Friday, March 25, 2011

Augustijn - Grand Cru

And so I had to do it. My curiosity got the best of me. What is a Grand Cru? That is a question I have been asking for quite some time now and frankly, I don't know why I never sought the answer before this. But now that I am here in Holland, and the Grand Cru's that I have seen always tend to be synonomous with Belgian beer (and Belgian Style beer) what better place to start my quest for an answer than here in Amsterdam, less than two hours from the said country? So here I will start. I am sampling a Grand Cru from a Belgian brewer. Let's see if we can find a definitive answer to my question.

Doing a bit of researching, I have discovered that Grand Cru as we know it came into existence in France in 1855 among the various wine regions located there. It was used to denote specific vineyards known to or have the potential to produce grapes (and wine for that matter) of distinction. The usage and attachment of the Grand Cru classification has been strictly regulated for over 150 years. There are five levels within the classification ranging from Premier Cru to Cinquieme Cru. Taking note that this term originated in France, I used an online translator (my personal favorite: babelfish) to do a translation of the word from French into English. Not surprisingly I found the literal translation to be: great wine. I typed Cru and it returned with: vintage. And so it would seem that in French the term means: "great wine" or "great vintage."

So the next question is how was this term transferred to beer? Grand Cru is not only used to denote wine or beers of distinction, but also chocolate, cognac and whiskey. I've been looking for awhile and can't find any definitive answers on when the term was first attached to beer. But it is obviously used to let people know that in some way the beer is special, that it is the cream of the crop so to speak. I also found nothing that suggested Grand Cru is an actual style of beer; it is simply used to denote that more care and effort was put forth when producing the beer. The term is used quite liberally (at least in the US) and the brewer himself will attach the name to his beer. In other parts of the world the name seems to carry some weight (the Grand Cru beers I know of from Belgium really are top notch). I know some breweries in my home state of Washington are using this term in the names of their beers (Snoqualmie Falls, Anacortes, and Dick's). And I know of a couple of other bigger named breweries using the term as well (Blue Moon). In any case it would seem the research done to find out more about this term has left me with a wealth of information to form my own opinion. The one thing that is true is that when you see: Grand Cru in the name of a beer, the brewery feels the offering is in some way special (this may or may not be true). This Grand Cru offering is one from Belgium, so let's see if this claim that Belgian Grand Cru's really are great...

Name: Augustijn Grand Cru
Category/Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 9%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Types: Unknown
Hop Types: Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: None
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 330 mL
Location Purchased: De Bierkoning, Amsterdam

The Pour:Strictly golden yellow, bubbly lively carbonation on the bottom of the glass. The head is off-white and clings to the glass nicely. Nice retention, quite a nice amount of lacing.
The Nose:All belgian yeast, white bread crust, bubblegum, dish soap, alcohol, smells heavy, slightly musty, sugary and candylike, a bit of caramel corn and toffee, slightly fruity characteristics. I think I know just how it will taste.
The Taste:The mouthfeel is not as heavy as I would have predicted. It's 9% after all. Slightly bitter. A little spice? Hints of bitter orange peel? A bit thin on the mouthfeel. Much more bitterness than I would have predicted, I quite
like it because of that. Warming on the back of the throat. The nose is on par with other bottle conditioned Belgian's I've had. A bit of malt, and quite dry on the finish. It's all there, however; soap and hops, bubblegum, yeast, and bread.
The Verdict:Rarely do I attach a number rating to a beer but with this one I feel the need to do so. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would place this brew at about a 7. It's a good beer and definitely holds up when compared to other examples of the style, but considering it's a Grand Cru, I should expect something more. I wasn't disappointed with my purchase, like I said it's a good example of the style, but I was definitely hoping for something a bit different...

Thanks for reading!


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