De Molen Zomerhop

De Molen is a small brewery in the Netherlands that produces a lot of highly rated beer, though interestingly enough, I’ve never been a huge fan of much of it. I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what bothers me about De Molen beers, but there’s a character in them I find off-putting. When this kind of thing happens, i.e. you find yourself not caring for one particular brewery’s beers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the beers and the brewery suck – it’s usually more the case that the brewery’s house yeast strain is throwing off flavors you don’t like, and this character pervades all or nearly all its beers. I suspect this might be the case with De Molen and I, though my negative review of its “Heaven & Hell,” posted in this blog, had nothing at all to do with yeast and more to do with the idea that it was way over-roasted and an unpleasant chore to drink. Of course, De Molen has a vast portfolio of beers, and I’ve not come close to having all of them, so I will keep an open mind.

So, I find myself with a bottle of Zomerhop (“Summer Hop”) from De Molen. It’s in the IPA (India Pale Ale) style, but per the label, it has a few interesting twists. Instead of using American hops for bittering, as most brewers American drinkers are familiar with would do in their IPAs, De Molen is using Premiant and Saaz varieties – both European varieties that tend to be more floral and spicy than American hops, with less pure bitterness and pine/citrus flavor. However, Zomerhop does use Columbus and Cascade hops late in the boil, both popular American varieties that do yield all that citrus and pine – so I’m expecting a good deal of that classic American hop character, too.

Beyond the hop varieties, this ale was also brewed using a bottom-fermenting lager yeast that would typically be used at lower temperatures. Brewing an ale with a lager yeast sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s been done before, most notably with the famous beer Anchor Steam. This will (well, probably will) provide the beer a “clean” canvas upon which the hops can paint. The yeast shouldn’t throw out too many fruity esters or spicy phenols, it should just get out of the way and allow the hop character to pull through.

It pours like a bat out of hell; no matter how slow you pour, the bubbles are going to try to jump out of the glass. Use a tulip glass for best results. Body is a cloudy gold, which is nothing too alarming since the beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized living stuff. Head retention is excellent, with a noticeable gob of lacing ringing the glass. Some sniffing reveals a well-hopped beer – it smells very bitter, but I can pick out neither Saaz nor Cascade/Columbus hops by themselves – the cumulative effect is more that of a bitter orange. Maybe peppery Saaz plus grapefruit-esque Cascade equals bitter orange.

On the palate, there’s not a lot to this beer besides hop flavor and bitterness, but I like it. The malts are pilsner malts that get out of the way quickly, and as predicted, all the yeast did was ferment the beer without contributing much flavor. There is a good balance between the more peppery European hops and more citric American hops – you can taste the flavors of both, with the pepper hitting first. Long bitter finish – those prone to making bitter beer faces need not apply, as this one lingers, without much malt sweetness to counter.

At 6.2%, it’s not that difficult a drinker. Any experienced hophead will kill this off, no problem. I am, however, tired of having to keep getting up for a refill because my pours are mostly foam. It doesn’t actually show up on the palate as over-carbonated – the carbonation level is entirely appropriate. It’s just a little annoying, that’s all.

Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese food would be the orders of the day for pairing with this one. This has a very bright peppery, citric flavor which I feel would play well with the bright flavors of those particular Asian cuisines.

This was a pleasant surprise. I like this a lot. It’s clean, which sometimes translates into not being all that interesting, but it has the hop flavor to keep the drinker engaged. For what it’s worth, I just checked out some reviews – this is a 97-point beer on Ratebeer, and a 4.34 on BeerAdvocate (albeit with only two reviews). I think I’d have to concur with both!

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