Brasserie Duyck says:
“Created in 2005, Jenlain Blonde, the worthy sibling of the illustrious Jenlain Ambrée, is a full-bodied beer in the great tradition of special blond beers.
Left to rest in the vat for several weeks, it matures slowly to release its full aroma and develop a fine and long-lasting head. Once filtered, it takes on a sparkling, golden hue and is best enjoyed chilled to between 6 and 8°C.”
Brasserie Duyck Jenlain Blonde
Biere de Garde, 7.5% ABV
Karl: I love surprises more than anything when it comes to beer, and this was one of the better surprises I’ve had it a long time. The French do so many good things with fermentation when it comes to grapes, so I had no reason not to suspect that this French brewery just spitting distance from Belgium wouldn’t do great things, but I just didn’t know what I was in for here. Straight from the twist of the cap, this beer was a fun one.
Bright Belgian banana flavors pop out of the bottle as I poured it into the most appropriate piece of glassware I owned for this particular beer – a free Stella Artois glass (not pictured) liberated from one of those online giveaways. Fresh, grassy notes dance around the aroma as huge apple juice flavors pop you square in the center of the palate, drenching you with bright fruit with dry, dusty farmhouse funk behind – that telltale “horseblanket” flavor that’s the hallmark of these beers is present, but not hugely so.
A rich, creamy, complex finish tails away with orange rind flavors and still plenty of that sweet, sweet apple. Light, refreshing but still hearty and complex enough to know you’re drinking something; I could easily wile away the hours at the Hopleaf bar sipping on many of these as I page through a book and work through a plate of mussels and frites.
Restaurants of Chicago: Ditch your Allagashes and your Leffe Blondes and get yourself some of this stuff. Do it for me.
Ryan: Curiosity quickly changed to excitement when I sat down with Brasserie Duyck’s Jenlain Blonde. Shortly before I poured this beer, into a tulip glass (since we’re talking glassware today), I received the following text from Karl:
“Holly hell this Jenlain Blonde is amazing.”
Setting the bar a tad high, aren’t we?
He had, and for good reason, because this beer is really, REALLY good.
On top of Karl’s aforementioned apple aromas I also picked up loads of pear and a bit of white grapes too — but no banana here. Regardless, I wasn’t disappointed in the least by the aroma and I certainly wasn’t disappointed by first few sips of this beer.
Creamy, complex and doubled-down on richness the Jenlain Blonde is pleasantly sweet with a touch of lemon and honey. It was hearty, a biscuit-y, with flavors similar to a buttered biscuit.
The heartiness shines through as the beer warms giving it a certain gritty, earthy quality. I like it. I like it a lot.
I hung on to a larger bottle of this one and will squirrel it away for a while. I’m really interested to see what happens to this in a year or two — or more.
(Editors note: Jenlain Blonde is one of a number of French craft beers highlighting events this week at The Publican and at Hopleaf.)
Karl: One of Ryan’s more interesting cellar investigations — I never would have thought to set such a light, bright ale aside for 6 months, let alone a year. Back when we first cracked into this, I just plain adored it, and have made a point to order it every time I see it available (which, sadly, is rare and only ever at French restaurants).
This large-format bottle has definitely held on to some of what I enjoyed about the fresh version, with aromas of cider and fresh hay, but the flavor has transformed to resemble nothing short of apple butter. This is a different beer after a year, and it’s still a good one, but quite an unexpected one.
The Belgian influences from the fresh version are gone, replaced by apple juice, pear juice, fresh red apples and maybe a touch of cinnamon (okay, and a little clove for good measure; perhaps the Belgians aren’t all out of this yet). The aging of this once-crazy Bier de Garde has made the flavors more pure in a way I can appreciate, even if it makes this beer a little one note. There’s no complexity, just a really tasty simple beer.
The aging has made the flavor short-lived, however — this beer drops off a cliff after just a few seconds. Once it opens up I found just a little simple syrup and even some wet paper flavors, adding a some welcome extra dimension to a good yet straightforward aged beer.
Other than this, I can’t claim to be too familiar with the aged Bier de Garde style, but this is as good a start as any.
Ryan: I wouldn’t have thought about putting this beer aside if it weren’t for two factors: one, that the Biere de Garde/Farmhouse style lends itself well to cellaring and two, the importing distributor that dropped by the initial bottles shipped a second round that included a cage and cork bottle. So down in the cellar it went. And what emerged was a slightly less complex version of its former self, with a few new flavors emerging too.
The banana flavors that Karl noted in our fresh sampling, which slipped past me, were front-and-center in this year-old offering. However, the pear and white grape elements seemed to have disappeared.
The nose is heavy on the lemon rind with a good bit of fresh-baked biscuits slathered in honey. On the palate you’re greeted with a pleasant creaminess amidst flavors of warm banana bread and — oddly — Squirt. There was a certain citrus aspect to this beer that I couldn’t quite place, but thoroughly enjoyed.
The finish does leave a little to be desired, but overall this beer held up well to a year in the cellar. I am not sure if we gained anything by doing this, nor did we lose much — we just got a different beer.