In the whirlwind of the current craft beer scene it is easy to forget about brewing’s rich history. Strong beers, adjuncts, hazies and big hops feel like new styles that we, the current generation, somehow own, but these beers have a long and rich history which the Belgians certainly helped shape.
The monks of Hoegaarden (a small town southwest of Brussels in Belgium) were the first to experiment with wheat beer back in the middle ages. They took sour wheat recipes and added spice and sweetness with coriander and orange peel. This new, rich and complex style was a hit and, by the 1700s, there were no less than 12 breweries in this small town. The beer industry then fell on hard times and the local industry was literally destroyed only to be brought back to life in the 1950s by a milkman, no less, who resuscitated the 100s of years old recipe that had traditionally been used. Now the beer is sold in 70 countries worldwide.
It’s a complex brew that starts with top down fermentation, then bottle conditioning and, of course, the addition of orange peel and coriander at an early stage. The result is famously hazy (yes hazies aren’t new either) and sumptuously complex.
The flagship Hoegaarden is light in colour but the Forbidden Fruit version uses some darker malts in the mix and is a lovely burnt, hazy orange colour. The nose is intriguing and super complex There’s oodles of orange, licorice and five spice and the coriander leaves a sensation that is almost like walking into your local butcher's store - savoury, meaty and ever so slightly metallic (but in a good way).
The palate has great body and follows suit from the nose, but all the citrus and savoury spices are balanced by deep rich caramels. Gentle bitter hops come into play at the death as do the spices once again.
This really does feel like drinking a recipe honed over hundreds of years. The balance is impeccable and the use of adjuncts is deft and subtle, with the sum of the whole very much being greater than the sum of the parts.
So there you go - an ancient recipe with a couple of crazy adjuncts that would make some of the more outlandish craft beers of the moment sound pretty pedestrian. Sip yourself some beer history and allow yourself to be tempted by the Forbidden Fruit this weekend, and well, if you find yourself exiled from the Garden of Eden… it will certainly be worth it.