Enjoying craft beer is a total experience. Everybody knows drinking a good beer is more than just a reaction to obey your thirst. A lot is going on in your head at the moment you drink a good beer.
How important is the label on a beer bottle in that perspective? For consumer products, the label is seen as key for letting the customer select a particular beer off the shelf, unless of course someone knows already what he or she wants.
We have always done the design of the label ourselves, resulting in practical and simple looking artwork. Extreme simplicity was obtained in the “Greek” range: with just a big Omega, Phi or Sigma on the label and some general information below. The advantage is that one can recognize the bottle from 10m distance already… The Undressed could be considered as a prequel of the 3 Greeks and also has that simple design, with a foeder instead of a greek letter.
The oak aged labels had a refresh some weeks ago, and also the limited edition series have their own label style for some time. Now it is time for the non sour to get a new jacket. After a simplification of our portfolio, 9 base recipes are left: 6 sours and 3 non sours (ending in much more beers because of fruit adding, oak aging, etc.) The non sours/non oak aged beers are: Mano Negra, Land van Mortagne and Pays Erpigny
The artist who created the paintings on the labels is Hilde Van Hauwaert. She expresses herself through paintings just using her hands as a painting tool. People get a certain feeling or emotion that differs person to person when looking at the paintings, but they all come “straight from the heart”. Her collection contains over 100 paintings. We asked her to select 3 artworks, after letting her see, smell, taste each beer.
More info on the artist: http://www.houdenvanwateris.be
One of most fun things to do are collaborationbrews. Creative minds brewing together. Yes, it’s about the beer, but even more it’s about friendship, about sharing our experience with brewers all over Europe and learn from them as well. I would like to present Kongero Saison, a collaboration brew with Jackdaw Brewery in Upsala, Sweden. It’s a continously hopped Saison, in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Swedish Folk’appella group Kongero. We met the girls from Upsala at Deerlycke Folk a few years ago, as we brewed a beer for that festival. When we got invited by Jackdaw Brewery for a collabbrew, located in Upsala as well, we didn’t hesitate. Davy and Stephan “Smedtje” went over there to brew. We have used a method called continuously hopping, resulting in a quite estery, spicy and hoppy saison. Kongero gave a small concert during the brewingsession, making this event quite unique for those present. Kongero Saison will be available at Bierhalle Deconinck (Vichte) and from draft at Het Bourgondisch Kruis(Den Belgiek, Deerlijk). If you can’t wait I suggest you drop by the brewery taproom today Saturday February 6th …
Labwork in a small brewery is pretty much very basic. Calculations, hydrometer, refractometer, pH-meter, that pretty much sums it up. If accurate information is needed external labs were our only option, an expensive option. Customers should have accurate information, as does our importers all over the world. Taxes have to be payed according to ABV/vol % alc. Different countries, different laws, different taxes, different margin of error.
Unfortunetly, there are not that many companies which produces high-quality measuring and analysis instruments for breweries. Anton Paar is the reference as they are the world’s leading provider of density and alcohol measurements solutions for beer. However, their Alcolyzer Beer Analyzing System is just too expensive for craft brewers. With a growing craftbeerscene, Anton Paar released a Alcohol & Extract Meter for Beer, the Alex 500. More compact, easier to handle and less expensive compared to his big brother, the Alex 500 is just what we were looking for.
The instrument’s name is derived from ALcohol and Extract. Alex 500 is equipped with two modes. One mode determines our beer’s alcohol, original and real extract content, calories, degree of fermentation and many more typical beer parameters whenever we wish. A second is the fermentationmode, monitoring the complete fermentation. The fermentationcurve for each fermenting beer, based on density measurement, is directly displayed assigned to a fermenter according to the respective sample ID. Now easily able to monitor our entire production from wort to bottle, we can always be sure your bottles contain what the labels say (well, at least as soon as we’ve tested all our beers and renewed the labels if necessary).
How about accuracy? Alex 500 determines our beer’s alcohol content with an ocuracy of 0,2 vol % alc and measures our density with an occuracy of 0,001 g/cm³. From now on our numbers will make sure both we and our importers will be able to calculate our taxes correctly.
Foto’s van ons labo
February 2012, that’s how long it’s been since we brewed Cuvée d’Erpigny. There’s a simple reason why it took us such a long time. One key ingredient wasn’t available anymore, Monbazillac barrels. Chateau Belingard used to deliver some Monbazillac (AOC for sweet white wine produced in Monbazillac) barrels to us. Unfortunetly, in 2013 we couldn’t get these barrels anymore. As we created the recipe for Cuvée d’Erpigny specificly for sweet white wine barrels, Cuvée d’Erpgny disappeared from our portfolio once the last remaining barrels went out of duty.
Should this fantastic beer disappear forever? The answer is simple, no! The minute we can find barrels interesting enough for this magnificent beer, we will brew it again. And so we did. The last four brews of 2015 were Erpigny. There will be three versions of Cuvée d’Erpigny 2016, each aged on different barrels.
Cuvée d’Erpigny Sauternes 2016
We always thought Sauternes barrels were impossible to get, hence the original Cuvée d’Erpigny aged on Monbazillac barrels straight from the winery. These Sauternes barrels weren’t bought tstraight at the winery, so we don’t really know the exact origin. We do know we’ve got three of them, 300 l each.
Sauternes is a French sweet wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux. Sauternes is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. This causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wines. Wines from Sauternes, especially the Premier Cru Supérieur estate Château d’Yquem, can be very expensive, due largely to the very high cost of production. Somewhat similar but less expensive and typically less-distinguished wines are produced in the neighboring regions of Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac.
Cuvée d’Erpigny Vieux Pineau des Charentes 2016
On our search for “unusual” barrels I learned that Pineau des Charentes is also barrel aged. Reason enough to go on a search for these barrels. We managed to get one so far, ideal for a try-out with the reborn Cuvée d’Erpigny. This 353 l barrel from 1997 smells promising. As always, that’s a good way to start a barrel aged beer.
Pineau des Charentes is the sweet, strong ‘Vin de Liqueur’ of the Charentais (Cognac) region of western France. It is made by adding Cognac from the previous year’s distillation (or older) to fresh grape must of the current vintage. By law, the must is required to be freshly harvested (although it may have undergone a partial fermentation) and the Cognac must have an alcohol content of at least 60%. The resulting mixture has an alcoholic strength of 16–22% and a sugar content of at least 125g/L. Because the must remains essentially unfermented, it retains all of its ‘grapey’ flavors and – ideally – the varietal characteristics of the grapes used, which develop over time. All Pineau des Charentes is aged at the winery for at least 18 months – including 12 months in oak barrels. To earn the right to be labeled as vieux (old), the wines must spend five years or more in oak; the oldest of all are tres vieux, which require a full 10 years in barrel.
Cuvée d’Erpigny Pedro Ximenez 2016
These barrels are assembled with reused and already seasoned staves out of 50 year old Pedro Ximenez Sherry & wine barrels. The oak barrels have a capacity of 500 l. The staves are homogeneous toasted over a fire of American oak chips. We bought 4 of these barrels straight from the cooperage (toneleria). Three of them will be used for Cuvée d’Erpigny, one will be used for the famous Cuvée de Mortagne PX.
Pedro Ximénez is a name used for dessert wines created with at least 85% of the grape variety with the same name. The grapes are either picked very mature or dried in the sun. Commonly referred to as P.X., these are intensely sweet wines, especially when the grapes are dried in the sun. While this process was also practiced in the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry region, nowadays the base wines for this style are mostly produced in the D.O. Montilla-Moriles since the climate there protects the grapes better from rotting (generally warmer and less humid). Montilla-Moriles creates the vast majority of P.X. wines within their own denomination, but part of them are them are transferred back to bodegas in Jerez for maturation, which allows them to be labeled as sherry.
Some samples of Wild West Plum 2014 send to B-United, our US-importer, was all it took to set up a Wild West fruit project. Needless to say he was very enthousiastic. An order came around the time the fruit was still in blossom, the right amount of time we needed to pull this off. Wild West Plum 2014 was barrel aged (as always with Wild West), the plums were put directly on the barrel. And that would be a problem, as we would have needed 20 barrels for both the plum and grape edition. Once we’ve put fruit on a barrel, we can’t use it anymore. To sacrifice so many barrels (some first run barrels) wasn’t an option. We’ve installed four conditioningtanks (40 hl) on De Proefloft, mainly to be used for fruitprojects (Kerasus, Plum Edition and Grape Edition).
We’ve made a selection of already barrel aged Wild West and added some young Omega. One tank was filled with 400 kg French “President” plums from Castelsarasin, another with 400 kg Italian “Primitivo” winegrapes from Puglia. The fresh fruit was added early and mid September, to macerate and ferment for about 3.5 months.
The most challenging thing no doubt was getting the fruit out of the tanks. Some teamwork was needed, and it’s a good thing we have a trained body 🙂
We will do more fruit projects in the future, some limited where fruit is put straight on the barrel, some bigger quantities using the stainless stailtanks for maceration. For now, try Wild West Grape Edition and Wild West Plum Edition 2015, you won’t regret it.
What do customers think of our beers? How are we doing compared to other breweries? It’s not always easy for brewers to figure that out. As we do not enter commercial beercompetitions such as Brussel Beer Challenge and we don’t give much value to festivalawards or online polls on social media, only ratingsites such as ratebeer.com and untappd.com can give us a clue. Ratebeer no doubt is the most accurate database. Untappd on the other hand has many more users, both beergeeks and just people who like to taste a different beer from time to time.
In my opinion Untappd is a more valuable ratingsite for us as a brewer, due to the fact that there are many more ratings. We can learn how our beers are appreciated in different countries. I’ve made a database with the development of how our beers have scored in 2015. I also made a spreadsheet which includes every Belgian brewery, beerfirm and lambicblender (according to the Zythoslist of breweries and beerfirms). All are included, but for the best Belgian breweries list, breweries/beerfirms with less than 3000 ratings will not be listed . Check it out, there are some surprises.
Some conclusions I’ve made:
- Only classic Belgian breweries host the top 25, Brouwerij De Glazen Toren and Brouwerij Alvinne being the exceptions
- Most breweries have a lower general score compared to the start of 2015
- Wilderen, Brussel Beer Project and Vliegend Paard can be considered revelations of 2015 (better scores and a huge rise in ratings)
- Only a few beerfirms are found within the top 50
- Omer Vanderghinste, Verhaeghe and Dubuisson are some topbreweries that took quite a hit in 2015 and didn’t do that well
- We are happy to hold on to our score, we are very happy with the 130 % more ratings we received during 2015 and we are proud to be amongst the best 25 breweries in Belgium.
- When checking out the best breweries in other European countries, only a few have a score that would make the top 25 in Belgium.
- The only numbers that really count, are those made by our accountant. Or, to say it in another way, don’t take best of lists to serious. We don’t, we just find it interesting and fun 😉
Barrel-aged beer has grown more and more popular over the years. That’s a good thing, as great woodflavored beers found their way to beerenthousiastics all over the world. Unfortunetly, not every brewer has figured out there’s more to barrel-aging than simply dumping beer on a barrel, wait and bottle.
Ask a brewer about hops and he will tell you the origin, the IBU, how and when to use it according to the recipe and how it will flavor his beer. Ask him about barrels and he will tell you what liquid it contained (wine, port, whisky, …) but not much more.
When you are using barrels as an ingredient, there’s so much more to know about a barrel. My first priority as barrelmanager is to get my hands on the best barrels and learn as much about them as possible. Barrels come and go at the brewery. It’s a quest to find topquality over and over again. Today, 35 winebarrels arrived at the brewery. Most of these barrels will be used for Cuvée de Mortagne. Let me share their history with you.
To find these barrels, the network I’ve build with wineries and even a tonnellerie (cooperage) proved to be very usefull. Timing is essential, as we want our barrels to be shipped to the brewery as recently emptied as possible. We try to buy barrels as close as possible to the source.
The origin of the barrels … France – Burgundy – Côte de Nuits.
The Côte de Nuits (named after walnut trees!) is home to 24 Grand Cru vineyards and some of the world’s most expensive vineyard real estate. The area begins just south of Dijon and ends at the village of Corgoloin. 80% of the wines produced here are Pinot Noir. The Grand Cru vineyards form a patchwork on the eastern slopes facing the valley of the Saône River starting at the village of Gevrey Chambertin, past Morey St-Denis and south to Vougeot and Vosne Romanée.
Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy – Gevrey-Chambertin – 9 ha – 100 % Pinot Noir
Domaine Harmand-Geofroy will age it’s red wine for 12 to 16 months on French oak barrels. Over 90 % of the Grand Cru is aged on new oak, between 20 and 50 % of new oak is used for the Villages and Premier Cru.
Barrel: 228 l – 2012 – French oak (27 mm)
Wines: Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru – Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru – Gevrey Chambertin Village
Domaine Arnoux Lachaux – Vosne-Romanée – 14,5 ha – 100 % Pinot Noir
Domaine Arnoux Lachaux uses 30 up to 100 % new oak depending on the appellations and vintages. The wine is aged for 12 months
Barrel: 228 l – 2012 – French oak (27 mm)
Wines: no information at this moment
A little over 10 years ago we decided to take hobbybrewing to a (semi-)professional level. Little did we know what we had to expect in the next ten years. It’s been crazy, hard, challenging, rewarding …
“Picobrewery” is the past, today we are a respected micro-brewery. Never surrender, work hard and be passionate about what you do, that’s our bussiness philosophy. 2015 was a milestone brewyear. “Brewery Alvinne … Flemish sour ales, oak aged beers and more”, that is what we’ve done in 2015. Over 60 % of what we brewed were sours, over 30 % was barrel aged (sours and non-sours). We said goodbye to quite a lot of beers, we’ve welcomed many others. We’ve invested in our growth, we are ready for an even better 2016.
Thank you my friends, thank you for your support, thank you for tasting our beers, thank you for being enthousiastic about them.
2015 … a picture report of what was new
Those who have been Alvinne fans for several years will know this isn’t exactly a new beer. This is our fifth batch. For the Alvino 2015 we used Cuvée Sofie, barrel aged in St-Emilion (Chateau La Croizillé) red wine barrels.
As the name might suggest, Alvino is is no stranger to the world of wine. We’ve added grapes to Cuvée Sofie, but not just any grapes. We cultivate and harvest them ourself (Boskoop Glory, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boskoops_Glory), resulting in a harvest of about 35 kg wich we have split over two barrels. It took four months of aging before we could bottle Cuvée Sofie Alvino 2015. About 700 bottles (50cl) are available.