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Poperings Hommel Bier

Near the Channel ports and battlefields of the French-Belgian border, a hop-growing region spreads toward the town of Ypres. It is a small region, but one rich in the folklore of hops and beer. Its hop capital is slightly smaller town, Poperinge.

Neither town has a brewery, but there are three in the yet-smaller community of Watou. There is even a statue of an unidentified brewer in its main square. One of the local breweries is the family-owned enterprise of Van Eecke. This began as the estate brewery of a local ch‰teau in 1642. Van Eecke's speciality is called Poperings Hommel Bier.

Hommel is the local abbreviation of humulus, from the botanical name for the hop plant. Confusingly, it also means bumble bee in Flemish. Poperings Hommelbier is a hoppy, golden-bronze, ale. it is made from a blend of winter, summer and aromatic pale malts, at a starting density of 16 Plato; soft water, from the brewery's own well; Brewers' Gold and Hallertau hops, both grown in Poperinge; and top-fermented with a very attenuative yeast that precipitates quickly. It is primed with white sugar, and re-yeasted for bottle-conditioning. The finished beer has 7.5 per cent alcohol by volume and 40 units of bitternes, though it tastes lighter on both counts.

Some drinkers feel, and I am inclined to agree, that it has a faintly honeyish yeast character - or is this thought deposited by the bumble bee?

There is also a rose-like floweriness, from the bottle-conditioning. The beer certainly has a great deal of hop aroma and flavour, remniscent of orange-zest. It also has a late, spicy, cumin-seed, dryness, again from the hop.

This beer is very refreshing and cleansing when served lightly chilled. Try it before a meal - as I have done many times at a famous cuisine ˆ la bière restaurant in Watou. The name of the restaurant? Hommelhof...

Published: JULY 1, 1999

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