Beer Travel – Brussels Part 2

Eureka, the journey goes on. This post is the second one in the Beer Travel log of Brussels. Today’s post is all about Brussels and beer. No further introduction because this post will be long enough already. All the pictures below are courtesy of my brother.

Moeder Lambic Fontainas

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Fig 1: Welcome to Moeder Lambic

Moeder Lambic runs two craft beer bars in Brussels. The one we visited was Moeder Lambic Fontainas with 46 beers on tap…

Sure we could not try all the 46 beers. We nevertheless tried Grisette’s Fruits de Bois brewed with wild fruits, Val-Dieu Noël, Tournay Noel, de Ranke Hop Harvest 2012, de Ranke Kriek and de la Senne’s Band of Brothers. If this was not enough yet, we ordered a bottle of Stone’s Old Guardian from 2010. This was my very first Stone brew and I was not disappointed at all.

Maybe some words about the bar. The bar is located in the East of the Grand Place and the interior design is very modern and very well made. We sat at a wooden table at the very end of the bar and had to climb up there one some Westvleteren 12 cases.

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Fig 2: Insight Moeder Lambic Fontainas

The bar not only serves a lot of beer on tap but has a huge beer menu as well. To me it seems that the bar focuses mainly on Belgian beers on draught but caries a lot of excellent foreign beers in bottles. Funny enough, if I would have to name two very well made Swiss beers it would have to be BFM’s Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien or Trois Dames Oud Bruin. And those were in fact the two beers they carry from Swiss breweries…

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Fig 3: Beer menu of Moeder Lambic Fontainas

Moeder Lambic is definitely a craft bar to visit if you are in Brussels. In fact you could skip all the other bars below but don’t miss out Moeder Lambic. And if you are a bit hungry order a Planchette mixte, a small snack. Maybe some of the best bacon I had in my life. Not only the beer is excellent in this bar but the food is very delicious as well.

A la Mort Subite

Next stop A la Mort Subite. A small pub serving Mort Subite (sudden death) beers located in the centre of Brussels. This bar opened in the early 20th century and the interior is very vintage with some very old wooden tables, wooden chairs which all gives you the feeling of the old days.

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Fig 4: A la Mort Subite

On draught are Mort Subite’s Kriek (cherry lambic), Faro, Peach, Lambic white and some other Belgian beers. In addition, you can order Mort Subite’s Gueuze and Framboise in bottles. For a complete list of served beers check out their website. We tried the Faro, Peach, Gueuze and Framboise and they were not bad. However, Mort Subite’s beers are sweet. I like the sweet fruit Lambics as well and if you don’t like the sweet Lambics, visit the bar because of the feeling.

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Fig 5: Mort Subite Gueuze

Delirium Café

This is maybe the most visited bar in Brussels. It seems they have the largest beer menu on the planet with over 2400 beers available.

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Fig 6: Delirium Café at daylight

This cafe (I would not call this a cafe though) is located in the middle of the city. We wanted to visit the cafe on a Friday evening and the cafe was just filled with a lot of rather young people. To me it looked like a place where young people go out for a drink or two or three… There is nothing wrong with that but this is not the environment I am looking for to enjoy a nice glass of beer in the evening. Or enjoy some craft beer with the distinct pub smell in the air… Maybe I am already too old for this kind of cafe? Anyway, I am not very sad about not drinking a beer in this cafe.

250 Belgium Beer store

This is the only beer store I went to in Brussels and is located at the Boterstraat right in proximity of the Grand Place.

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Fig 7: Inside a Belgian beer store

I believe they really carry 250 Belgian beers. For me the most interesting section of the store was the Lambic and Fruit beer department. They carry a lot of Lindeman, Liefman, de Troch, Mort Subite, Cantillon and Boon. I might have forgotten other breweries. We bouth ourself Duvel Groen, Lindemans Pecheresse, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, Gouden Carolus Tripel, Cuvée René from Lindemans and a Gueuze made by DeKoninck.

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Fig 8: Beer hunting…

By the way, the Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus and the La Trappe Quadrupel are from a souvenir shop.

I would like to share a funny story here. If you had Belgian beers before you might know that a lot of bottles have a cap and a cork. Basically I was aware of that but forgot to take a corkscrew with me. On the first evening we wanted to try the Lindemans Pecheresse but we could not get the cork out of the bottle. This is why I bought myself a silly Manneken Pis corkscrew as shown in the picture below.

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Fig 9: Manneken Pis bottle before opening a bottle of Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus

I screwed the spiral of the Manneken Pis corkscrew in the cork of the Pecheresse bottle and after some turnings… the spiral broke off. Luckily the spiral was already deep enough in the cork to get the cork out of the bottle. We then wanted to open the Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus (with a cork as well) and I used the Manneken Pis to get the cap off… and the thing broke as well. We had to ask the lady from the hotel for a corkscrew to open the Cantillon bottle in the end.

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Fig 10: Manneken Pis after opening a bottle of Lindeman’s Pecheresse and Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus

Lesson learned: Take a corkscrew with you or/and don’t buy yourself a Manneken Pis corkscrew… By the way, the Rosé de Gambrinus is fantastic!

I highly recommend to visit the Moeder Lambic and A la Mort Subite bar. Both places serve excellent beers and have a nice ambience. And don’t buy a Manneken Pis corkscrew…

I would like to end this post with the mentioning that there are further beer places in Brussels to visit. I just could not visit all these places within three days. The next and last post in this beer travel log is about a brewery within Brussels. And because this is post number 100, I should enjoy a nice beer after publishing. Stay tuned!

Beer Travel – Brussels Part 1

Eureka, and happy New Year. I wish you all a prosper 2013. I would like to start with some experiences of my latest visit to Brussels, Belgium. The days after Christmas are always a good opportunity for me to visit an European city and luckily for me Brussels is only a 60 min flight away… (sorry guys). I have been in Brussels two times already and it was time for another one. The first part will cover some general information about Brussels, the second one some beer related information and the third one will be about a specific brewery based in Brussels. More about this particular brewery later on. The pictures in all the Brussels posts are courtesy of my brother

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Fig 1: Houses at the Grand Place with the Belgian brewers guild (the one with the horse on the top)

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Fig 2: Buildings of the European Commission complexes

Brussels as the capital of Belgium and chair of the European Commission (executive of the European Union) is not only worth a visit if you are interested in architecture (Fig 1 and 2) but also for beer or comics. Luckily for me I am evenly interested in beer and comics… The old city of Brussels is very beautiful and is definitely worth a visit (Fig 1).

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Fig 3: Atomium located in the North of Brussels

In 1958 Brussels hosted the world exhibition and built the well-known Atomium (Fig 3) which symbolizes an elementary cell of iron. Other town landmarks for Brussels are the fountain with the little boy releasing himself called Manneken Pis (Fig 4) or the Royal Palace (Fig 5).

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Fig 4: Manneken Pis

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Fig 5: Royal Palace in Brussels

I could go on and on… Brussels is such an interesting and vivid city. A lot of people speak English so no worries. In fact this is true for most of the European cities I visited so far. However, if you speak French it is much easier to speak to people in Belgium. The food was very good as well and the Belgian beers, well, are just incredible. But there are some mainstream beers (Lagers) in Belgium as well. So not every Belgian beer is great!

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Fig 6: Belgian Beer

I was very surprised how easy it is to get some very good beers in Brussels. The very first beer I had was from Rodenbach. Even a lot of souvenir shops sell a broad selection of Belgian beers (Fig 7) at a very low price: St. Bernardus Abt 12 in a 0.33 L bottle for 2.50 euros (roughly 3.3 USD)… or even Cantillon’s Rosé de Gambrinus for 5.5 euros (7.3 USD). And all the restaurants I visited had a broad selection of Belgian beers in their menu. To top it all, I bought myself a tax-free beer gift box at the airport. I do not remember another airport where they sell beer in the tax-free shops. Very cool!

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Fig 7: Belgian beer selection in a souvenir shop

I guess most of my readers are interested in beer related information about Brussels and the mysterious brewery we visited. The next post will be solely about beer bars, beer shops, beer museums…

Oh, if you ever go to Brussels pack an umbrella… Rain is very common here in Europe.

Hop crop 2012

Fig 1: Cascade in Spring 2012

Eureka, this is my hop crop report for 2012. The report from last year can be found here. I currently have four hop varieties: Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (since 2011), Northern Brewer (since 2011), Cascade and East Kent Goldings (both since 2012). And one plant of each variety. As the Hallertauer and Northern Brewer plants were in their second year, I hoped to finally be able to harvest some hops. I missed the right time to harvest the hops last year and got only a few grams of each variety. I bought two additional hop varieties this 2012 Spring (Cascade and East Kent Goldings) to have some very fresh aromatic hops available in the future. However, I did not expect a huge amount of both varieties in their first year.

Fig 2: Northern Brewer in Fall before crop

Well, the two varieties from last year (Northern Brewer and Hallertauer) grew very well (Fig 2). The Cascade and East Kent Golding plants grew as well but nothing compared to the two older varieties. However, I could harvest some hops of each variety by the end of August 2012 and beginning of September.

Fig 3: Fresh Northern Brewer hops

Fig 4: Fresh East Kent Goldings hops

Fig 5: Fresh Cascade hops

My hop crop for 2012:
– Northern Brewer: 1044 g (wet hops)
– East Kent Goldings: 80 g (wet)
– Cascade: 188 g (wet)
– Hallertauer Mittelfrüh: roughly 1’500 g (wet)

After cropping the hops, I left them on some screens to let the cones dry. Unfortunately, I don’t know the exact weight of the dried hops after the drying process. I assume the weight of the dried cones is somewhat like 10% of the wet mass.

I already used 150 g of dried Hallertauer hops for a kind of harvest ale (#64 Belgian Vienna Brown Harvest Ale). The remaining Hallertauer hops are in a well ventilated place to oxidize them and use them for sour ales in the future. The Cascade, East Kent Goldings and Northern Brewer hops are in vacuum sealed bags in my refrigerator. For further use…

I am quite happy about the 2012 hop crop. I finally got some fresh hops and used them for a recipe already. By the way, the Belgian Vienna Brown Harvest Ale I was talking about previously was my first batch where I used hop leaves instead of hop pellets. However, I still prefer hop pellets because the hop leaves do not settle down to the bottom of the kettle during the whirlpool as easily as the hop pellets do.

Isolating the bugs from Cantillon Kriek

Eureka, another post about a Brettanomyces isolation. Other posts about the same topic can be found here. The beer we are talking about today is the Kriek made by Cantillon. Further information about the Kriek can be found on the Cantillon webpage. Got myself a bottle (bottled on 23 December 2009) and decided to have a look at the sediment of the beer. Maybe some tasting notes first.

Fig 1: Cantillon Kriek

Aroma: Lots of horse blanket and very funky. Could not detect any cherry flavor.

Appearance: Red appearance, pink foam. Some particles from the bottle in the glass.

Flavor: Light fruitiness detectable, right amount of sourness and a bit tart. Pretty neat!

Mouthfeel: Light body, average carbonation level, pretty dry and sour finish.

Overall Impression: Very well made. Although the fruity character is gone. The beer was bottled 2.5 years ago. Maybe the fruitiness vanishes with time? No idea if this is true. All in all a very nice brew. My rating: 95/100. If you can get yourself a bottle. One of the best Krieks I had so far. Although no pronounced cherry aroma.

05/17/12: Streaked some of the bottle’s sediment on a Sabouraud agar plate and incubated it at room temperature.

Fig 2: Cantillon Kriek dregs on Sabouraud agar after nearly 14 days

06/02/12: Colonies were visible on the plate (Fig 2). Only one kind of colonies. Seem to me like very typical yeast colonies. Took a colony from the plate in Fig 2 and re-streaked it on another plate. The colonies now looked quite different as you would expect from normal brewer’s yeast.

Fig 3: Cantillon Kriek yeast on Sabouraud agar after 14 days

Next, look at the colonies under the microscope.

Fig 3: Cantillon yeast

These cells are yeast cells for sure (due to the size and appearance). In my opinion those cells belong to the Brettanomyces species. And they look very similar as the Brettanomyces in Wyeast’s Roeselare Blend (shown here in the pictures at the bottom). Well the cells could be something different than Brettanomyces for sure. However, from the smell of the plate, the look of the colonies on the agar plate and micrograph and the time it took for colonies to appear, I would assign these cells to Brettanomyces.

To summarize, I could isolate Brettanomyces strain(s) from a Cantillon Kriek nearly 2.5 years after it was bottled. The strain goes into my library as B04 (Brettanomyces 04).

The next post concerning a Brettanomyces isolation will be about another Cantillon beer. Stay tuned!

Beer color estimation by use of a DIY spectrophotometer

Eureka, the following post is one I am really proud of. It took me some time to build the device and calibrate it. But it seems to work. I am talking about a self-made spectrophotometer to estimate the beer color. Isn’t that cool? I have to say that the measurements are more an estimation than a measurement. However, the precision is good enough to get an idea about the color. Of course there is the possibility to estimate the color of a beer with a kind of chart. I have one of my own. But I always wanted to build myself a spectrophotometer and why not build one for measuring the color of beer. I will shortly talk about the build up and then go into the calibration I did a while ago.

Preparation

I build myself a spectrophotometer as described here. Unfortunately, the descriptions are all in German. But the most important part, and I guess the only one I used from the cited page, is the circuit diagram. The cited page describes how to build a spectrophotometer for measuring nitrate in the water of an aquarium. The only difference to my spectrophotometer is the different LED. I used a 430 nm LED to measure the beer color. To determine the color of a beer, you measure the absorption of the sample in a 1 cm cell at a wavelength of 430 nm. You then multiply the absorption by 25 to get the color in EBC. In my case, I calibrate the spectrophotometer to assign the measured voltages to a EBC-value. Further information about the EBC can be found on Wikipedia.

Building the spectrophotometer

First of all, I do not fully understand the circuit diagram (although it is explained on the cited page). Please do not ask any questions about the circuit. I just ordered all the parts I needed and built the circuit.

Maybe some explanations about the circuit. I used a 12 V power supply unit for the power supply. The red LED (= LED3 rot) is for the “power on” sign. As already mentioned above, I substituted the second LED (LED3 grün) with another LED (emission wavelength of 430 nm) to measure the EBC’s. The light dependent resistor’s (LDR) task is to measure the light from the 430 nm LED after passing through the sample (marked as M). At the end, the resistance from the LDR is transformed into a voltage and measured with a voltage meter (indicated as V). The two linear potentiometers are there to adjust the voltage (for example to adjust the offset).

The next picture might be cruel for people in electronics… I am not very good in soldering and electronics. Luckily for me, I do not have to make money with my bad soldering skills. However, I managed to build this whole device.

Fig 1: Inside the spectrophotometer…

At the bottom of the box is the circuit board with all the connections to the parts such as the red LED (power) and the two linear potentiometers on the cover of the box (Fig 1). The measuring cell is implemented in the wooden block.

Fig 2: Measuring block with LED and LTR

The measuring block consists of two wooden parts, an upper and a lower one (Fig 2). Both parts have a hole with a diameter of 12 mm for the measuring cell (Fig 3). In the block itself are the LED (emitting light at 430 nm) and the LTR (collecting the light coming through the sample). The LED is on the left side of the block, the LTR on the right side (Fig 2). Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the inside of the block. However, if you stick the measuring cell in the whole, the LED shines light into the measuring cell and on the direct opposite side of the LED is the LTR collecting the light coming out of the measuring cell. Simple as that.

Fig 3: Cell to measure the sample (12 mm in diameter, total length 100 mm)

And now some pictures of my device how it looks like at the end and during a measurement.

Fig 4: Spectrophotometer ready to measure

You basically connect a voltage meter to the spectrophotometer, insert the measuring cell, adjust the voltage at the beginning (offset and blank) and off you go. In theory, the voltage you measure depends on the color of the beer. Lets see if the spectrophotometer really works.

Calibration

The first test of my spectrophotometer was a calibration with commercial beers. I found a list where someone measured the color of different commercial beers. I used: TsingTao (5.91 EBC), Pilsner Urquell (11.62 EBC), Anchor Liberty (22.26 EBC), Anchor Steam (31.52 EBC), New Castle Brown (56.54 EBC), Samuel Smith Nut Brown (61.46 EBC) and Guinness Draught (92.39 EBC).

I first filled a measuring cell with water and adjusted the voltage with the linear potentiometers to 1 V (blank and offset). Then filled the beers in the measuring cell and collected the voltages for each sample. I have to mention, the spectrophotometer only works with clear samples.

Results

The calibration with the 1 V offset showed a linear correlation between the measured voltage and the color of the sample (Fig 5).

Fig 5: Calibration curve with 1 V offset

I did two different calibration with different offsets. For the second calibration, I used an offset of 2 V. The slope of both calibration were very similar (0.071 V EBC-1). Further information from the calibration:

– Detection limit: 10.6 EBC

– Measure Anchor Steam (31.52 EBC) gives 35.6 EBC (SD = 2.23 EBC)

– Measure Guinness Draught (92.39 EBC) gives 95.1 EBC (SD = 4.04 EBC)

The measured values of the both beers are significantly different from the stated values. However, this is by far good enough for me. I do not need an exact EBC value anyway. On the other hand, my device can’t measure samples with an EBC value lower than 10.6 EBC. No problem here, I do not brew such light-colored beers…

Discussion

The calibration showed a linear correlation between the measured voltages and the color of the calibration beers. And this proves to me that my spectrophotometer can be used to measure (or estimate) the color of a beer in a rather easy way. I stick to estimate rather than measure.

I have to be honest, I never expected this to happen. Before doing this calibration I had to make an assumption: The color of the commercial beers I used were exactly the same as stated in the list. Differences in colors of the different batches should be very minor. In addition, the values stated in the list were true. I assume the differences from the linear fit curve to the measured values could be due to differences to the stated values. Nevertheless, it worked!

To test if this device really works, another calibration would be necessary. This time, measure the values of the different beers with a lab spectrophotometer at 430 nm and determine the voltages with my spectrophotometer. Maybe an experiment for the future.

I did this calibration a few years back and used my spectrophotometer just once. However, I build this device to understand the concept of a spectrophotometer in the first place. Now I know how such a device works and even have a tool available to estimate the beer colors.

Hop growing 2011

Hallertauer Mittelfrüh

Eureka, time for another post about a cool project. Today, growing your own hops in the garden.

As I am a very interested in gardening as well (like carnivorous plants and such), I purchased a Northern Brewer and a Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hop plant from Germany. After they arrived, I planted them into big buckets and installed a kind of climbing aid for the plants. I used normal strings for that. The hop harvest 2011 begun.

Northern Brewer plant on the left and Hallertauer on the right

After some watering and caring, the plants begun to grow.

The Northern Brewer plant grew very rapidly and I could collect nearly 200 g of hops in the Fall. Unfortunately I picked them too late and they already turned yellow and had a very musty smell after drying. But I vacuum-packed them anyway and are still in my refrigerator for a brew or an experiment. I really did not expect to have so many hops as it was the first year and the summer was very dry at my place. So I had to do a lot of watering…

The Hallertauer plant was a bit a troublemaker. After several weeks, I could observe a few lice and I used a soap-water-mixture to get rid of them. But they did not seem to care about that. So I added some alcohol to the mixture and sprayed the plant every second day until I finally got rid of the lice. The plant lost all its leaves in the region of the lice attack but continued to grow after all. Thats why there are now leaves at the lower part of the right plant in the picture on the right. And I could not harvest any hops as well…

In addition to the two plants, I purchased a Cascade rhizome and planted it right after I got it. But I could not see any growth after all. The rhizome is still in the soil and will try to get it to grow this year. I have to mention that I purchased the rhizome late in the season… But the hop season 2012 is near to begin and I’ll buy myself another Cascade plant for sure. Maybe some other cool variety like Centennial or East Kent Golding?

I hop(e) that I can brew my first harvest ale in 2012 with freshly harvested hops. That would be awesome.