They say…

Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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Welcome!

Des de Moor, London, May 2015. Pic: Luke Doyle.

Des de Moor, London, May 2015. Pic: Luke Doyle.

I’m a beer writer, tour guide, walk leader, tutored tasting host and Accredited Beer Sommelier based in London.

I’m the author of The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, the award-winning definitive guide to drinking beer in London. “Probably the best book about beer in London” — Londonist. For more about the book including update information see the London page.

I’m a contributor to numerous other books, magazines and websites, including providing the UK listings for The Pocket Beer Book (pre-order the 3rd edition, published November 2017).

Why not join me on one of my regular brewery heritage walks or tutored tastings. Or I can provide an informal private London heritage pub walk and tasting for your group, or a tasting for your event, alongside various other beer-related services. For more see the Beer Tours page.

Elsewhere on the site are numerous blog posts and beer reviews, many of them archiving material that’s already appeared elsewhere but with some exclusive pieces. Scroll down to see the latest posts, or try these:

I also blog about walking at London underfoot: London’s walking trails under the microscope.

From the cellar: Iceni Norvic Ale

iceni-w300ABV: 4.4%
Origin: Ickburgh, Norfolk, England
Websitehttp://icenibrewery.co.uk
Date: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Iceni is still around, now one of the longest-surviving 1990s microbreweries, though Norvic Ale was retired a long time ago.

This Norfolk micro is well-known for a commitment to bottle conditioning and a flair for unusual and experimental brews. Norvic Ale adds mustard to the list of oddities the more adventurous brewers have been using to perk up their malt and hops in recent years: the rationale is to pay tribute to the city of Norwich, home of Colman’s world famous mustard factories, and the name is the name of that city in its earlier Danish form.

There is no indication of how the spice is added: presumably it goes into the boil as seeds. Its presence is not immediatly obvious: the dark golden beer pours with a nice foamy head and the fresh scented aroma is lightly flowery.

The flavour develops well, at first clean and slightly creamy but always dry, then with more tangy tastes emerging, including, arguably, mustard and aromatic lychee-like fruit. A lengthy bitter development finishes the beer, rounding out to a citric tang. Pleasant, without being especially remarkable.

From the cellar: Liefmans Jan van Gent

Liefmans Jan van Gent

Liefmans Jan van Gent

ABV: 5.5%
Origin: Oudenaarde, Oost-Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen
Website: www.liefmans.be
First published: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Liefmans owner Riva went bankrupt in 2007, and the brewery is now owned by the Duvel-Moortgat group. The new owners have understandably concentrated mainly on raising the profile of its celebrated brown ale, and Jan van Gent didn’t survive the upheavals, perhaps because it’s too close to other beers in D-M’s extensive portfolio.

Jan van Gent, incidentally, is the Dutch name of Plantagenet nobleman and military leader John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99). He’s an appropriate namesake for a beer with both Flemish and English influences as he was born in Gent: ‘Gaunt’ is an archaic anglicised rendering of the city’s French name Gand. But gent is also ‘gannet’ or ‘gander’, and  Jan-van-Gent is the Dutch common name for the seabird Morus bassanus, known in English as the Northern Gannet. It’s this bird that’s depicted on the label.

A newish line from Liefmans of Oudenaarde, East Flanders, now a subsidiary of Riva. It’s quite unlike the distinctive brown ales for which the brewery is justly famous, and a little disappointing.

A pale ale shading to blond, it is nicely fresh and bottle conditioned, slightly creamy and phenolic, but otherwise a very unprovoking combination of malt palate and tangy hops. Maybe I had a bad bottle – near the end of its declared shelf life – but I was left wondering why they didn’t just stick to brown ale.

From the cellar: Interbrew (Artois, AB InBev) Campbell’s Christmas Ale

AB InBev Campbell's Christmas Ale

AB InBev Campbell’s Christmas Ale

ABV: 8.3%
Origin: Leuven, Vlaams-Brabant, Vlaanderen
Date: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Campbell, Hope & King’s Argyle Brewery in Edinburgh’s Cowgate was founded in 1710 or before, and when it was closed by Whitbread in 1971, it was reported as being the oldest brewery in Scotland. Interbrew, one of the predecessors of today’s world’s biggest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, acquired the brand through its long association with Whitbread, the brewing interests of which it bought outright in 2001. Interbrew seems to have discontinued this particular brand in the mid-2000s.

The Gordons-branded ‘Scotch’ ales, referenced below, are no longer brewed in Edinburgh for export, as their former home, McEwan’s Fountain Brewery, was closed by Scottish Courage (now Heineken) in 2005. Instead they’re brewed in Belgium at John Martin’s brewery at Genval, Brabant-Wallonie.

One of a number of products that satisfy the Belgian predilection for strong, malty ales in broadly the Scottish 90/- or wee heavy style. This quirk of Belgian taste, particularly pronounced in winter, allegedly dates from World War I, when Scottish regiments were stationed in the country. Some brews in this style are made in Scotland for export, often in stronger versions than are generally available in the UK, but this is one of a number that are now brewed locally.

It’s a product of Interbrew’s vast Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, but, as proclaimed on the label, is brewed ‘under the supervision of Whitbread plc, London’, an arrangement that long predates Interbrew’s takeover of the British megabrewer: presumably Campbells was a Scottish brewery that was long ago taken over and closed by Whitbread, and certainly the brand is no longer familiar in the UK domestic market.

The beer, which is not bottle conditioned but still very lively and was already past its best before date when consumed, is a very dark ruby with a notably rich aroma featuring glacé cherries, marzipan, cake and leather. The palate is also very full with cake and marzipan and burnt dried fruit, but also a cherryish sourness and a warming whisky-like whiff of alcohol.

A smoky, slightly chocolatey bitterness emerges in a rich finish, with petally notes developing as the beer settles.  Given all this, my rating may seem ungenerous but there’s something missing here: for all its richness, the beer seems strangely bland, especially when compared to genuinely Scottish examples like Gordons Highland Scotch (brewed in Edinburgh by Scotco/Kronenbourg. Nonetheless, worth lingering over on a winter evening.

From the cellar: Prignon Fantôme La Dalmatienne (Blond)

Prignon Fantôme La Dalmatienne

Prignon Fantôme La Dalmatienne

ABV: 8%
Origin: Soy (Erezée), Luxembourg, Wallonie
Websitewww.fantome.be
First published: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Like all products from this brewery, availability and consistency can be erratic, and a dark version has been more familiar in recent years.

Another interesting beer from an innovative micro in Belgian Luxembourg, from a range stocked at Bottles in east London. The brewery’s flagship product is the difficult-to-categorise Fantôme: for background notes, see my review of that beer.

Here they seem to have set themselves the difficult task of brewing a bone-dry beer to a high gravity, and boy, have they succeeded. The contents of the champagne-style bottle are a delicate blond, and the bottle-conditioned beer pours lively with a good head, forewarning of its hoppiness from the start with its intense hop aroma that also includes other herbal hints, like savory and sage.

The palate, apart from being very slightly phenolic and a little yeasty, is utterly, unforgivingly and astonishingly dry, all 8% of it without a shred of sweet malt, and I suspect that there’s another bitter herb in there as well as hops. The beer finishes with an overwhelming grapefruit bitterness that lingers long way back in the throat. This is a very different bitterness to that found in, say, hoppy beers from the US, much more austere and less floral in character.

I must admit it was too intense for me, and arguably overbalanced – I took a very long time to finish the bottle – but if you enjoy bitter spirits like Jägermeister you would probably appreciate it more. The brewery’s trademark jolly ghost on the label is overwhelmed by dalmatian-dog style black spots, but I’m still trying to puzzle out the significance of the name. Any ideas?

From the cellar: Kitchen Carrot Cruncher

Good for improving your eyesight, better to spot those rare beers.

Good for improving your eyesight, better to spot those rare beers.

ABV: 4.4%
Origin: Huddersfield, Kirklees, Yorkshire, England
First published: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Kitchen went into receivership later in 2001, perhaps not surprisingly given the beers sounded so unappetising no matter what they tasted like (the turnip and nutmeg beers referred to below were dubbed Tormented Turnip and Mystic Nutmeg). The clear glass bottles didn’t help either.

This British micro, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, was founded by a former chef keen to experiment with ingredients more normally found in a kitchen: other brews feature turnip and nutmeg. The beers, including this one, picked up at the Pitfield Beer Shop, come in clear glass bottles, not an ideal form of packaging for a fine beer as it offers little protection from light and heat, but in this case it is presumably to reassure customers that the contents at least looks beer-like and doesn’t resemble carrot juice or vegetable soup.

There is no explanation, either, as to how the additional ingredients are used – with carrots, which contain some sugars, I would hazard a guess that they go into the mash to up the level of fermentables. There’s a suspicious whiff of gimmickry about all this, so it’s interesting to see how the beer measures up: not badly, as it turns out, though you’d be hard pressed to spot the healthy Vitamin A-laden root vegetable in the finished product, except perhaps for a very faint carroty hint in the aroma and a toffeeishness that might just about resemble caramelised carrots or carrot cake.

Otherwise this is a lively amber brew with a smooth but not generous head, announcing its bottle conditioning with a thick sediment clearly visible through the glass.  The aroma, apart from the carroty notes, is sharp and hoppy, the texture slightly oily, and the palate well-balanced, with toffeeish malt soon offset by hoppy bitterness that persists in a sharp finish.  It’s pleasant and refreshing, if not terribly complex, and you wonder how much contribution the carrots actually make, other than to the labelling and promotion.

From the cellar: La Saint-Monon Brune

Saint-Monon La Saint-Monon Brune

Saint-Monon La Saint-Monon Brune

ABV: 7.5%
Origin: Ambly (Nassogne), Luxembourg, Wallonie
Websitewww.saintmonon.be
First published: 19 February 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Brasserie Saint-Monon is still in operation and this beer is still very much part of its range. It’s actually on a farm in the geographical region known as the Famenne, not the Ardennes though close by, and right by the boundary with Namur province. It was founded by homebrewer Peter Jacob in 1996, which might be why Peter Crombecq hadn’t caught up with it by the time I wrote this piece.

I know little about this brewery except that it’s in wooded country in the Ardennes, in the Belgian province of Luxembourg – it’s not even listed on the internet version of Peter Crombecq’s Benelux Biergids. I dug out the dusty champagne-style bottle from a corner of Bottles beer shop in east London.

The label sports a rustic illustration but no ‘Best Before’ date: instead, the bottling date is indicated, along with a statement guaranteeing flavour development for two years, and since this example was bottled in February 1999, it should have been just at its peak.

Popping the cork gives off a winey, woody aroma with a touch of vanilla and a pastilly sweetness. The head is nice and smooth, rapidly diminishing but with lingering lace. The palate is soft and beautifully integrated, full of malt and red fruit (raspberries, blackcurrants), with a slight sourness, and again, a pastille-like aromatic sweetness with liquorice, dandelion and burdock and brown sugar.

The hops are clear but soft and rounded, envelopingly perfumed and herbal rather than full-on bitter, another sign of good bottle age. The finish is very long, with wood, sourness, liquorice and the herbal hop flavours lingering delightfully. A very fine bottle of beer.

From the cellar: Boelens Klokbier (Tripel Klok)

Boelens Klokbier (Tripel Klok)

Boelens Klokbier (Tripel Klok)

ABV: 8.5%
Origin: Belsele, Oost-Vlaanderen, Flanders
Websitewww.brouwerijboelens.be
First published: 12 February 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

I got the significance of the name badly wrong, forgetting that klok in Dutch can also mean ‘bell’. There’s a story that the inhabitants of Belsele once gave a visiting tinker all their gold and silver on the promise that he could mend their church bell, at which point he simply upped and left with the loot, never to be seen again. The locals were thereafter known as klokkenlappers or ‘bell menders’.

The original Boelens brewery closed in 1915 but was revived in 1993 as a microbrewery by Kris Boelens, a descendant of the original owning family. Klokbier is still around but it’s now labelled Triplel Klok and has a dubbel stablemate.

A beer from a small brewery in Belsele, East Flanders, halfway between Gent and Antwerpen, known for its Bieken honey beer. I haven’t worked out the significance of the name, which means simply ‘Clock-beer’, but the attractive hand-drawn label depicts a small village church, and the bottle-conditioned beer is distantly monastic in style.

It’s sweet and honeyish, though in this case honey isn’t listed on the ingredients, though it is flavoured with herbs. The beer pours peachy and cloudy, with an impressively generous sediment, and gives off an intensely fragrant, honeyed, herbal aroma with perhaps a hint of woodruff. On the palate it is lively and orangey, with a lip-coating candied sweetness, tangy drying notes and perhaps a hint of cinnamon.

Hops develop on the tongue and continue to dry out the throat on the swallow, leaving a mainly dry finish with persistent candied notes and a late touch of marzipan. Enjoyably fragrant and stimulating, if just a little too sweet.

From the cellar: Van Eecke Het Kapittel Pater and Prior

Van Eecke Kapittel Pater

Van Eecke Kapittel Pater

ABV: 6% and 9%
Origin: Watou, West-Vlaanderen, Flanders
Websitewww.leroybreweries.be
First published: 12 and19 February 2001

Two more reviews from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left them uncorrected — so please read them in that historical spirit.

The Van Eecke brewery in Watou is still around, though after many years of close family links with Leroy brewery, also known as Het Sas, in nearby Boezinge, early in 2017 it formally became part of the same group under the name Leroy Breweries. The facilities in Boezinge are bigger and better-equipped so some former Van Eecke brands are partly or wholly brewed there, including the famous Poperings Hommelbier mentioned below. But I suspect the abbey beer range is still being made at Watou. The beers are now labelled simply as Kapittel, without the definite article ‘Het’.

The group sources hops locally and the beers now carry the ‘Belgsiche Hop’ kitemark indicating at least 50% of the hops used are Belgian-grown. I still think it’s quite likely that the hops include Goldings, though the variety is also grown locally so may not be from Kent. But when I say ‘hoppy’, note that standards on this have changed a little since 2001! Note also that these beers, though in the generic abbey style, are not one of the officially accredited Erkend Belgische Abdijbieren as they’re not associated with any particular religious institution, despite the appreciative monks depicted on the packaging.

Van Eecke, in Watou, is one of a cluster of small breweries around Poperinge, in the heart of West Flanders hop country, a connection commemorated in this brewery’s best-known product, the blond and marvellously hoppy Poperings Hommelbier. Pater, in contrast, is an abbey double, a style not normally noted for its hoppiness, but hops make their presence felt all the same.

The beer is a burgundy brown, with a big chocolate, red wine and varnish aroma and a nice thick head. It’s softish in the mouth, well-conditioned (in the bottle) with some sparkle on the tongue, a winey, juicy malt palate and a hoppy edge to the taste right from the start. Some sweetness develops, but recedes again in a complex finish with distinct hoppy dryness and earthy notes that suggest Kent Goldings, only a channel-crossing from home.

The hop character distinguishes what is otherwise a competent, if a little rough-edged, beer that could be a little better-integrated, but certainly has something to say for itself in a fairly crowded market.

Prior doesn’t fit into the conventional categories of double and triple. Like Pater it’s uncharacteristically hoppy for the style, and goes one further, being a dry and notably strong dark ale. It’s burgundy-coloured, with a smooth and long-lasting head, and a rich aroma with hops to the fore, backed by plenty of dark figginess. The condition is very lively and the palate mainly malty with some fruit and chocolate, quickly developing a pronounced dry bitterness with a touch of peach: there is something in the rich malt/fruit character that reminds me of the blue-capped 8% ale from the nearby Westvleteren Trappist monastery.

The finish is very, very drying, with plenty of bitter chocolate and hops and a quinine-like touch developing. It’s a surprise to find such a strong and dark beer that tastes so dry and austere.

Cool runnings: beer serving temperature and flavour

Taking beer's temperature: warm or cool?

Taking beer’s temperature: warm or cool?

The piece below was first published in Beers of the World magazine issue 13, July 2007, and was my first proper feature piece to appear in a ‘newsstand’ title. It’s subsequently been reprinted with my permission in a couple of other places. Although I’d probably write it slightly differently today, and choose some different examples, the advice it gives remains sound.

The British, as everyone knows, drink warm beer. Or more accurately, they prefer their traditional ale at cellar temperature, rather than chilled. Though most Brits in truth now drink cold lager like everyone else, the fact that a sizeable minority continues to enjoy less refrigerated booze is heart warming, so to speak, in a commercial world where the thermometer is heading downwards.

Most people appreciate that different wines are best served at different temperatures – serving claret in an ice bucket or mulling your Muscadet is not the best way to impress at dinner parties. But when it comes to beer, whether it’s a well-aged Westvleteren Abt or Tesco Value Lager, there’s a tendency to simply bung it in the fridge with the rest of them.

In Belgium they take a little more care – specialist beer pubs often boast several fridges set to different temperatures. While in Britain you might get a grudging “Serve Cool” on the label, in Belgium the temperature is usually specified in precise degrees, though not always reliably – sadly some Belgian brewers have also succumbed to chiller mania and increasingly recommend inappropriately cold temperatures.

So what difference does temperature really make? Apply energy by heating something up and its molecules start buzzing around busily, bumping into other molecules and occasionally escaping. As a substance cools down, its molecules move more sluggishly, and are less likely to interact with their neighbours. When those molecules are what give a beer its odour and flavour, the warmer they are, the more energy they’ll have to bounce around the taste and smell receptors in your nose and mouth.

The body itself is a warm place and its systems work best at warmer temperatures: cold substances in the mouth literally numb the senses, not to mention their challenge to our digestive system. On the other hand, drinking something cold helps cool us down when hot, so can be experienced as pleasantly refreshing. The marketers of chilled beer trade on the appeal of this with endless images of condensation-jewelled bottles.

The visual appeal of the chiller tub may not suit every beer. though it's likely advisable for most of those in this photo. Pic: homewetbar.com.

The visual appeal of the chiller tub may not suit every beer. though it’s likely advisable for most of those in this photo. Pic: homewetbar.com.

Behind such images is an assumption that beer’s only function is to make us feel refreshed despite the dehydrating effects of alcohol, and the truth is that most beers marketed in this way are good for little else. Where a beer has little native aroma and flavour, serving it at a warmer temperature will simply expose its emptiness. Chilling it, particularly to 4°C or below, makes it limitations less evident by neutralising the tastebuds. More cynical brewers have long taken advantage of this by using excessive refrigeration to disguise cheap and nasty beer.

This is not to say that all good beers should be served uniformly warm. British and Belgian ales are warm fermented — unsurprisingly their chemistry is most active at warmer temperatures and their recipes evolved to taste good when drunk from a pub cellar in a cool climate. Traditional German and Czech lager styles originate from more southerly climates where they were brewed in deep, icy caves – the resulting smoother flavours work better at lower temperatures, maintaining enough hop aroma to cut through.

Avoid the habit of keeping beer indiscriminately in the fridge for days or weeks and both your taste buds and the yeast cells in a bottle conditioned beer will reward you. Anything half decent is best kept in a dark cupboard at a relatively constant temperature and only put in the fridge, if at all, for a controlled length of time before it’s consumed.

However it’s tricky to achieve precise temperatures at home. Wine thermometers designed to be left in a bottle neck as the contents gradually warms or cools are less useful with beer, which starts to go flat as soon as it’s opened. So try experimenting by keeping beer in the fridge for a set length of time and checking the results – your own taste is at least as good as a thermometer here.

Fridge temperatures vary according to how much other stuff is in them, when it was put there, and how often the door is opened and closed – which is likely to be often if it’s also the place you keep tonight’s snacks and tomorrow’s breakfast. Constant fluctuations in temperature aren’t good, and putting beer in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it quickly is definitely bad. Remember fridge temperatures get cooler as you move deeper inside – the back of my fridge can sometimes freeze an ice pop, but the milk rack inside the door stands in well for a cool pub cellar.

Room temperature seems straightforward – but in these days of global warming and central heating it’s warmer than it used to be. It’s best suited to big, strong and complex beers like barley wines, imperial stouts and high gravity abbey ales. Arguably such beers are best when a couple of degrees short of contemporary tastes in home heating, at around 17°C, an hour or so in a milder part of the fridge.

European pale and brown ales and stronger German beers like bocks are best at that good old cellar temperature of 12-14°C, perhaps a couple of hours in the fridge door. American derivatives of these styles tend to be brewed with slightly cooler temperatures in mind, around 10°C. Golden and summer ale, Altbier and lambic also work well at this level, and some may prefer to cool session strength stout and porter for a little longer than bitter and pale ale.

Below this things get controversial. Some sources – including certain beer labels – suggest chilling wheat beers, Duvel-style strong golden ales, Kölsch and quality blond lager to a genuinely cold 6°C or below. In my view many of these beers only reveal their true delights at slightly warmer temperatures (see below). It’s worth experimenting here to find your own personal preference.

Whatever you do, experimenting with temperature will add variety to your drinking – and will hopefully convince you that, whatever the million dollar marketing campaigns might say, as far as good beer is concerned, it’s often cool to be warm.

Chilled examples

Budweiser Budvar, Three B's Shuttle Ale and Robinson's Old Tom face the temperature test.

Budweiser Budvar, Three B’s Shuttle Ale and Robinson’s Old Tom face the temperature test.

In researching this article I conducted a home tasting of three very different beers at three different temperatures.

Chilling Budweiser Budvar to 5°C does it no favours, neutralising the aroma and more interesting flavour elements on the palate, and allowing too much emphasis on bitter hop resins. At a cellar-cooled 12°C there’s more aroma, more delicate hop flavours and juicier malt. Room temperature reveals some surprising whiskyish, spirity notes – the quality of the beer holds up but it’s a less intense experience.

Three B’s Shuttle Ale, an excellent microbrewed bottle conditioned bitter from Lancashire, has a good malty, orangey aroma when served cold, but numbing the mouth again lends undue weight to hop bitterness. It’s much better balanced at cellar temperature, revealing more fruit and roast notes. When chambré, the hop aroma is intense and earthy, but the thick marmalade notes get just a bit cloying.

Classic dark barley wine Robinson Old Tom is a challenge when chilled: the combined numbing effect of cold and alcohol is like a mouthful of dentists’ novocaine! The powerful dry cocoa finish still shows through, but the flavour development is better at cellar temperature, with tannins and cake notes more evident. The beer is still richer and more luscious at room temperature, with fruit and smooth burry hops better integrated.

From the cellar: Hanssens Oudbeitje

Hanssens Oudbeitje

Hanssens Oudbeitje

ABV: 6%
Origin: Dworp (Beersel), Vlaams-Brabant, Flanders
First published: 5 February 2001

Another review from the  written for the pioneering Oxford  Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Hanssens, established in 1871, remains — just — as the last of the old-established geuzestekerijen and this , arguably their most famous beer, is still in production. As a stekerij, the company doesn’t brew its own lambics but sources inoculated wort from Boon, Girardin and Lindemans, which it ferments and matures in its own wooden barrels, and in the case of Oudbeitje matures on whole strawberries.

Hanssens, of Dworp, near the classic lambic village of Beersel in the Brussels area, is a proud old house of négociants and geuzestekerijen or gueuze blenders. This is their unusual attempt at a fruit lambic, not with the traditional sour cherries or raspberries but with fresh strawberries. The name is a pun on the Dutch word for strawberries, aardbeien, and literally means something like ‘old varnish’.

I’m not a great fan of fruit beers but this one is something special, and extremely subtly done.  It’s a lively beer, with enough pressure to send the champagne cork with which it was sealed flying across the room on opening, which suggests it is based on the gueuze and achieves its carbonation from the vigorous secondary fermentation.

The smell is musty and hoppy initially, then slightly sharp, and the beer is an intriguing straw in colour with reddish hints, resembling nothing so much as Lucozade. The palate is initially sweet, and then the characteristic rhubarb sourness of the company’s gueuze reveals itself, with hints of wood and citric fruit.

Then, a delightfully delicate and elusive strawberry scent wafts through the mouth, with the tartness as well as the scent of the berries apparent. The strawberry hints persist into the throat, eventually overtaken by late, crisp hop.

What really makes this beer is its subtlety: Hanssens have taken what is already an excellent product and woven in a little extra magic, rather than hiding the noble austerity of lambic behind cloying swathes of fruit syrup as some of the more commercial fruit beer producers in the area have done. Very good indeed.