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De Dochter van de Korenaar L'Ensemble

First a few words about Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar - arguably the best Belgian brewery most people haven't heard of. Certainly in the UK, I get the impression it's firmly below the beer geek radar.

There's quite a bit to talk about here - almost everything connected with the brewery is worth a sentence or two. Let's start with the name.

It translates literally as 'Daughter of the Ear of Corn' or, perhaps more elegantly, 'Daughter of the Grain' - there is in fact an ear of corn on all the labels. This apparently derives from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was big in the Low Countries) who, in around 1550, is said to have declared he preferred the 'juice of the daughter of the grain' over the 'blood of the bunch of grapes'. That's to say his preferred tipple was beer rather than wine.

Brewer Ronald Mengerink and his wife Monique are Dutch but the brewery, which started in 2007, is very much in Belgium - just. It's in a place called Baarle-Hertog which is a crazy historic anomaly. It has its origins in the Treaty of Maastricht (no, not that one) signed between Belgium and the Netherlands in 1843. It consists of 24 bits of Belgium (some no larger than a field) entirely surrounded by the Netherlands. To add to the fun, those 24 bits of Belgium also surround seven smaller bits of the Netherlands. I've included a map (with the brewery marked with a dot on H8) but Wikipedia will tell you more here.

As the border runs through the middle of houses and shops, the current coronavirus lock-down has has interesting consequences. It's been more stringent in Belgium than the Netherlands so those parts of shops which are in Belgium have been closed while the parts in the Netherlands have remained open. What larks!

Since the brewery was founded in 2007 it's had to move and expand (while carefully remaining in Belgium - perhaps not the easiest thing to do in Baarle-Hertog) and the current premises were in fact newly built from the cellar up. The cellar is crucial because one thing Dochter van de Korenaar seems to specialise in is barrel-ageing - most of the beers have appears in either oak-aged, spirit or wine cask-aged versions over the years. Every one I have tried has been exceptional. A post on the informative Facebook page (here) shows no fewer that 450 oak casks doing their stuff in the brewery cellar.

That's not to say the regular range is to be sniffed at. For me, stand outs include Belle-Fleur IPA (6%) which neatly illustrates the difference between a well-hopped beer and an over-hopped beer. The same can be said the the superb Extase (8.5%) - a decidedly Belgian take on your double IPA. And while we're talking about IPAs, try and lay your hands on La Renaissance (7%), which is an 'English-style' IPA aged for various lengths of time in white Burgundy barrels. This is world classic stuff.

Turning now to the beer in hand, L'Ensemble is a 13% barley wine, fermented with both beer and wine yeasts. The hops are all European - Pilgrim, East Kent Goldings, Bramling Cross and First Gold. 45 bitterness units counterbalance what could otherwise be perhaps an excessively malt-accented beer. It really is a classic barley wine - there's sweet malt and dark fruit on the nose which all carries through to the taste with notes of caramel, dates and dried fruits. It's all balanced by the underpinning bitterness which leads to a warming finish. Glorious stuff.

Of course, since this is Dochter van de Korenaar the lily has been duly gilded with various barrel-aged versions. Perhaps the more remarkable is that which has spent 250 days in Italian Montalcino red wine casks, which further blurs the beer-wine boundary.

I hope this brief post has whetted your appetite for this exceptional brewery. Seek out its beer and try them.

Apart from being owned by a Dutchman and being located in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, all of the brewery's beers have French names. This is because the family sold their French holiday home to set up the brewery.