Dean McGuinness reviews Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor and Gouden Carolus Whisky Infused
Often we talk about the brewing process, and how different ingredients or different steps in the process effect the flavour of the final beer. Sometimes brewers brew a beer, but the ‘magic special bit’ is an infusion at the end of the process that integrates and develops the flavour of the beer from something complex and characterful into something multidimensional, and simply fantastic. Infusing a beer with flavour with a special ingredient can develop the existing flavour in the beer, and can add a new facet to the beer that simply turns the beer into a work of art.
Today, we are looking at two ‘infusions’. The first is a classic, more traditional infusion – dry hopping a beer, which is a core part of the tradition in English brewing, but which has become a cornerstone or the modern craft IPA. The second infusion is a new twist on barrel aging – instead of aging the beer in a barrel to infuse the beer with the flavour of the previous resident of the barrel, our second beer is directly infused with whiskey.
Our two beers today are particularly special. The Gouden Carolus range of beers are multi-award winning beers, and have received critical acclaim on many consumer rating websites. We are tasting Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor and Gouden Carolus Whiskey Infused.
Beer Infusions –
There are many styles of beer that are based around infusing the beer with the flavour from a special ingredient or a special process. Dry hopping – where hops are added into the beer during or after fermentation to allow the essential oils from the hops to infuse into the beer – is probably the most classic example. IPA’s are centred on this dry hopping process, and hop breeders now have ‘special dating systems’ – encouraging different hop plants to do what mammies and daddies do best to produce a baby hop plant that is a star child and delivers specific, particular and delicious flavours into the beer.
When it comes to lambic beers, Belgians have understood the challenge that is represented by distinctly sour beers. While sour gueuze lambics offer their own dimensions of flavour and refreshment, some beer drinkers not used to sour flavour can find this acidity challenging. In this instance, providing a sweet dimension can help to balance the challenge of sour, and this sweet dimension is delivered by infusing fruit juices or even macerated wholes fruits into the beer. The result – fruit lambics – balances the sour complexity of lambics with the distinctive character of the fruit. The result can add further dimensions of sourness along with sweetness (as can happen when the acidity and sweetness of raspberry infused with a lambic base), or can add a luscious fruit sweetness to counterbalance the acidity of the base beer – as can work when peach or strawberry is used in the lambic.
Barrel aging beers can result in two different types of infusion. Beers like Rodenbach are effectively aged in huge barrels – foeders – and the flora in the wood of these barrels results in a mixed fermentation that delivers sour and fruit flavours to the final beers. Many other beers have been barrel aged – usually for about five or six months. In this second instance, the previous resident of the barrel (often bourbon, because of the quirks in bourbon distilling which dictates that all bourbons have to be aged in new wood – thereby giving a ready stock of used bourbon barrels that cannot be reused by the distillers – but also other things such as sherry, rum, whiskey or even wine) delivers flavour into the beer.
Our second beer is a quite unique infusion – which is to say that I cannot think of another brewer that has taken this particular approach. Rather than infusing the beer with the flavour of whisky by allowing the whisky to absorb into the beer from the wood of a barrel, Het Anker Brewery have directly infused whiskey into the beer. This might remind one of a ‘whisky chaser’ – a practice common in the U.S., where some drinkers match up their beer with a shot of whisky ‘shotgun’ to accompany the beer. However, the reality is that the infusion that Gouden Carolus have achieved with their whisky infused beer is much more sophisticated than this. Rather than experiencing the beer and the whisky as two separate experiences, Gouden Carolus Whisky Infused integrates the whisky flavour into the flavour of the beer. The result is an incredibly sophisticated taste experience – the heat of the whiskey is softened substantially in the beer, and the flavours in the beer are carried by the whiskey and further developed as the dovetail into the whisky’s own character.
Gouden Caroulus is a classic Belgian beer brewed by a brewery that is in its fifth generation of operation. Recently (in the last eight years), Charles LeClef has opened a distillery on the site of his historic brewery. Gouden Carolus Whisky Infused melds the heritage of his beer with the modern craft dimension delivered by the infusion of craft whisky.
Tasting this beer lets you know that Christmas is coming – it is a particularly special treat!
Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor –
Beer Style - Belgian IPA
Alcohol by Volume - 8.0% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Het Anker
Brewed in - Mechelen, Belgium
Belgian beer is noted for its complexity. Where American IPA’s started out by ‘punching the person in the face with bitterness’, and then have developed into beers that integrate essential oils, but give clear, readily identifiable flavours (for example, the classic peachy fruit associated with a New England IPA), Belgian beers have always been about layers and sophistication. The Belgian IPA style is no exception.
Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor is brewed as a homage to the Belgian IPA style – integrating the modern interpretation of the IPA into the classic depth and character of Belgian beer. Bright gold, it suggests that the beer is going to be bright and delicious. However, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor cannot be described in one or two words. Sit back and anticipate a beer that is a story that develops with each sip into a many chaptered flavour experience!
The base of this beer is a soft, sweet honey malt character layered with a complexity of different flavour notes. These flavour notes are evident before the first sip is taken – aromas or floral and geraniol (rose petals) join with a multiplicity of fruit flavours. Spice and phenolic character are promised in the aroma, and this fruit and spice follows through in the flavour of the beer.
On the palate, the sweetness of the honey and fruit is in evidence, but this is particularly balanced by the spice and bitterness of the beer. There is a bright, fresh character to the beer in both aroma and flavour – that comes through as mint, nettles and a hint of green grass freshness. In the first sips of the beer, many fruits come through – each one presenting itself as a different flavour experience. Stone fruit (peach and apricot), tropical fruit (pineapple), berry fruit (strawberry) are all present, each one contributing to what merges into what can only be described as a fruity character.
This fruit character is balanced with just enough bitterness to ensure drinkability, but not so much that bitterness becomes a cornerstone characteristic of the beer. Instead, spice provides a balancing dimension, and does so in spades.
Belgian spices are layered in this beer. White pepper, cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg and allspice all add their own dimensions to balance this beer. There is a hint of chilli heat and a suggestion of liquorice. The initial bright freshness of the beer is lifted by this complex spice character. All of this fuses with the fruit and malt sweet foundation to the beer.
Modern art often captures your attention by being bright, brash and evocative. Classic art often seeps into your unconscious. Many days later one can find that classic art is still playing around in your subconscious, and suggesting new things to you long after you first experienced it firsthand.
Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor is classic artistry in brewing.
I would suggest that the best way to enjoy it is to allow the flavours to wash over you as you drink it initially. Drinking the beer in this way will mean that – long after – the different dimensions of the beer will pop up in your subconscious, and remind you of the depth of the experience of tasting the beer. Maybe, the only thing to do is to experience a second bottle so that you can consider how layered this beer truly is.
Gouden Carolus Whisky Infused –
Beer Style - Whisky Infused Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Alcohol by Volume - 11.7% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Het Anker
Brewed in - Mechelen, Belgium
When Gouden Carolus Whisky Infused is poured, the beer presents with a deep rich mahogany colour and a tan coloured head. The colour of this beer reflects the dark ale that is the base of this beer, and (is darker than, but) suggests the depth of colour of the whisky that is infused into the beer.
The aromas of this beer give a delightful contradiction. Where the deep colour of the beer suggests a rich dark and complex flavour experience, the initial aromas promise a bright boozy dark cherry fruitiness on a base of woody malt complexity.
Boozy Christmas pudding fruit flavours combine with fresh dark cherry flavour and red apple juiciness. The cherry flavour further develops into bakewell almond tart, with sweet almond, soft, rich pastry flavours and cherry all combining to trigger the flavour of a this pastry enjoyed with a delicious alcoholic liquid accompaniment.
The base of malt character – caramel, burnt sugar, a cola cube bomb all combine with a whisky sweetness (specifically not the peaty character of some Scotch whiskies, but rather the caramel sweetness that comes through in others). A suggestion of cappuccino coffee is evident in the background, but the dark malt character is much more caramel sweetness than dark malt character.
Subtle spice provides the counterpoint to this beer, and balances to provide incredible drinkability. Oaky vanilla (reminiscent of an oaked chardonnay) combines with cinnamon, creamy nutmeg, caramelized roast chestnut, spice and a suggestion of chilli chocolate and liquorice. Coconut and peach notes develop in the complexity of beer – they pop up and surprise the drinker as a further (quite unexpected) element of complexity in the beer.
There is a luscious whisky mouthfeel in this beer. Where drinking whisky provides the challenge of the alcohol heat associated with a 40% to 60% a.b.v. shot, this beer infuses all of the complexity of the whisky, but delivers it to the drinker in a soft bundle that gently warms the chest as the beer is sipped.
It is hard to put into words the experience of tasting this beer. On one side, it is a classic Belgian ale with an added dimension. On the other side, it provides the experience of tasting a delicious whisky without the ‘burn’ that people associated with the high alcohol content of a whisky.
It doesn’t matter which perspective the drinker chooses to take on this beer. It is simply delicious!
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