Tag Archives: Europe

Beer of the Week – Christoffel Blond

This article was originally written in July 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Selections from the LCBO’s seasonal beer release for summer have recently started hitting the shelves, and as usual, the range on offer is somewhat meagre, although with nine beers planned to be included, at least it’s better than the pitiful spring release. And while more than half of them are fruit or flavoured beers, even a couple of those aren’t the cloying sugar-bombs that you might expect.

As always, I’m looking forward to trying the several new beers in the release (although I have some trepidation about the Chapeau Banana Lambic – watch for my reaction to that in a future column), but it’s the return of a couple of favourites from past releases that has me the most excited. My “cellar” (a.k.a. a couple of cardboard boxes in the closet) will be getting restocked with a few bottles of the rich and complex Liefmans Goudenband once it arrives, but for immediate drinking satisfaction, I’ll be grabbing multiple bottles of the unique Dutch Pilsner, Christoffel Blond (LCBO 696955, $2.80/330 mL).

I first tried this beer a few years ago as part of a Christmas gift box where it was packaged along with a bottle of Christoffel’s Vienna-style lager, Robertus, as well as a very nice branded glass that still serves me well. While I enjoyed it at the time, it struck me as a beer that would be much better suited to warmer weather, so it was nice to see the Blond return on its own as part of the summer beer release for the last couple of years.

As noted above, Christoffel Blond is a somewhat unique version of a Pilsner, at least in comparison to the ones that most people are familiar with. The appearance is pretty much right on point, with a rich golden hue and a good sized snow white head. But the aroma reveals a stronger herbal and floral hop character than you might expect, with some candyish notes as well. The body is crisp and full and quenching, and the flavour is a tasty combination of sweet orange candy, sharp green herbs, and a refreshingly bitter citric finish.

It really is a perfect summer beer, although like all LCBO seasonal releases, stock is limited, so grab a bunch when you see them. And here’s a tip: it’s a fantastic beer for steaming mussels. Throw in some chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, and various herbs; serve them with some frites and crusty bread to sop up the broth; and have a couple more bottles on hand to wash it all down. It’ll be one of the best meals of the summer, guaranteed.

Beer of the Week – Gubernija Grand 9.5

This article was originally written in June 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

When most people read the words “Malt Liquor”, the image that likely pops into their heads is homies in South Central drinking 40s of St. Ides, or perhaps the neighbourhood drunk slumped in an alley with a king can of Schlitz Red Bull spilled beside him. Either way, the beers that tend to be tagged as malt liquor aren’t exactly considered to be beverages of the highest quality.

Of course, the definition of “malt liquor” can vary depending on where you live. In some jurisdictions, any beer above a certain alcohol percentage must be labelled as “malt liquor” before being sold, meaning that everything from cheap, high-octane swill to elegant strong Belgian ales are considered to be in the same category in the eyes of the alcohol overlords.

As a beer style, however, malt liquor is generally understood to be a strong (usually 6% to 9% abv) lager that is most often brewed with the addition of non-barley adjuncts such as corn and sugar, and a very low hop content. The result is a sweet brew with very little bitterness and a strong alcoholic punch. The flavour and aroma are often unpleasant, with notes of everything from rotting vegetables to jet fuel, but such concerns are secondary in a beer that is simply intended to get the imbiber as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible.

While such an aggressive and disagreeable beer style may logically seem to be a North American invention, malt liquor actually has a precedent in the old world, most notably in Poland and other Eastern European countries, where European strong lagers have been popular for generations. As with their North American kin, these beers are golden lagers with high alcohol percentages, but they are generally free of adjuncts, which causes them to be less sweet and cloying, and closer in character to pilsners, albeit with a more malt-forward character.

When does this all have to do with this week’s beer, Gubernija Grand 9.5? Well, this Lithuanian lager is a sort of missing link between the two styles. Being from Eastern Europe, it definitely comes from the European strong lager tradition. But the addition of corn groats to the recipe gives it a sweeter character that edges it towards malt liquor territory, which is where many classify it.

Personally, though, I’m inclined to consider it closer to the former category than the latter for a couple of reasons. First, unlike the piss yellow hue of most malt liquors, Grand 9.5 has a slightly hazy golden colour that actually looks pretty nice. And while the aroma and flavour both have a distinctive icing sugar note that is a bit cloying around the edges, it’s not overpoweringly sweet, and there’s even a subtle hint of hops in the finish.

So while it certainly won’t be giving any of the Belgian trappists or Imperial IPAs a run for their money in the more general strong beer category, I think it’s safe to say that Gubernija Grand 9.5 sits near the top of the cheap strong lager class. Those looking for an alternative for Colt 45 or Wildcat Strong can see if they agree by picking some up at the Beer Store where it was recently made available in striking yellow 500 mL cans.