Size: 330 ml
ABV: 6.2 %
By now propped at the bar, I had decided that I must have overdone it on the lambic. My gut was making extreme noises, and I had begun to look a little off colour. I spotted a XX Bitter in the fridge and having heard very good things about this beer, decided to finish off my night with a bit of good old fashioned hoppy goodness.
I was attracted to the XX Bitter due to its association with one of my favourite beers. The commercial description suggests this is reminiscent of Orval (#37) in its heyday, and this is true to some extent – Orval certainly used to add more hops to its mash in bygone days. The gentlemen at De Ranke, big fans of Orval, noted this and decided to try and reverse the trend by adding more and more hops. The result is now possibly Belgium’s hoppiest beer!
The process of making a beer this hoppy requires some care and attention from its owners, and this is why Guido and Nino at De Ranke use only hop flowers to make their beers. Almost every brewer in the country has moved towards using hop extracts now, but our protagonists argue that you cannot match the texture and complexity of a beer which uses the flower as opposed to the pellet.
There are a number of reasons why brewers have opted away from the flowers themselves. Firstly, because the flowers are so fresh they have a massive impact on the flavour of the beer. This is great if you have a high quality hop, but very bad if you don’t! It can often be hit and miss, and expensive to get the best hops. Hops are also seasonal and so you have to buy the optimal amount at the start of the year, and then it is also very expensive to continue to keep them fresh. This requires refrigeration which is expensive on a grand scale. Finally, hop flowers require a lot of cleaning due to their propensity to stick to anything after being cooked. If you opt for hop flowers, then you can pretty much kiss goodbye to automatic production.
De Ranke remain committed to making beers this way, and only tend to use the highest quality hop flowers from Poperinge. If the XX bitter is an example of a beer made this way, then I only wish I was born in the pre-pellet era. The bitterness of the XX was staggering, yet it was full of flavour and attitude. I nursed it like the last beer I was ever going to drink and eventually the bar staff had to kick us out.