your eyes and try to imagine a brewery whose “light”
beer weighs in at 7% alcohol by volume. Their traditional ale,
at 12%, is in line with a medium-bodied wine. Now imagine that
this is not a high potency product aimed at frat boys impatient
for a buzz, but a high-quality beverage with flavor and refinement
that matches well with a variety of foods. Got it? Okay, now open
your eyes; you should have been imagining something like this:
is an ale from Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium,
and is produced by the Dubuisson Brewery. Belgium is considered
by many beer-lovers to be the fatherland of beer (despite Germany
and England’s conflicting claims), and Dubuisson can call
itself part of the aristocracy of the country’s brewers,
being the oldest family-owned brewery in Wallonia still in operation.
They opened their doors in 1769, and the Dubuisson family is now
in the eighth generation to run the brewery.
Scaldis is the brewery’s flagship beer, which they have
been producing under the current recipe since 1933. Their original
intent was to tap into the English beer market by creating a product
that was somewhere between the Belgian and English brewing styles.
The high alcoholic strength is achieved naturally by fermenting
at higher than normal temperatures, without resorting to evaporation
or freezing to remove water. To give the beer complexity three
different malts are used in making the beer, including a caramel
malt that gives it its amber color. Unlike most high-strength
beers, Scaldis is dry, with a clean, nutty finish. The brewery
recommends serving the beer at about 68-70°; I tried it both
warm and cold and found it enjoyable both ways. The nose is characterized
by sherry, caramel, and roasted filbert aromas, complemented by
some floral, hoppy notes. Malty, yeasty, and caramel elements
come across more strongly at room temperature, whereas the beer
comes across somewhat fruitier when cold – a touch of green
apples and pears. The finish is long and warming, but remains
in balance with the flavors. There is no surprise hit from the
alcohol; the beer is consistent and smooth from start to finish.
Since the 90s Dubuisson has added some other brews to its portfolio,
only one of which is available here in the U.S. The Scaldis Noel
is their Christmas ale and is consistent with the house style
in avoiding a cloying mouthfeel in favor of clean maltiness –despite
being just as strong as the original. In keeping with its season
it does have a touch of sweetness as well as a more pronounced
hoppiness. Hugues Dubuisson, the current brewer, added this beer
to the brewery’s portfolio in 1991. Ten years ago he also
developed Clovis, the aforementioned “light” beer,
to celebrate the brewery’s 225th anniversary, but it is
no longer available. Should you visit Europe, be sure to keep
an eye out for Dubuisson’s other beer, Bush Blond, and for
their Brasse-Temps brewpubs, which sell seasonal brews produced
on-site in addition to the commercially bottled beers.
Where did the name “Bush” come from? They originally
chose the English name “Bush” as a translation of
their own name (buisson, in French, is “bush”) as
part of their attempt to enter the British market in the 1930s.
However, in the U.S. they, like a more well-known Czech beer,
ran afoul of a certain large, American producer whose name is
remarkably similar. So to avoid ruffling feathers the “Bush”
beers are marketed in the U.S. as “Scaldis.” Both
“Bush” and “Busch” are family names in
this case, so the rights in the case - if Dubuisson were to pursue
it - are hardly clear. “Scaldis” is a departure from
the family name; it’s the Latin name for the river Schelde,
which flows near the brewery.
Because of its complexity and strength, Scaldis has a lot more
to offer with food than many beers. It brings an added richness
to salmon and veal, and its nutty elements pair it well with autumn
squash and pumpkin. Similarly it fares well with any number of
desserts, especially those with cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger,
and even works with chocolate. The beer’s American importer
Vanberg & DeWulf also suggests Scaldis as a great way to end
a meal, in lieu of cognac – in a snifter, no less.
Dubuisson shows a remarkable sense of direction and focus in keeping
to a limited number of beers with a consistent and clear house
style. Their beers display impressive complexity, and there is
not a trace of gimmickry in their high strength. Scaldis shows
once again the variety and flavor that can be wrung from the simple
ingredients of malt barley, yeast, hops, and water.
You can visit the original Dubuisson Brewery for a tour, tastings,
and a meal in Pipaix, Belgium, outside the larger town of Tournai.
Regular tours are conducted on Saturdays, and groups can make
reservations for other times during the week. The visitor center
“Trolls and Bush” is also the only place to serve
a new brew called “Bush Prestige.” In 2000 they opened
their first brewpub, Le Brasse-Temps, in Louvain-la-Neuve, which
serves the Bush beers mentioned above plus a blond beer called
“Cuvées des Trolls;” more brewpubs are planned.
The Auberge le XIXe in Thulin, near the French border, is a Belgian
inn which has been operating since 1822; the kitchen there has
developed a number of recipes that that feature Bush beers. Their
menu focuses on classic Belgian country fare, and they serve the
full range of Dubuisson brews.