We made it! The first day of spring is here! This winter no one that I know had to resort to cannibalism or cutting open a Tauntaun to survive the much-less-than-brutal conditions. This amazing weather makes me delay my inevitable March “Irish Beer Style” reviews and forces me to focus on something much more appropriate. The first time I had La Chouffe was on tap at Gutherie’s Tavern in Chicago, IL. We pitted it against every wit, wheat, and Belgian in the house and it still came out the winner. At the time I did not know it was a golden and left very impressed with this beer that was unbeknownst to me until that evening. Well, that started a search to find this beer and when I did I knew that I’d be sipping it on a beautiful sunny day and today is no exception. Let’s pour!
Note: After coming to the realization that this beer is more classified as a Belgian Golden Strong Ale and not a true Golden ale, I adjusted the scoring accordingly. However, I have left my initial “complaints.” You’ll see my defense in the “Total” score summary.
Aroma 10/12 A wonderful blending of golden/Belgian styles that initially leans on the Belgian yeast and the usual accompaniment of spice (cloves, coriander, etc). It doesn’t begin very floral, shows a camouflaged warmth (8.0% ABV), and is almost like a witbier with the addition of a dash of warm caramel sweetness. As it warms the Belgian notes must have been told to sit down and shut up because the aromas of the golden ale are in full effect. The floral note is very bright and borders on a citrus astringency. The Belgian yeast note refuses to be quieted, however, and remains in a more subtle form than its earlier incarnation.
Appearance 3/3 This looks like a Belgian should, but with much higher sediment than expected; no doubt a result from the bottle conditioning. I mean, I like a little something in there for flavor, but dang! I’m going to have to pour the rest of this beer very gingerly. The color is a bright, translucent gold and topped with a nearly pure white head. The head was nearly perfect in size (two fingers) and remained for an average time before coating the surface.
Flavor 19/20 Right off the bat, this beer squashes any qualms that it might not be a true golden ale. The floral notes are unmistakable and delicate. They’re accompanied by the same bright, nearly astringent note as in the aroma, but thankfully that note is much lighter (and more complimentary) this time and lets the floral notes soak up the spotlight. As you hold the beer in the mouth, the Belgian theme begins to take shape as the yeast and a particularly earthy blend of the spices grow in strength. The spices border on becoming too spicy, especially considering the delicate floral notes from earlier that I happen to appreciate a great deal more than the spices. Once the Belgian notes enter the picture, the golden ale elements are completely usurped. Unfortunately, not even a good wine-taster’s slurp can bring them back. No wonder we thought this was a Belgian witbier! The finish has the signature of the spices all over it, in both an earthy flavor and a quickly-fading prickle on the tongue. The warmth is noticeable at this time as well and the aftertaste is more of the same, with the only notable exception being that it allows the warmth to become even more noticeable on the sides of the mouth.
Mouthfeel 4/5 The bottle conditioning in this bottle was simply too strong. Even after prying off the bottle cap, foam slowly started to rise and overflow from the bottle top! I’m OK with the alcohol warmth not being camouflaged; it actually goes rather well with the earthy spices, Belgian goodness, and leaves the same feel on the tongue as the busy carbonation. I’m not OK with the carbonation. It’s actually good while in the mouth: tiny, unobtrusive, light, and delicate. But when swallowing, it seems lightly prickly on the tongue and combines with similar prickly sensations from the warmth and spices. The carbonation even seems to pop dryly on the tongue like a champagne! This is not something I wanted in my delectable golden ale. The mouthfeel is definitely that of a Belgian strong ale.
Overall Impression 9/10 While disappointed that the “golden” aspect of this beer was so brief, the Belgian strong ale that we are left with is excellent. In fact, if I were to be evaluating this from an exclusively “Belgian strong” point of view, I could see the overall score being much higher (Note: which, of course, it ended up being). It has everything that a Belgian strong should: good warmth, spicy, and bubbly carbonation. I suppose I was hoping that delicate, fragile golden ale characteristics would be more present and permeate more aspects of this brew.
Total 45/50 As a Belgian strong ale, this beer is top notch and I can easily see it ranking close to a perfect score. If you read the BJCP description, it’s a virtual checklist for this beer. It hits every single mark on the nose and does so in excellent style. I feel like a whiny child, “But I wanted a goooolllldeeeeeen…..” According to BJCP, I should shut my mouth because this beer is right on the money and I’m essentially criticizing Cindy Crawford for having a mole. Duh! The mole is part of the goodness!
Anyway, I stand by my call since all the characteristics that I found were “correct” and appropriate for a Belgian Strong. However, Brasserie d’Achouffe threw the word “golden” in there and got me all discombobulated. I really was expecting more of a golden ale (a style that I absolutely love), but instead got a top notch Belgian Golden Strong. I feel a little dumb having not known more about the style differences initially, but do feel a bit of solace in the fact that I will be able to better differentiate between the two in the future.
Oh, and you’ll definitely want to to find this beer this spring/summer. Just remember to leave some for me
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!