Brasserie D'Ecaussinnes - La Penneffoise
This month’s feature selection, a unique Belgian blond ale that is brewed with French prunes, was admired and endorsed for use in the Rare Beer Club by Michael Jackson prior to his death in August of this year. We will continue to bring our members a line-up of beers that were, in fact, selected by Michael as part of our usual calendar preplanning process. Although there have been, and may continue to be, instances where we don’t get a given brew to land at the U.S. port on precisely the date desired, we actually have always been quite efficient in maintaining a view to the future in terms of which brewers we will turn to for particular beers, and when we would like to see them featured. It was Michael’s wish to have the club outlive him, and despite the fact that we had naively hoped that day would never come we are now tasked with carrying on and doing some things that might make him proud. Sharing Ecassinnes Penneffoise is one of those.
I tasted this intriguing beer with Michael over lunch in the Antwerp Hilton café at the end of June while we were in town for Beer Passion Weekend, a Belgian brewers’ festival hosted by our friend, publisher Ben Vinken. Sheltered from the frequent early summer rains under a large white tent directly in the center of Antwerp’s Groenplaats —which means “Green Place,” despite the fact that there are only a handful of city-maintained planter boxes in this historic central square— it is a charming and approachable event that brings beer lovers in Belgium’s second city together for 3 days. It’s nowhere near the size of Denver’s mammoth annual Great American Beer Festival, but in recent years the growth of artisanal brewing’s youth movement regularly seen at the GABF (both producers and drinkers) is palpable in Antwerp, as well. As a result, there are a number of enterprising brewers who are offering some rather creative styles, even by the standards of this extremely eclectic brewing nation. It appears, in some ways, to be a noble and rational attempt to prevent an exodus of the young beer drinking market into the ever-open arms of Stella Artois and Jupiler. American-style IPA hoppiness is getting a lot of attention, as witnessed by several relatively un-Belgian bitter versions now available on our shelves. Fruit beers, some of which have been softened of late to offer a more mass-market appeal, along with more historic lambic and gueuze styles, refuse to wither away.
Hugues Van Poucke of Ecaussinnes chose a regionally-famous plum as his additive of choice in creating Penneffoise, which begins with a base beer of the brewery’s blond ale. In prune form and individually pitted by hand, the dried fruit is added during fermentation and adds a wonderful richness to the brew. It has a deep reddish color, and a complex nose that offers some fruitiness and some malty sweetness. The texture is weighty and pleasant, and the flavors offer a harmonious, mildly sweet and slightly sour interplay between fruit, malt, and gentle hopping. It does a graceful job of carrying its 8% alcohol, so should be consumed with a bit of caution. While delicious as an aperitif or cocktail beer, it will also do very well with savory dishes like pork roast, ham, or beef fajitas. Michael and I enjoyed ours with some delicious chicken and ham croquettes, and we were a tad late for his book-signing at the festival that afternoon. We blamed our tardiness on the service at the café - but both knew that the real culprit was just another weekend lunch in Antwerp, accompanied by great beer and warm company.
While delicious as an aperitif or cocktail beer, it will also do very well with savory dishes like pork roast, ham, or beef fajitas.
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