinctly, without being too sharp.

PB / @MillsBrewing

/ Thornbridge/Brooklyn, Serpent, 9.5%

This started with a Belgian-style golden ale. Then the beer was put into wooden barrels and lees from Tom Oliver’s cider makers added. Lees? These are the naturally formed wild lees created in cider fermentation. After a year’s slumber the beer was bottle conditioned and the result is an elegant and eloquent beer that is tart, vinous, earthy, full-bodied and dry. ATJ

/ thornbridgebrewery.co.uk

/ At The Hop, Oliver’s, 5.5%

Hopped ciders can be pretty vile in the wrong hands, but Tom Oliver has an unequalled grasp of flavour and how to balance it. This medium cider, infused with cascade hops, doesn’t quite taste of cider or beer, but some quite wonderful third dimension in its own right. PB

/ oliversciderandperry.co.uk


Duvel’s Scottish origins

DUVEL’S SCOTTISH ORIGINS

When World War One ended, the Moortgat’s family brewery produced Victory Ale as a way of celebration, a beer that eventually morphed into Duvel in the 1960s. Katrien Bruyland tells the tale of this gorgeous golden ale and reveals a surprising Caledonian connection.  

Albert Moortgat was never expected to become a brewer. That was the job of his eldest brother Joseph, but then in 1914 Joseph passed away. After this sad event, the gossip in Breendonk was that the Moortgats would cease brewing. However, with a determination condemning him to a visionary’s life in Belgian strong ale, Albert swore: ‘Like hell we will!’

‘My grandfather was an open-minded, combative man.’ 

Veerle Baert-Moortgat loves to tell tales of “bompa” Albert Moortgat. A member of Duvel Moortgat Board of Directors, Veerle Baert-Moortgat keeps the fondest memories of the man who gave the beer world a strong blonde devil to dance with. ‘Until I was 16, I spent every weekend at my grandparents in Breendonk. On Sunday, we would rise early for a bike trip. After mass, the men went off to tour the village pubs. At the villa, across the road from the brewery, I waited for what I knew was next. Lunch waiting to be served, my aunt went outside to ring a bell. The men never responded. Every time, I had to go and fetch them. Even as a child, I knew the itinerary. If they weren’t in one pub, I continued to the next. I never failed to find them.’ 

Saint Arnold is the patron saint of Belgian brewers, while Gambrinus a legendary beer-loving king. In Duvel Moortgat’s 1984 comic strip story about the origins of Duvel, the heavens’ lack of tasty beer causes an angelic uproar. It follows paradise’s two biggest beer experts back to earth. Their mission? To find a beer to stop the angels’ mutiny. 

The official Duvel story on the company’s website doesn’t stray far from the romantic comic strip line depicting the family’s story in beer. In his quest to tailor a beer after the First World War, based on the popular ales of Belgian’s British allies, Albert is said to have embarked on an epic journey across the North Sea. In Edinburgh, Younger’s Brewery was said to having shared their yeast with the Belgian visitor, while the story claims Albert returned with the yeast in an aluminium milk jar. 

At less than 30 kilometres from Breendonk, John Martin already imported British beer in 1908. Ten years before the First World War, Younger’s beer was available in Belgium. The strong ale being live beer, it makes no sense that a technically skilled, perfectionist brewer would choose a time-consuming journey to harvest yeast in Edinburgh instead of cultivating yeast from a bottle of imported ale. However, Moortgat worked with Professor P Biourge, a world-renowned yeast expert, who is said to have combined several strains from the Edinburgh yeast to be used in Victory Ale. 

Albert was trained by the best. A skilled perfectionist with a penchant for cleanliness, nothing escaped his scrutiny. ‘He kept the brewery impeccable’, says Veerle Baert-Moortgat. His focus on hygiene would later land him a contract to bottle Tuborg. Surfing on the popularity of Danish luxury pils, Albert’s brother Victor sent Duvel samples to each pub that ordered Tuborg. Duvel boomed.

From dark and strong, Victory Ale became the pale blond and equally strong Duvel in the 1960s. The transition is mainly credited to Albert’s collaboration with Jean De Clerck, a professor of the University of Louvain brewing school. Meanwhile, the true story of Duvel is told by its yeast. The truth is still there for everyone to smell. The key? 4VG or 4-vinylguaiacol. While considered a phenolic off-flavour in bottom fermented beer, 4VG is well-known to aficionados of top-fermented Belgian style golden ales. Duvel has a subtle 4VG character. Leffe, being the quintessential example of 4VG beers, offers strong hints of clove or ‘sausage-type meat’ aromas.

Chris Bauweraerts is co-founder of Brasserie D’Achouffe, which Duvel Moortgat purchased in 2006. He suggests discerning noses will still be able to detect Belgian beer descendants of the original Younger’s yeast that, somehow, found its way from Edinburgh to Belgium. Raymond Moureau, who worked at Brasserie Grade, told Bauweraerts that Jules Grade – as Albert Moortgat years before him — went to visit William Younger’s in Edinburgh. He came back with yeast. Brasserie Grade both brewed Vieux-Temps and Leffe. Are Duvel and Leffe unsuspecting cousins? Both being of British ale blood, they most definitely are. 

 

Read Issue 20 of Original Gravity here