Neil Sowerby samples some rare brews but resists the fondue
SO you think you know Belgian beer? You’ve done Duvel, enjoyed Orval, tasted the Trappistes from Chimay to Westmalle, ordered a fruit beer or two and been pleasantly surprised. That’s it, then? Think again and drop in on city centre Bock Biere Cafe.
This cosy newcomer on Tib Lane stocks lots of familiar names from one of the world’s great beer countries, served from 10 taps and bulging bottle cabinets. A few stray ales aside, it’s primarily a homage to La Belgique, offering a chance to explore some of its wonderful more obscure brew styles.
Take Lindeman’s Faro, which we did in one of those typically bespoke brewery glasses. Faro on draught was the low alcohol session beer before World War 1 – Lambic sour beer refermented with candy sugar – but was then overtaken completely by Bavarian-style lagers.
In bottle today (4.5% ABV, 375ml, £5.20) it’s a refreshing introduction to normally austere Belgian sours with an attractive sherbert tartness. It would go well with the cheese fondue, a staple of the new bar menu. We resited. There is a full range of familiar monk-brewed Trappiste beers. One unfamiliar name to us was Achel, whose Blond (8% ABV, 330cl, £6.10) we tasted next. The long-defunct brewery, in the north-eastern province of Limburg, was resurrected in a cloister in 1999 and this aromatic, delicate fruity beer is heavenly.
The best Belgian fruit beers are based on those ‘spontaneously fermented; lambic beers (the kriek cherry ones our favourite), but not Bush Scaldis Peach (8.5% ABV, 330ml, £5.60), spicily potent and slightly bitter underneath the up-front peachiness.
Much more to my taste the final beer tried – the dark strong ale Troubadour Obscura (8.2% ABV, 330ml, £5.20) from East Flanders. It has a huge aroma of chocolate, coffee and roasted malts, then a taste recalling treacle toffee and raisins. This one could tackle the chocolate fondue (which we again resisted).
The three-storey setting for such hoppy, malty delights was once Lounge Ten, then later Filthy Cow. It has been superbly transformed by owner Iain Hoskins into an atmospheric European style beer cafe with friendly knowledgeable staff.
Off the regular draught range look no further than Brugse Zot `Blonde (6% ABV) is from Bruges brewers Haave Maan, blonde creamy amd moreish – then the strength kicks in, almost Duvel-like.
Or try two Belgian classics to finish off – Chimay Trippel White (8% ABV), orange-hued, drier and hoppier than the other beers from this Trappiste brewery and the glorious, dark Westmalle Dubbel (7% ABV), complex, darkly fruity and surprising bitter in the long aftertaste.
Bock Biere Cafe, 10 Tib Lane, M2 4JB. Open from 11am to midnight.