Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Mondial Review 1: The Best of the Europeans


Insofar as three days at this year's 20th Mondial de la Bière led me to 88 NEW tastings/reviews (if I count the single off-Mondial event I made it to) not counting another 10 with guests at home during the event and a handful I re-tried, I cannot possibly write reviews of all.

Moreover, though I was very responsible (with vitamins, water, pacing myself, etc) it is a lot to even offer substantial reviews of any though I did arrive with clipboard and prepared spreadsheet that returns full of the notes becoming these posts here.

Thus, my plan is not to even attempt full reviews (in number or depth) but rather to lend my praise to those stand-outs.  I had MANY solid beers that won't even be mentioned, and MANY I would grade a B/B+/A- though I will focus on those here I would give an A or A+ (and the occasional otherwise notable A-) which is generally above a 45 on the 50-point BJCP grading schema - an excellent grade in the ranks of stellar beers.  In this sense, I will simply gesture to the strengths of the best of the best, which this global festival provides, and in breaking them down by region rather than simply style, one can use this as a (very minimal) token travel purchase suggestion!

This is the first of a planned five posts to appear over the next week or so which will wrap up my Mondial experience:

  1. This post of the Belgian/French/Italian stand-outs;
  2. The next post of the (new-to-me) American standouts;
  3. The third post covering the Quebec marvels;
  4. The fourth post addressing the discovered gems from Brazil's booming craft beer scene;
  5. The final post noting the best in styles (that I tasted) and considering the single off-site event I imbibed at.

Standing out most prominently for me from Italy were the following, in particular:

Birra del Borgo's Equilibrista (a 10.9% Wild/Sour Ale) delights me in a style one either tends to love or hate.  It pours a clear red body with strongly evident bubbly carbonation presenting a nose that (following this video) I delightfully and jokingly call hideously infected!  More precisely, though it lacks the funk of some wilds, the tartness almost prickles he nose hair, while it tastes of sour tart cherries and fermenting grapes, but not at all in a wine-like fashion.  A nice full body and a tingly carbonation round out this solid sour I'd gladly seek out again, and which well hides its alcohol in flavour and feel.  Grade: A/A+

Birra del Borgo makes the cut again with their solid, if not quite legendary, Hoppy Cat (a 5.8% ABV Cascadian Dark Ale or Black IPA) which presents some light particulate chunkiness in its dark body, while offering enticing aromas of pine and resin followed by a faint toastiness.  The taste is similar with a malty toast flavour at first, but one that is rapidly dried by a fairly bitter-and-yet-balancing resinous drying finish that has a substantial linger, despite an overly light and slightly watery body. Grade: A-

Finally, I come to Baladin's Wayan (a 5.8% ABV Saison) which is certainly unique, blended with many herbs and adjuncts and less hops than a traditional saison.  Lightly cloudy amber in colour, its nose is somewhat akin to the fruitier of saisons and blends it with the blonde ale faintness, with no hint of any barnyard funk.  Despite these style-atypical aroma weaknesses, the beer offers some unique fruity-spicy notes of lychee coupled with an indescribable funk somewhat between a barnyard essence and something near indescribable (for me) akin to floral  fermentation notes.  The crisp carbonation seems perfect for the quite dry finish (especially for a low-hopped beer) while the finish doesn't linger either appealingly or otherwise.  Grade: A-/A

France's token tasted offering showed strongly as well in Lancelot's XI.I (an 11.1% ABV Quadrupel).  This annual and limited production beer looks the part of a Belgian strong dark, while likewise presenting a plums and fig-centric nose with a hint of brown sugar.  Tastewise, malty-sweet raisins dominate, alongside a delectable full body with a creamy thick warmth and a dry (more Trappist than Abt) finish despite its sweet character.  A very solid offering here, if no Rochefort!  Grade: A-/A

I didn't try too many Belgian brews at this festival, even if I had a few in Belgian styles, yet I did try an epic one I had yet to buy.  Tops for me was that long-pondered (but usually more expensive than it should be - at least here) St. Bernardus Tripel (an 8% ABV Tripel).  Though not my favourite tripel ever, it exudes notes of fermenting apples which are also present to the taste alongside a drying floral addition coupled with spicy yeast.  The alcoholic bite is a bit more present here than in many 8%ers, but it is quite balanced and enticing nonetheless, coupled with its tingly-strong carbonation.  Grade: A-

Finally, I'd add in La Binchoise's XO (a 12% ABV Armagnac Barrel-Aged Belgian Strong Pale Ale) that presents a reddish body with noteworthy clingy lacing.  Woody notes and vanilla dominate the nose, while some mildly tart cherries greet the tongue in a complex manner evolving from a tempered sweetness to a spicy-dry yeasty finish, hoisted by a full body and present warmth.  Grade: A-

Next up... the brewers of the (not so) New World starting with the American craft behemoths!  Stay tuned.

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