Friday, November 9, 2012

Brouwerij De Molen - Hemel & Aarde

If I had to consider myself a nationality besides American, I would go with Dutch. My paternal grandparents were both born in Holland and emigrated to the states after World War II. It's to them and to Holland that I can attribute my last name, my height, my love for strong cheeses like Gouda (which is actually pronounced "How-duh") and, most likely, my love of beer. In fact, the Dutch have a long history with brewing that has produced some amazing beer, hardly any of which comes in the green bottle that Dutch beer has become so famous for. Damn you, Heineken! Which brings me to my current predicament: Somehow, I have been writing this blog for over two years and have yet to review a Dutch beer. What is wrong with me???

Yesterday was International Stout Day, so I took the opportunity to open a bottle from a Dutch brewery called De Molen. They're located in the town of Bodegraven, which sits about equal distance from Amsterdam and Rotterdam. I've heard some fantastic things about De Molen, but it was only recently that I started seeing their beers around. Hemel & Aarde ("Heaven & Earth" in Dutch) is a 10% Russian Imperial Stout that features an ingredient I had never seen before: peated malt. As it turns out, the process of peating malt involves smoking peat moss and letting the smoke envelop the malt while it is still in the kiln. I'm not the biggest fan of smoked beers, and peated malt is described as being stronger in flavor than Rauch malt (the malt used in German smoke beers). So let's see how this one turns out.

Hemel & Aarde pours a dense black color with an absolutely enormous head that refuses to dissipate. Even after a slow pour, the head welled up, thick and khaki colored, and would not go down. It took about 15 minutes before it even thought about going down. The upside to dealing with this problem was that the head released a huge aroma full of peated malt. I found big notes of burnt bacon grease, cigar ash, espresso and campfire as well. Normally, this isn't the kind of profile I'd be a fan of, but something about all these flavors together really intrigued me.

When the head finally decided to go down, I took a few small sips, expecting a blast of peat and smoke. But as it turns out, these flavors aren't really what this beer is about. Instead of overwhelming anything in its way, as it did in the smell, the peated malt took a backseat to a heavy roasted and charred malt flavor. It had a definite smokiness to it, but the smoke was far from overwhelming. There wasn't a lot of sweetness to be found in the flavor, but I picked out a trace of fudge peeping from behind a wall of dark chocolate covered almonds and burnt coffee grounds. The finish brings the flavor back to the charred/smoky flavor that really is the star of the show in this beer. As I said, normally smoke in beer isn't really my thing, but this one nailed it.

As far as stouts go, this is one of the harshest and hardest to like for beginning stout-drinkers that I've found. It's big, mean and smoky. If you're just starting to explore the world of stouts, look elsewhere for now. But if you've really embraced the world of stouts, remember this one. It's definitely different, definitely good, and definitely Dutch.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 43

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