Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: Driftwood Belle Royale

Now and again a beer comes along that sticks in your mind. I'm not talking about the great or the godawful: these are simple to file away. It's the weird ones that haunt you.

Startling new flavours, remarkable brews from crappy beermakers, or dreadful stuff from great ones: these beers can nag at you like an itch, as your once–coherent universe of expectations expands and distorts.

Driftwood's Belle Royale has had that effect on me, prompting me to write a rare review.

I admit Driftwood's new(-ish) Belgian cherry ale was always going to make an impression on me. I'm a bit of a Driftwood cheerleader and I was there as they prepared it for release. But six bottles of this impossibly-red nectar later and I still find myself going "damn" every time I drink (and smell) one.

The beer is a triple golden ale brewed with spicy belgian yeast and masses of sour cherries. As you'd expect, it has a pronounced (though not at all wild) sour tang that waters the mouth. The body is reminiscent of dry sherry or retsina, peppered with raunchy yeast and not as sweet as you'd think. The cherries are mostly about zing, but they also lend an underlying cloying richness, and pleasingly "off" blue notes that make the Belle a mysterious pleasure.

Normally a review starts with the smell, but I've saved it for last. The excoriating sour cherry whiff is spot-on, but beneath it comes a powerful corporeal aroma: to my nose carrion-esque and woody, like the open oak door of a crypt. It took me five bottles to identify this — and it's not a delightful comparison — but the precise odour it reminds me of is the meat-processing plant that hits you as your car emerges on the Liverpool side of the Mersey tunnel in England.

This sounds fatally bad, but I should say it in no way prevents me from loving the beer. There's something entirely appropriate about it (and if it's any consolation, others find it to be more akin to altogether-more-pleasant smoked-salmon). It's a massive beer and you should try one while you still can.

In fact, the vampiric pleasure it gives me ensures I'll be hoovering the Victoria stores for the last remaining Belles lurking darkly on the shelf, beckoning to me...

Oh, and as if it couldn't get more creepy, Belle Royale is also completely headless.


  1. As an ex-Victorian and still Driftwood lover (remember buying the first year's barleywine hot off the shelf), I am quite disappointed I am not going to get to try this one.

  2. Where you live? There's a few around. If it's not too much hassle maybe I can get you one in trade or something?

  3. Awesome review Dan, really well written.
    I'd like to try it. I don't much find myself ever reaching for fruit beers, but this review makes it seem worth it.

  4. Never had a Driftwood and this one sounds very interesting... don't suppose there's any still around?

    Nice blog, by the way.


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