Friday 7 March 2014

Brussels Beer Project

Delta force
The beer flows into the shapely glass, a long stemmed, full-bodied glass marked with a simple logo; the beer is golden-orange in colour, dulled and hazy, the sun seen through a layer of thin cloud; a tub-thumping, No 1, prop-forward meringue-white collar of foam squats on top of the beer, while down below minuscule chains of bubbles rise upwards, seeking to escape the beer; bubbles giving up their existence to anchor the beer’s effervescence onto the drinker’s tongue, talking of which there’s a rugged and robust spray of passion fruit and pineapple on the palate, with a dry and voluptuous finish and a scattering of bitterness, as if a palm full of coins were thrown onto a table (with less contempt of course). This is not an easy beer (it’s a Belgian IPA with saison yeast for Odin’s sake), it’s complicated and constant in the demand it makes on the palate but I discover that continued study of it makes me very happy.

The name of the beer is Delta and it’s a beer I tasted yesterday in Brussels, in the company of Sébastien Morvan, co-founder of the Brussels Beer Project, which at the moment is having its beers brewed by BrouwerijAnders (there are plans for a physical brewery next year, which will only be the third brewery in Brussels). So what you might ask, another gypsy brewer, another cuckoo in the nest, another contract brewery, but there’s something different about the BBP (nice logo by the way). Morvan and old friend Olivier de Brauwere started out last summer and went straight for the crowd funding model, using Facebook to raise funds and gather support (there is also an element of regional funding). There’s been a minimum of PR and a flutter of social media but from the brief time I spent with Morvan it seems that the idea (as well as the beer) has captured the imagination of Brussels’ beer people.

Sébastien Morvan gets the beers in 
‘We told people that for 140 euros they would get 12 beers every year for life,’ says Morvan, ‘and when we posted this we got 369 people signing up instead of the 200 that was our objective.’ As well as this, there is also regional funding and the guys have become celebrities (of sorts) with their own radio show, while the Belgian monarch Albert II was presented with a specially designed beer. There’s even been a collaboration brew with Quebec-based Du Lac St Jean, which resulted in an Imperial Chocolate Porter.

If this sounds slightly corporate or beer made with a branding market in mind, then time spent with Morvan will soon disabuse this. ‘We are funky, cosmopolitan Brussels, we are not the Brussels of the Grand Place,’ he says; the use of the word funky being literal as he has plans to produce a Berliner Weiss with added Brett. ‘We are very interested in using acidity in our beers, obviously in the right way.’ All this is said quietly and confidently and you get a sense of the patience and — dare it be said — passion that drives the BBP.

‘You cannot discount tradition,’ he continues, ‘and we also look around the world for ideas.’ Which is perhaps why Delta has Citra (plus the Bavarian variety Smaragd, formerly known as Emerald), but there’s an added story here. Part of the BBP’s brief is incredibly democratic: they brew four prototype beers and then ask people to decide which one will become a regular. At their first tasting 850 people turned up and 66% chose the Delta as the favourite. That’s it. The other three beers are not brewed again, while Delta is now a regular. At the time of our conversation, Sébastien was toying with the idea of the next quartet of beers for consideration, including the aforementioned Berliner Weiss.

Now this is how to get information
out to the drinker
I try another beer, which didn’t get through the preliminary rounds of the BBP’s voting: this is Dark Sister, a black IPA the colour of dark, stained mahogany — it has an oily texture, through which restrained bitter chocolate, grapefruit and orange notes flow; it’s also earthy and elemental without smelling of the dung heap while the finish is grainy and dry with a short scattergun of sweetness.

This is post modernist brewing, a journey undertaken without maps but instead with memories, moments and fragments of ideas and influences. It’s the making of beer with a sense of adventure and excitement as well as a sense of naivety (it’s refreshing that the word branding is not uttered once); of course it could all be so much hot air if the beers were poor but as Delta and Dark Sister showed they’re not.

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