Brouwerij De Koninck - Winter Koninck
Malts:Triple dose of caramel malt
This month we have the admittedly unexpected pleasure of bringing you a seasonal brew from one of Michael’s favorite Belgian breweries, Antwerp’s De Koninck. Unexpected because we had asked them late last year to get this great beer for the club, and were told that it would not be possible to produce the quantity that we needed in 750 ml. cork-finished bottles – but then magically, our original request was filled and the beer landed with our name on the boxes just a few months ago. A mad scramble to get it all in place ensued, and we are now proud to deliver it to you.
On a typical March day in Chicago, with snow flying on a Monday after a Sunday of 70 degrees and sunshine, Michael met with a long-time associate, fellow beer lover and author Ray Daniels, at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Brasserie Jo, to share a bottle.
Fancy a beer? I thought today that we might try the king of beers. You know the king of beers, don’t you? Here we are, De Koninck. Of course, De Koninck means king. It’s Dutch, or Flemish, for “the king,” and it’s the name of a very famous brewery in Flanders, in Belgium, in the city of Antwerp, the biggest city of Flanders. It’s their local beer and it’s an ale rather than a lager.
I was amazed when I first discovered De Koninck, and I said to the owner of the brewery, a remarkable man, “Why didn’t you switch to lager when other European brewers were switching to lager?” And he said, “Oh, I don’t know, I guess we couldn’t afford lagering equipment.” And so ale stayed the famous beer of Antwerp. I remember being in a hotel there once and asking the lady behind the counter where I could find De Koninck, and she said, “Ah, even the British know our famous beer of Antwerp.” She was so proud of the city’s beer, and I love that idea. They are very proud of their beer at De Koninck.
Their regular beer is about 5 percent alcohol, an amber ale with lovely silky malt character, and a very nice Saaz hop aroma. This beer is a bit special. It’s six and a half percent alcohol, so it’s bigger all around, but from the same characteristic style.
One of the great things about beer is that it’s a really sociable drink, that you drink with friends. And whenever I’m in this city or that I like to meet my local beer buddies and have a drink with them. If I’ve got something new to sample, I particularly like to sample it with someone who is a bit of a beer expert in their own right. I have my own opinions about beers, but I love to hear the opinions of other people, especially if they know what they’re talking about. Now I’m in Chicago today, sampling a Belgian beer, in an Alsatian restaurant. I’m in Brasserie Jo, which is named after a guy called Jean Joho, which sounds a bit like a city neighborhood to me. Actually it’s in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, a pretty fashionable neighborhood, and I’m with Ray Daniels, who’s the author of the book “Designing Great Beers.” And he’s also done sterling work organizing the Real Ale Festivals in Chicago. So shall we have a shot at this, Ray?
Ray Daniels: Sounds like fun. Welcome to Chicago.
MJ: I get the pretty clean, malty nose. Do you got a clean, malty nose?
RD: Yes, and a bit of hop or something of a citrus note in there, almost like a starfruit or something like that.
MJ: I wonder, if there’s citrus in there, it could be that they also used some Styrian hops. Or do you think it’s more like a characteristic of the house yeast?
RD: I suspect it’s a hop flavor, could be Styrian.
MJ: It’s got a nice bitterness, but the bitterness is sort of softened by the malty roundness of the beer, I think. You know, it’s sort of like a fist of steel in a velvet glove.
RD: Yes, it’s a very, very luxurious maltiness.
MJ: Now what would your use for this beer be, for example?
RD: Well, this is a good drinking beer. It’s very drinkable, like the De Koninck ale itself.
MJ: For a beer that’s six and a half percent it is, as I often find myself saying of Belgian beers, dangerously drinkable.
RD: Definitely. But in any beer that’s got this much malt to it, I always suggest pairing with food – some sort of a steak, some nice meat, maybe pork actually would go really well with this.
MJ: Yes, there is a bit of sweetness in the beer that might would be good with pork. And that would be very suitable in this Alsatian restaurant here where we are. Would you have sauerkraut with the pork, or would that screw it all up, do you think? You know, I try very hard to encourage people to think about the types of grain that go into the beer, and the types of hops that go into a beer, because otherwise I don’t see how anyone is going to respect beer, to give it the respect that it’s due.
RD: I think hops are getting a good following amongst the beer aficionados that pay attention to what sorts of hops flavors that they like. Not a big group, but certainly people who are just drinkers and not brewers.
MJ: Yes, and they may not be a big group of people, but they are the opinion formers. I think that some of the people who are members of my beer club are in that group. They are willing to spend money on a really good beer, or a really interesting beer. We get quite a lot of playback from them about that, they tend to be very demanding. We don’t get playback rejecting a beer because it’s too characterful, we tend to get playback rejecting a beer because they say it’s not extreme enough.
RD: Yes, indeed.
MJ: Do you get a sense of layers of malt flavor in there?
RD: There are dark fruit flavors in there, biscuit and caramel.
MJ: Sometimes I like to just throw those malt types into an article because the very names you just mentioned, biscuit malt, caramel malt, chocolate malt - they have those names because that’s what they taste like.
MJ: Yet if you as a writer say that a beer has a biscuit-y maltiness, half the time you will get someone who says that you are being pretentious.
RD: Right, I try to use them in their common sense in that there are biscuit flavors in there, and caramel flavors in there, so that hopefully people will understand that.
MJ: I suppose. I use them and maybe try and reinforce it, by saying that it tastes biscuity because it’s got some biscuit malt in it. I’m the same way with the flavors in hops. The hops that taste very citrusy – just fancy that, they’ve got a compound called limonene in them. There are hops that taste rather celery-like and they naturally have similar chemicals in them to the chemicals that are in celery. So you’re not really being pretentious, you’re just teasing out the flavors that are there. Well, a votre santé!
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