October 21, 2012

The Brü Revü – Roving Report: Alvinne Brewery

This is a Roving Report from my dad who just recently returned from a beer trip to Belgium.  I will add more Roving Reports as he sends them, and I have time to edit them.  Enjoy!

Alvinne Brewery or PicoBrauwerij Alvinne – Moen, Belgium
Before I left for Belgium, I put together a small list of Belgian brewers whose beers I had never tasted and particularly wanted to try. One of them was Alvinne Brewery.  In our first city, Brussels, I was only able to find their beer at the Delerium Café, and they only had one – the Alvinne Extra, which was shown on the bottle to be an IPA (more on this later).  Although I’m not a particular fan of IPA’s, I found the Alvinne Extra was not nearly as hoppy as a typical American IPA, and I thought it was not bad.  It’s made with a combination of Magnum, Chinook, and Cascade hops, and weighs in at 7.0 % abv.  

At our second stop in Ghent, I still had no luck finding any beers from Alvinne, but I had figured out that the little town of Moen, where Alvinne is located, was only about 15 or 20 kilometers off our planned route from Ghent to Poperinge.  They are only open for visitors on two Saturday afternoons per month, and the day we were driving to Poperinge turned out to be one of those days! 

Alvinne was created by two homebrewers, Davy Spiessens and Glenn Castelein.  It started out in a wooden shed in their backyard, and in 2007 they moved to a facility in the town of Heule.  In 2010 they were joined by Marc de Keukeleire, who brought with him the Morpheus yeast which has become their trademark.  Last year they bought an abandoned factory building in the town of Moen, in which they installed a 20 hl brew kit and 6 fermenters.  They do everything themselves, they have no employees, and they all have full-time “real” jobs as well.

The Alvinne brewers like to experiment, and their beers cover a wide range of styles, but there are a couple of things they are particularly proud.  One is that they have selected and cultivated their own house yeast, which they call Morpheus.  The other is barrel aging.  They are experimenting with the effects of American oak vs French oak, new barrels vs old barrels and various combinations of them all.

After a little discussion about our tastes in beer, Marc decided I should try the Morpheus Dark and my wife should try the Morpheus Tripel.  The Morpheus Dark was originally labeled as a Russian Imperial Stout.  Marc explained to me that they originally labeled some of their beers as styles that are popular and sell well, so the Morpheus dark became a Russian Imperial Stout.  He said that after a little more thought, the brewers decided this wasn’t truly a Russian Imperial Stout, but what they would call a Belgian Strong Ale.  If it were made in an abbey, they would call it a quadrupeI.  I don’t care what you call it, but this is my kind of beer!  Made with 7 different malts and weighing in at 10.2 abv, it’s a tantalizing  brew with several layers of flavor.  To continue with the thought of relabeling the beers, the Alvinne Extra IPA I had at Delerium is now called Morpheus Extra RA, and is billed as a Belgian Blonde (which I think is more accurate).

After I quaffed the Morpheus Dark with relish, Marc decided I should next have a Mano Negra.  This is a 10.0 abv concoction that Alvinne is calling a Belgian Imperial Stout.  I believe they’ve invented a new style!  I could get into this.  It is labeled at 80 IBU, but somehow it didn’t seem that bitter to me. 

That would have been a good place to stop, but Marc wanted to be sure we tried one of their oak-aged beers, so he popped open a Cuvee D’Erpigny.  This is an oak-aged amber barleywine, aged in French Monbazillac barrels, that is 15.2% abv!  He poured it out into 3 small glasses for me, my wife, and himself.  It was wonderful – rich, sweet, and  smooth with several layers of flavors that I wish I had the ability to describe.  

Marc was ready to offer us more beer to try, but I still had to drive to Poperinge, so it was time to call it quits.  I had learned through our conversation that even though Alvinne’s beers have been highly acclaimed, they still struggle from month to month just to keep afloat.  The money they borrowed to buy the building and the new brewing equipment is coming back to haunt them.  The tasting and tour were free, but I wanted to make a small donation to the cause for whatever help it would be.  When I did, Marc insisted that I take with me a special beer as a thank-you. 

This was from the first batch of a new oak-aged ale they are calling Cuvee De Mortagne.  It is a quadrupel that is 13.9% abv.  The initial batch was aged in 6 French Pomerol wine barrels that were blended together after aging.  Two were new French, 2 were 5-year old French oak and 2 were 5-year old American oak.  I’ll save the details on that one for a future report.

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