Ever since Pierre Celis revived the Belgian style of wheat beer in the 1960s, variations on the theme have been blossoming in his own country and some of its neighbors. One of the most interesting is from The Netherlands.
There is both a common ancestry and a rivalry between Belgium and The Netherlands. Though the Belgians were identified as tribes by Julius Caesar, their country was for centuries part of The Netherlands. "Nether" indicates "low". Modern Belgium and The Netherlands occupy their own stretches of the low-lying, flat, coastal rim of Europe, where a delta is formed by the continent's westerly rivers: the Schelde, the Meuse (Maas, in Flemish/Dutch) and the Rhine.
The Netherlands becomes predominantly Protestant. Netherlands' provinces such as South Holland, North Holland and Friesland have more of a gin tradition, and drinking is more likely to be done indoors.
Belgium is on the Southern side of the delta; The Netherlands to the North. When the two countries divided, religion was an issue. Belgium is predominantly Roman Catholic. Cross the border, and in the Southernmost provinces of The Netherlands, Catholicism for a time prevails. along with small breweries, pavement cafés and a beer culture. Farther north, The Netherlands becomes predominantly Protestant. Netherlands' provinces such as South Holland, North Holland and Friesland have more of a gin tradition, and drinking is more likely to be done indoors.
Ask a Belgian what is good about his country, and he might talk of fine food, good beer and an expansive attitude to life. Inquire of a Netherlander and he might give more emphasis to ingenuity, enterprise and trade.
The most "Belgian" city in The Netherlands is Maastricht. This border town, historically held by The Netherlands for strategic reasons, is at a crossing point on the river Maas. It is today a city of cafes, and a happy hunting ground for the beer-lover.
There are five breweries in or around Maastricht. Heineken owns two of them, Brand and De Ridder. Three are independent: Alfa, De Leeuw and Gulpener.
The latter, in the nearby village of Gulpen, was established in 1825 as a farm. Gulpen is orchard and cattle country. The village is on the river of the same name, which flows into the Maas. The waters rise in the Ardennes, and the brewery has its own wells, sunk into sandstone. The oldest corners of the building are also made from sandstone.
The brewery's products include Mestreechs Aajt (similar to a Lambic); Sjoes (a blend of a sweet "old brown" lager and a hoppy Pilsener) and a Dortmunder, which has already been offered to members of the Real Beer Tour. Korenwolf was inspired by the Belgian Wit style, but has its own twists. Its name, Korenwolf, means hamster. The notion of dubbing as a "corn wolf" an animal as small as this caged household pet is typical of the country. The Netherlanders, living in a tiny and physically vulnerable country, have an affection for all that is small, industrious and prudent.
The hamster gathers grain in summer and stores it for the winter. Its interest in cereals led to its being on the label of what might be termed a "multi-grain wheat beer". Korenwolf (4.0w; 5.0v) is made from wheat, barley, rye and spelt. It is very lightly hopped, with two varieties being grown experimentally near the brewery: Herald (originally from England) and Taurus (from Germany). In addition to the usual coriander and Curacao orange peels elderflowers are also used. A further unusual feature is a two-stage fermentation, first with a top yeast, then a bottom one. Clearly, the ingenuity of The Netherlanders has been at work here.
"Other brewers thought I was crazy when I started making specialities," said the brewery's principal, Paul Rutten, when I first met him, nearly 20 years ago. Rutten, fourth generation of his family to be involved in the company, added: "When people are in a cafe, they should not only discuss football and politics -- the beers should give them something to talk about, too."
Tasting note: Aromatic, with a flowery, earthy, perfume. Big, fruity, attack. Full of flavor. For a beer that is primarily intended to refresh, Korenwolf is distinctive and quite complex. It contrives also to be both satisfying and appetising.
Food pairings: A refreshing, summery, aperitif. Or try it with a grainy, nutty, salad -- especially if there are also fruity flavors in the dressing or garnish. Or with a fruity, creamy dessert. A fruit fool?
Published: JUNE 19, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online
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