Stay alert. Unlimited exercise. See your parents, but only one at a time. The advice on what to do right now is confusing and distressing. Fortunately, I have a simpler piece of advice: make your way to The Dove on Broadway Market in Hackney, queue politely 2 metres from anyone else, and buy four bottles of delicious Belgian beer for the price of three.
The queue varies, depending on when you go. On my first visit on a Thursday evening I can rock directly up to the serving hatch and place my order. On my return on a sunny Saturday afternoon I find myself waiting in line somewhat longer. A relief, frankly. Many pubs are struggling with ongoing fixed costs and no income to pay them. Transitioning to a bottle shop is better than nothing, say the friendly staff behind the bar, but they’re still serving less than half the beer they would on a normal weekend.
In happier, less pandemic-y times, we’ll all head back to The Dove and enjoy a few pints on draught. Until then, takeaway will have to do.
Orval, Abbaye d’Orval
Even if you’ve never tried this beer, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the iconic bottle. While I was of course intrigued and inspired by this beer’s towering reputation, I was also slightly motivated by my desire to keep one bottle as a candle holder.
There’s more to this beer than just the bottle, however. It scores 99/100 on RateBeer and 94% on BeerAdvocate. Even the notoriously fickle shoppers on BeerHawk give it a respectable 84%. People really lose their shit over this.
While Orval’s label says it weighs in at 6.2% ABV, allegedly secondary fermentation in the bottle can get it as high as 7.2%. Having spent much of the last ten weeks locked in a one bedroom flat, this is the kind of variety and uncertainty that reminds me there is joy to be found in life.
As I open the bottle I’m immediately struck by how different this is to the bitters and IPAs I’m used to. Orval has a dusky amber body, clearly unfiltered. The aroma is sweet, yeasty and fruity: lemon zest, strawberry, and hints of bread. The palate is a mix of citrus, strawberry, toffee and funky notes.
I’m intrigued, but not blown away. It feels a bit like when I tasted my first hoppy IPA: I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I could appreciate the craft that had gone into making it.
Oude Geuze Boon a l’Ancienne
I’ve had my share of barrel aged stouts, and even a couple of barrel aged brown ales. But barrels weren’t always the purview of hype breweries. They’ve long been a part of brewing Lambics.
With Orval I was taken aback by the shape of the bottle. This time I’m more impressed by the top: instead of a cap or a screw top, I’m faced with a Champagne style cork and basket. It makes opening it up an extremely satisfying and decadent process.
Geuze Boon pours copper and cloudy. The aroma is decidedly tart and funky, apple cider vinegar, raspberry, and ripe brie. On the palate it’s dry and bitter at first, with pink grapefruit and granny smith apple leading the way, but beneath that there’s rich malty notes. The oak character from barrel aging gives a dry, tannic finish.
The mouthfeel is perhaps a little light and leaves me wanting more; the metallic twang a little offputting. But one way or another, I’m still wanting more. Perhaps I’ll pick up another bottle on my next trip.
Looking back, I cannot overstate the importance of serving this at the right temperature. My first impression drinking this 10 minutes out of the fridge was distinctly disappointed. It improved dramatically after warming up a while longer to the 12-14C recommended.
I picked this beer up on my second trip, in search of a light, refreshing beer to sip in the park while I enjoyed unlimited exercise. When I inevitably forget about it until my return home, it eventually pours a gently cloudy blonde with, as I’m told many Tinder messages request, “enthusiastic head”.
The aroma is delightful. Rich and yet light, sweet and sour, it brings a mix of freshly baked, yeasty bread, lemon, and pine sap. It continues to delight on the palate: more of that yeast I’m learning to expect from Belgian beers, with plenty of lemon peel and notes of strawberry and banana. It’s a little bit sour, a little bit savoury, a little bit of everything. Fortunately, the mouthfeel is just thick enough to prevent me quaffing the whole glass in one go.
Dipping my toe into the world of Belgian beer, I was expecting to find something different. I was not expecting to find a new favourite. I’ll be rushing back for more Saison Dupont to see me through the summer.