Brasserie D’ Achouffe has a new beer, and it’s a unique, tasty one. The brewery is calling it “The missing link between beer and wine,” and it does have many wine- like qualities, due to the juice, skins, and seeds (also known as “must”) of dessert wine grapes. These grapes come from the Loupiac area of France, near the Sauternes region, which is famous for its sweet dessert wines.
Chris Bauweraerts, who co-founded Brasserie D’ Achouffe in 1982, told me this week: “Creating this beer was the idea of Hedwig Neven, the brewmaster of Duvel-Moortgat (which owns Achouffe.) Hedwig searched for a year before he found a winemaker in the Sauternes region that would sell him 5,000 liters of wine-must to be used in this project.”
Hedwig Neven holds a doctorate from the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven. He teaches a course on brewing and malting in the Department of Applied Biological Sciences to would be-brewers in the University town. Professor Neven speaks several languages, and joined Duvel in 1993. He became its brewmaster in 2000.
Château d’Ychouffe is the result of a blend of 60% La Chouffe golden ale wort and 40% juice of sweet dessert wine grapes from Château du Cros. The Loupiac, Barzac, and Sauternes wines are marketed as “fortified sweet wines.” Hedwig had this to say: “In order for us to obtain the sweet taste in this beer, we had to monitor the fermentation process very closely. At the moment the amount of sugar dropped to 5 degrees Plato in the beer, the fermentation was stopped by lowering the temperature in the cooling (lagering) tank to minus 1 degree Celsius,” (which is 30 degrees Fahrenheit.)
At this point, according to the press release sent out by the “Chouffe Team,” they had to choose whether the wine or beer profile should dominate. They chose to opt for the wine profile. To do this, just a small amount of hops were added to the beer, just enough so that it has only 6 International Bittering Units (IBU.) By comparison, La Chouffe has 20 IBU, and Houblon Chouffe has 50 (Note to hop-heads: this would be your go-to Achouffe beer. I’m a big fan myself.)
“There is very little carbonation (CO2) in Château d’Ychouffe, as CO2 can give a sour-ish aftertaste,” Hedwig told me recently. “However, there are plenty of residual sugars, which were intentionally left in the beer,” he added. The Chouffe Team also decided that the beer should be as clear as possible, as other dessert beers are. “There are really no turbid dessert wines on the market,” Chris told me in a recent mail.
The Chouffe Team recommends serving the 9% abv Château d’Ychouffe in a small wine or other glass that holds no more than 20 cl, and without any head/foam. They also recommend serving very cold, as a dessert wine should be, and as an aperitif or drink with a dessert. Cheesecake, anyone? Other suggested food pairings could be foie gras, and a soft, but not overpowering, blue cheese.
Pouring without any head was no problem when I tasted the beer in early March, due to the low levels of carbon dioxide present. I thought the beer was very good and fairly unique. As a fan of sweet wines, I perhaps even expected a bit more sweetness, but the La Chouffe wort and even low level of hopping cut the sweetness back to where it was evident in the background, but not overpowering for my tastes. I also did not taste any coriander, a staple in the La Chouffe beer, but which is probably out of place in a dessert beer.
The brew definitely had notes of apricots, citrus, muscat, and orange, with a hint of fruit sugars, with a medium mouthfeel. I found it more fruity than sweet.
A tasting companion reported that, while she holds a strong dislike for sweet dessert wines, she really enjoyed the Château d’Ychouffe. “I find it an interesting balance between beer and wine, not too hoppy, but also not too sweet. I would drink more if I could buy it here in the U.S.,” she remarked.
Sadly for us beer lovers stateside, Château d’Ychouffe will only be sold at the Chouffe brewery shop in Achouffe, as well as the Duvel Depot shop in Breendonk-Puurs, and the on-line shop of Achouffe. It will sell for 9.95 euros per 75 cl bottle, and 12,000 numbered bottles were produced. Get one. Or two……
If you do happen to make it to Belgium for the Zythos Bier Fest (ZBF) in Leuven on April 26-27, a surprise awaits. Château d’Ychouffe will be poured at the Duvel-Moortgat booth, as will Duvel Tripel Hop 2014. (Both in bottled form.) Duvel will also pour the brand-new Vedett IPA and a reformulated Chouffe Bière du Soleil from kegs. “The four beers will be new creations!!!” Chris told me.
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