I once asked my Mum how she got the tomato sauce in her pasta dishes to be so rich and sweet, and her reply was…
“I use sugar.”
I was a touch shocked at the time, and told her that this was basically cheating, to which she replied…
“That’s what cooking is - cheating.”
These words really stuck with me, and many years on, I can see now that the world of drinks is also rife with cheating too.
I mean cheating is literally everywhere when you think about it!
Just look at wine. We age wine in oak to add nuances of vanilla and coconut. We heat it to make madeira and fortify it to make port. We even age wine under a veil of microbes to create certain sherries.
Then there’s beer! Here the art of cheating has been taken to a new level thanks to the long history of adjuncts in brewing.
The Belgian’s have been crafting some of the world’s greatest beers for centuries using candi sugar, spice and fruit, whilst in the States, the most commercially successful beers are macro lagers using all sorts of unmalted grains.
The surge in all malt ‘craft brewing’ created associations of quality with malt and likewise inferiority with adjuncts - but things have now gone full circle. Chocolate, lactose, chilli and well, the addition of pretty much whatever you can find, is now an accepted part of modern brewing - and I guess how you feel about this is a personal thing.
I’ll confess there’s a grumpy purist trapped inside me who still respects beers that have faithfully adhered to the holy trinity of malted barley, yeast and hops.
Which brings us nicely to today’s beer - Kasteel Cuvée du Château. The online description talks of port and madeira flavours which might have one typically racing to figure out which adjuncts have been used - but it’s an all malt brew… let’s give it a whirl.
It pours a dark and deathly colour with a dense tan head. The nose is dark too with black chocolate, malt and cherry notes offering a black forest gâteau-like quality - but it’s not as fruit driven as the online description might lead you to believe. The palate is rich and viscous, initially sweet and with some caramelised, oxidative notes that are indeed suggestive of madeira - and which lead to a big, bitter finish. It is quite the mouthful and yet the 11% abv is superbly integrated.
A big and fabulous brew - and one for the purists perhaps? Well maybe, however there is a subtle twist…
The beer’s inspiration was a Kasteel Donker that had been aged for nine years. The brewery owner, Xavier Vanhonsebrouck, couldn’t wait that long though, so he challenged his head brewer Hans to come up with a beer that offered the same characteristics - just without the ageing. The answer was the addition of roasted and caramelised malt - which sounds rather like adding sugar to your pasta sauce doesn’t it?
Adjuncts or no adjuncts, when you think about it - brewing is the art of cheating - and essentially it’s the hacks and the cheats which create the flavour…