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Des de Moor
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Des de Moor

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Proef/Craig Allan Agent Provocateur and Cuvée d’Oscar

(bottled Cuvée d’Oscar), Beer sellers:

ABV: 6.5% and 7.5%
Origin: Lochristi, Oost-Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen
Website: craigallan.fr, www.proefbrouwerij.com

Cuvée d'Oscar (brewed at )

These beers are produced in Belgian Flanders by a Scottish brewer based in Picardy, northern France, and are decidedly international at heart. Craig Allan trained in Edinburgh but found the British brewing scene hidebound by tradition. He now lives in Méry-la-Bataille, in the Oise département, and is working with the owners of Lille’s Abbaye des Saveurs beer shop and specialist pub La Capsule to create a new range of beers. The aspiration is to open a brewery somewhere in the area but in the meantime brewing takes place at the ever reliable Proef in Lochristi, over the Belgian border, proving ground for so many interesting new beers.

Having shaken off the weight of one deep rooted brewing tradition, Craig isn’t likely to succumb to another one, and his beers are a long way from the bières de garde typical of French Flanders and Picardy, leaning instead towards US-influenced craft beer styles and a spirit of artisanal experimentation. The former tendency is most evident in Agent Provocateur, a self described hybrid of a Belgian golden ale and an IPA.

Tasted from a keykeg at La Capsule, this was a cloudy golden beer with a foamy white head and a very rich fruity aroma with notes of kiwi fruit, pineapple, resinous Cascade hops and some farmyard scents. There was less hoppy bitterness than I expected on the rich full palate, though tasty apricot jam flavours came through, and a solid maltiness coupled with the characteristic esters of Belgian yeast established the golden ale side of the hybrid. A lightly sweet, lightly drying finish had some vegetal hop character.

Much as the Agent provoked me to appreciation, Cuvée d’Oscar (‘Oscar’s brew’, named after Craig’s baby son) turned out to be something else entirely. My personal tastes veer more towards dark beer anyway, but this one was so original and unusual. It’s based on a wheat Bock of the Schneider Aventinus variety, with a “high proportion” of wheat malt joining Munich, crystal and chocolate barley malts in the grist, fermented with Bavarian wheat beer yeast and given a twist with a good dose of hops, including dry hopping with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin.

A keykeg sample was thick and chestnut brown, with a thick bubbly off-tan head, looking very much like a strong Belgian brown, but certainly not smelling like one. The aroma was very fruity, with grape and apricot notes, followed by an unusual and very complex toffee palate with apricot, pineapple, chocolate, malt loaf and a spicy, yeasty quality. A pleasant finish was packed with vivid and unusual flavours, blending chocolate and toffee notes with satsumas, grapes and a touch of roast, with spicy hops nicely balancing an overall biscuity sweetness.

The bottle conditioned version I bought in the shop left even more of an impression. This looked very similar, again with a foamy head, and again I noted grapes and apricots in a creamy aroma. These fruits showed up too in the complex, sweetish palate alongside chocolate, breakfast cereal, exotic spice and a developing hoppy bitterness, with a luscious bubbly texture adding to the sensual delight. Chocolate turned quite dark and stern in the finish with raisins, toffee and an emerging powdery dryness with roasted malt flavours rounded off by apricot nectar, with a touch of herbal, lettucey bitterness.

Another brewer to watch, without a doubt.

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