Tomorrow's Cheers for Belgian Beers event (read about it here) all hinges on the use of the Ardennes strain of yeast, purported to be that used by Brasserie d'Achouffe (or Brouwerij Achouffe, if you prefer the Flemish). So, since all the breweries will essentially be working with La Chouffe as the context for their own variations, it seemed wise to pick up a bottle in preparation.
The brewery makes two main beers, a golden ale and McChouffe, a beer inspired by Scottish ales (there are others, including N'Ice Chouffe, a winter ale). I picked up the golden, imagining it would express the yeast character more cleanly. Here's what I learned.
As I was carefully trying to pry of the amusing gnome-decorated cap (chouffe is Walloon for "gnome"), the beer came bubbling out. I made haste, but discovered that it's not exactly explosive, just vigorously efferevescent. It is honey-colored, and the active bead feeds the thinnish head (at 8% alcohol, it takes a lot of feeding to keep the head afloat). The nose is subdued--a faint sugary aroma that I took to be honey, perhaps unduly influenced by the beer's appearance.
The palate is strongly influenced by coriander, which was a bit much for my taste. I have found references to no other spices, but I thought I detected something that tasted like cardomom or star anise. It is a soft beer, made simultaneously more robust and sweeter by candi sugar. Easy to drink though not particularly complex.
The yeast. As I mentioned, it's a lively strain, and would do well with saisons, abbeys, and strong golden ales. The character was not assertive or sour; it was dry and crisp (despite the sugar and spice) and produced a sherry-like quality. As we were drinking it, I mentioned to Sally that I expected to taste beers that were better than La Chouffe at the event. It's the kind of strain that could handle lots of hopping and still stay dry and elegant, or stand alone in a a beer unadorned by bells and whistles. It's a good choice for an event like this because while it will add a fair amount of character with its effervescence and dryness, it will still behave mostly like a blank slate, allowing the brewers to follow their bliss (unlike one of the more profoundly sour strains, for example).
I look forward to see what they've come up with.
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