Tuesday, January 20, 2009

N'ice Chouffe 2008

N'ice Chouffe 2008, Brasserie d'Achouffe, Achouffe, Belgium

The Brasserie d'Achouffe, or the Achouffe Brewery in English, is located in the heart of the Ardennes region shared by France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Forests and mountains adorn the region and its rumored there are beer-drinking elves hiding out in the hills. Ok, maybe not. But the people at Achouffe love elves and a cute elf or two appears on most, if not all of their bottles. Frankly, that little guy looks more like a gnome to me...

N'ice Chouffe is described both as a strong, dark belgian ale and also as a spiced christmas ale. The former is a catch-all category of complex, dark, malty, sweet, somewhat fruity belgian ales, and the latter can be light or dark, is brewed with spices, and well, as you can imagine, its made with Christmas in mind. The N'ice Chouffe bottle states it is brewed with thyme and curacao peel, which is best described as bitter orange rind and is used in the making of curacao liqueur. Use a big glass for this amber-brown belgian, because the head is huge, looks like intense sea foam or even strange, alien rock formations. The head even comes off as sticky, which along with the aroma, hints at the sweetness of this Xmas beer. A big whiff reveals a caramel, cotton candy sweetness, herbs and spices, and dark maltiness hovering in the background. Some hint of orange and dark dried fruits, like dates and raisins, peeks up over the candy smells, but can't really be caught for long except by the strongest of noses.

N'ice Chouffe packs a sweet, dessert punch. The same cotton candy caramel sweetness comes through full force in the first sip, with a touch of toast, the heat of alcohol, and a nip of fruitiness. The fruitness isn't all that suggestive of the orange/bitter curacao peel, but is more candied plums. Do they candy up plums? The carbonation felt slightly less bubbly than a sparkling wine, a touch heavier and more full bodied as well. I didn't pick up on much thyme until the aftertaste; this beer finished up sweet,dry but not too dry, with spice. N'ice Chouffe comes in a 750 ml wine bottle and at 10% alcohol, its a powerful beer. I don't want to overstate the sweetness though - its not cloying unless you hate sweeter malty beers. There's more of a complexity to it than can be captured in the typical dark fruit and brown sugar descriptions associated with a beer like this. The complex flavor actually hides the alcohol well and such a large bottle can disappear quickly given its drinkability (no thanks to that major beer corporation whose recent commercials have ruined that word). For Xmas, I think I'd want more spice than this, but the depth of sweet flavors makes this a pleasant present of a dessert beer.

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