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Classic Beer of the Month October 2016: De Brabandere Petrus Aged Pale

De Brabandere Petrus Aged Pale, 7.3%

You know when you see someone on a television antiques show who has just dusted off a family heirloom and discovered that it’s actually a bit of a treasure?

Petrus Aged PaleWell that’s the sort of experience that the De Brabandere brewery in Belgium went through in the late 1990s.

This fifth-generation family-run brewery, based in the town of Bavikhove, near Kortrijk, has been in operation since 1894.

It is known today for, among other beers, its Bavik Super Pils and Wittekerke witbier but one of its major products for many years has been an oak-aged beer that, until fairly recently, was only used for blending.

This beer has long provided the base tartness and dryness for more easy-drinking ‘sour’ beers but the family didn’t realise that this product actually had any worth of its own until the beer writer Michael Jackson rode into town.

Michael tasted the beer directly from the giant wooden tun – or ‘foeder’ – in which it was aged. It struck him as something special and he urged the family to let him have a quantity ‘neat’ as a treat for members of his rare beer club.

Those who subsequently tasted it agreed that this was too good a beer to be diluted into other products and it soon gained wider distribution. Petrus Aged Pale – as Jackson named it – was born.

Delicate Golden

The beer stands right up there among the best of Belgian aged beers but has a unique character, being so light in colour. Only pale malt is used for the grist, meaning the beer shines a delicate golden colour in the glass.

Hops in this type of beer are typically restrained, just providing balancing bitterness and the natural preservatives that help the beer through its long life. The choice here is Czech Saaz.

After fermentation with the brewery’s house yeast, the beer is put straight into the foeders. These are deliberately large wooden casks – each with room for more than 130 barrels – so that the flavour of the wood is not too intrusive.

Rather than big, tangy oak notes, what is wanted from the wood are the natural bacteria that reside inside. These will turn the beer acidic and sour as the beer sits there silently slumbering for two years.

The final product continues to be blended to make other beers. Petrus Aged Red is a mix of 15% Aged Pale and 85% Belgian brown ale, with some cherries; Petrus Oud Bruin is 33% Aged Pale and 67% young brown beer. They are very pleasant beers, but Aged Pale in its natural state is the real star.

Notably Lean

In a way, you can see why the family never considered selling it in its unadulterated form. It is notably tart and lean with a mouth-puckering lemony zing. Yet it is also refreshingly spritzy, a wonderful, uncompromising palate perker.

Acidity tingles throughout and, after an acidic burn on the swallow, the finish is dry and mildly bitter with the pleasant sharp fruitiness of lemon and gooseberry.

Aged Pale is probably not the beer with which to introduce novices to the world of Belgian brewing. The Aged Red or Oud Bruin provide a much softer launchpad. But, once you’ve a thirst for Belgian sours, it’s a beer you really do need to seek out. Luckily, it’s now on regular sale in the UK.

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