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Beer one of my recent trip to Brussels was on Grande Place at the new outlet for the Caulier beer brand. It also owns the Toccalmatto brewery in Italy and a few of theirs feature on the menu. I opted for Dr Caligari, an overclocked raspberry Berliner weisse of 6.3% ABV. It's definitely pink and has a huge and sweet aroma of all kinds of summer berries: strawberry first, then all those raspberries, and a kick of cherry to finish. It's not jammy, thankfully, but the downside is that it's quite thin: unforgiveable at the strength. The sourness is too restrained for my liking also. After the initial fruity euphoria I grew increasingly disappointed with it, dismissing it as too much of an alcopop by the end. Such is life with my fickle palate. What's next?

Another brewery? The Wolf foodhall had recently opened when I visited in January 2020, and the handsome brewery out back, Flow, was not yet functional. It has since come up to speed and there are three house beers on the menu but only one was available when I swung by in August. That was Bright White, a witbier. I wanted to like it but it's not a great example, being heavy and a little soapy, lacking spices and flowers. The aroma is bang on, and its best feature: brimming with fresh lemon zest and wholegrain bread. After the lacklustre foretaste, however, there's an abrupt finish. Oh well. Wolf is a superb addition to the foodie scene in central Brussels and I will definitely be back as soon as I can to try more of the food offer and my luck with the other Flow beers.

Speaking of food, I mentioned on Monday that a visit was paid to beery restaurant Nüetnigenough. They've always had a strong presence from Alvinne on the menu, and one of them is now a house beer. Nu 't is Genoeg is their Mano Negra imperial stout which has been aged in port barrels though is still 10% ABV. Alvinne's beers tend to be very dry but this one had an excellent richness, tasting of churro sauce and coconut. There's more chocolate in the aroma, as well as a hint of sour wine. That and a tannic finish are the only contributions I could detect from the port, but it's a fine beer, offering a perfect balance of dark and sumptuous decadence with a delicate balance of complementary characteristics. And goes great with the bloempanch starter.

I couldn't go past the collaboration Alvinne did with De Molen, not least because of the name: Aeolus & Morpheus. It was brewed as a one-off for Borefts 2018 and I guess is still knocking around. They describe it as a "funky imperial stout" and it's another 10%-er. It's a very Alvinne sort of aroma: the dry, musty quality of Morpheus the house yeast blend. And it is super attenuated with no sugar left, or body for that matter. What remains is an oaky, corky funk and the spiced grape of red vermouth. It was a shock at first but I settled into it. The cocoa quality of a big De Molen imperial stout is still detectable, even after Morpheus has picked it clean. Not an easy beer, but I knew that would be the case when I went in.

Last year I gave some low marks to the St-Louis gueze Fond Tradition. This year I figured I may as well be hung for a kriek as a geuze, so here's Fond Tradition Kriek, bearing a new and classy minimalist label which hopefully fools no one. OG FT's MO was its lack of sweetness, allowing for a pleasing tart acidity to be enjoyed even when there's no proper oude geuze complexity. This is definitely sweeter, but not completely sugared up. A couple of extra years of ageing and 6.5% ABV have put a few extra euros on the price tag but I think this stands to it. It's no multidimensional flavourbomb but has a pleasing mellowness next to rounded cherry fruit and a light tartness. While it's enjoyable, and represents a useful halfway point between the syrupy stuff and fully aged kriek, it wears the pricetag of the latter and I can't help but think you get a much better bang for your buck with Boon's Oude Kriek offerings. It's nice to have tried it but I'm in no rush back.

When it comes to the mass-market dark sour styles of Belgium, I tend to be a Flemish red man more than an oude bruin one. That said, I gave Ichtegem's Oud Bruin a spin, despite not having enjoyed the Flemish Red on a previous occasion. Surprise: it was tasty. Despite being 5.5% ABV and highly attenuated there was plenty of body, giving it an almost creamy feel. The flavours were gentle and rounded to match this; no acidic sharp edges. I got cherry most prominently with some exotic tamarind and date. Oude bruin can have a tendency to taste like watered-down HP Sauce, but this one showed lots of positive Flemish red vibes, and if that means it's not to style I don't care, I'll take it.

Everything is a brand extension these days. De Poes was a single blonde ale when I had it in 2017; now it's a full range, from which I tried the Bruin this time. All of 8.5% ABV, it had me expecting big and rich caramel and chocolate notes but turned out to be thin and a little acrid. There's a lot of very dry roast in both the aroma and the foretaste, tongue-scraping in a not so pleasant way. Before finishing there's a sudden and dramatic volte-face, bringing in an almost cloying cola sweetness. The combination didn't work for me at all.

If there's one brand extension I am absolutely on board for, it's Les Musketeers' Troubadour Magma. Indian Summer is a lighter version of the sainted double IPA, landing at only 6.5% ABV, down from the regular 9%. It looks the same: a deep orange glow. The aroma offers nondescript citrus and a few Belgian esters for the sake of it -- but nothing spectacular. The old Magma charm comes though on tasting, however: fresh peach and mandarin with highlights of passionfruit and mango. It does lack the heft, though. One of Magma's cunning tricks is how it leverages the alcohol to enhance the hop flavour without turning the beer itself hot. This version has a certain thinness about it that feels somewhat compromised. I would be wowed by the hoppy freshness and complementary Belgian character if it had any other name, but its citing of Magma leaves it open to accusations of not being proper Magma, which it's not. Stick with the original is my advice.

With Brussels Central as our nearest station we almost went to BrewDog Brussels a couple of times, only finally succumbing towards the end of the stay. What got me in was a showcase of a new brewer, Brasserie à Roulettes. It's based in Ellezelles and makes an IPA which puns on the name: Hell's Ale. This is a medium 5.5% ABV and a medium orange colour. It's a little juicy and a little savoury -- mandarin up front and caraway later. There's a touch of farmhouse spicing for extra complexity, but not much. It's interesting but no great shakes. I'd be happy if I brewed it, if that's not too much damnation by faint praise.

Also on tap, and at the same strength, was Comtes de Walhain pale ale. This one is a clear yellow colour with a proper west-coast aroma of citrus and dank. A peachy foretaste leads through to golden delicious apples with pear and lychee, and then a harder waxy bitterness in the finish. While this is another understated beer, I really liked the clean distinctness of its flavour elements. This one is definitely built for pinting.

Across the table was Ram Raid sour stout from Legitimate Industries in Leeds. At 11.6% ABV and... challenging... this is much more a festival beer than a pub one. The aroma is a sharp blend of bitter cocoa and bitter cherry. The texture is surprisingly creamy: I was expecting Alvinne-dry. There's more of that cherry in the taste and lots of dark chocolate plus a very mild tartness. The combination of silky and funky is an odd one, but it works. While strictly a sipper, it's great fun. I didn't realise how much I had missed daft geek-bait like this.

This leg of the trip ends, appropriately, on Swansong, a triple IPA from Siphon. A dark and hazy orange colour, it smells like double IPA used to: heavy and resinous, promising a beery napalm that will kill your sensory faculties. Though 10% ABV it wasn't as hot as I expected, nor as fruity. There's an odd, earthy, mushroom quality, and none of the palate-coating sugar and oil I was anticipating. While not wrong or off, it didn't land right for me. Them's the breaks.

That's as far as we explored in Belgium. Next up we head south to experience quite a different beer culture in a neighbouring country.