AFTER RECENTLY experiencing the new/oldfangled Seefbier, it seemed that Belgium’s knack for storytelling and smart-selling had reached a new peak. Then came B.O.M. Brewery and the Triporteur duo, From Heaven and From Hell. Like Seefbier, B.O.M. is a new name with a serious pedigree—its founder, Bert Van Hecke, earned his credentials with Orval, Rodenbach, Boon, St. Bernardus (where he was brewmaster), and even New Belgium for a time. It’s an astonishing resume for someone so young. Then again, beer seems to be the natural language of Belgium, and Van Hecke is fully fluent.
And that means fully. Whereas numerous brewers now grow their own hops and harvest their own yeast, hardly any can boast about being their own maltster. Van Hecke is, and has staked his brewery on it: the very name stands for Belgian Original Malt Bakery and Brewery. (Not sure where the ‘B’ for Bakery went, but Van Hecke’s beers earn him the benefit of the doubt.)
A gypsy brewer, Van Hecke is like the chef who whirls into your kitchen with a satchel of homegrown ingredients and concocts precisely what he wants, not what his dinner guests expect or even what the menu allows. Belgians are fond of spicing their ales (coriander and curacao in Witbier being the most famous combination) as well as adding sugar to lighten the bodies, but Van Hecke has taken this idea to the next level by actually kilning his grains simultaneously with coriander, sea salt, sugar, and even oak. It may sound heavy-handed, but the results have a subtlety that’s almost more frustrating than excess: you’ll exhaust your mind and tongue alike trying to identify a rogue flavor strong enough to taste, yet not clear enough to seize hold of and drag into the light. Another perk of being his own maltster means that Van Hecke’s grains are perfectly fresh at the time of mashing. Some Americans lust after wet-hops and harvest ales—why not share some of that love with the grains as well?
The first beer of this duo is From Heaven, a hazy golden ale that comes in at 6.2% ABV. Technically Belgian and technically pale, pegging From Heaven as a ‘Belgian Pale Ale’ would sail wide of the mark on a couple of accounts. Taking influence from his time in the States, Van Hecke uses American Cascade hops (including for dry-hopping) alongside the more traditional European cultivars East Kent Golding and Styrian Golding. Cascade’s comparatively high myrcene oil content gives the beer a notable but not overpowering American twist of sweet honey and citrus. This is complemented by B.O.M.’s coriander and Thorefacto (i.e. caramelized sugar) malts, the former giving a bit of background zip and the latter a small but sturdy center to the body. Wheat malt is also used to ensure a fluffy pile of a head and a crisp mouthfeel. Naturally, all this is underscored by the signature candied aromas and sweet breadiness of Belgian yeast. Light-bodied (approx. 2 Plato) and with a foamy presence on the palate, From Heaven is a beguiling experience, almost ephemeral, and quite tasty indeed.
Served: 33 cl bottled 13/11/13
From Hell is the counterpart beer, darkened by roasted grains—one variety is twice-roasted, even—and finished with wheat and sea salt malts. Of course, it could not be anything but 6.66% ABV. (That last .06 seems too precise to guarantee, but it falls within labeling tolerances and is worth the fun.) Not precisely black at 32 SRM, the beer has rather a dense, dark mahogany presence in the glass with a comparably sturdy head. East Kent Golding and Styrian Golding were both used for bittering up to 32 IBUs but much less so in late-kettle, thus ceding the foreground to dark toasted flavors halfway between coffee roast and a slightly burnt biscuit. The sea salt flits about the edges of the palate, hard to articulate unless pointed out while giving a gentle smokiness, slight prickle around the aroma, and a broad but delicate lift as the liquid begins to dissipate off the palate.
Slightly fuller-bodied (about 3 Plato), From Hell lingers long enough to tease the tongue into guessing at other spices, some of which probably aren’t even here: robust molasses, almond, anise, maybe even nutmeg? It’s a teasing combination of feints that demonstrates Van Hecke’s command of the full brewing process instead of pouring the spice cabinet into secondary fermentation and just hoping for the best. Its numerous threads do make fresh From Hell a little harder to call ‘done’ than From Heaven, though the former is noted to have the better aging potential between the two.
Served: 33 cl bottled 07/08/13
Both beers are intriguing without being ostentatious, different enough to give one pause from sip to sip yet still familiar enough to enjoy without ‘practice’, like some of Belgium’s wilder projects. Perhaps their quirks will make it hard for Triporteurs to be considered everyday beers by the broader pubic, which their $18 price tag can only reinforce. Yet the care and creativity behind these truly handcrafted recipes is a concerted effort that any craft brewer or gastronome should appreciate. Besides, Van Hecke would probably prefer us not to quaff his ales too quickly. He certainly puts in the extra steps to create his beers—why shouldn’t we take some extra time in drinking them?
A side note: At next opportunity we’ll have to attempt making a Belgian black and tan by topping up From Hell with Heaven. We’ll call it Purgatory.