Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brouwerij West (San Jose, CA)

When stopping at a place like Binny's in Schaumburg, it's hard to choose sometimes. One wall of the warehouse is just for beer.  Delightfully confusing as to what to pick.

On my last visit from Chicago, the Brouwerij West labels caught my eye. I bought pretty bottles on the fly with no name recognition or research. Generally, quality and attitude match either.  I thought the focus on art would signal similarly high brewing standards: wrong.

Tasting at home, I started light and worked up. Surprised I bought a blond, I don't think I noticed the name because it was this label that first drew my attention. Shimmering gold ale with a slight haze from me overpouring the sediment that I didn't expect. Snow white head that lingers forever into a thick lace.  Sweet corn and light bread in the nose with a bit of spice. With corn and spice on the tongue, it's more like a high end macro than a Belgian blond, but cleanly brewed and perfectly fine.

Reading the website, the brewer has a particular attitude.  As a statement of philosophy, "We make beer in classic belgian style with mostly belgian ingredients. Our beer is dry and refreshing. We make no IPA and have no barrel aging or spices." The lowercase Belgian caught my eye, as well as the "no IPA". From my experience, Belgian brewers show little regard for rules or styles, so the attitude of no spices or barrel aging is odd.  
I hoped that moving on would bring some improvement.  To the Saison: extra hazy dark yellow with a white head; light pepper and spice in the nose per the style; taste is muddled and dull without much of the nose making it to the tongue. I poured it correctly but there's an odd yeasty twang that that lingers that I'm not thrilled to drink.

Half way through my BW bottles and not impressed so far.  Perusing further into the website, the brewery, contrary to branding rules, changes the artwork for a beer over time, expanding the artists used on the labels. Again, I like the concept but only if the beer is as worthy as the concept. So far the beer is lacking compared to the high ideals, but there's two left to try.

The Tripel is a hazy orange to amber with an off white head.  Nose has a nice hoppy spice, pepper and  lemon, but the taste is again muddled and out of balance. Three is a trend and the brewery has what my wife calls 't IJ Syndrome. When we visited 't IJ (prounounced "et eye") in Amsterdam, my wife noted that all of the beers tasted the same (because of the house yeast).  BW also have a house taste, and not to its advantage like 't IJ, which continues with my final bottle, Mor Mor. A quadrupel, Mor Mor has an acidic cherry bite with some dark fruit underneath and a head that was rocky and irregular and went flat quickly with boozy nose. Inelegant and raw, I preferred the blond in spite of quad being a favored style.

I like the art of the Brouwerij West but not impressed by the beer at all.  No repeat customer here. When I put the brewery in my database, it appears just before Westvleteren.  While I get "Brewery West" for a California brewery, the coincidence seems a bit contrived. Regardless of intent, my overall impression is that the brewery needs to focus more on flavor and less on extraneous details. Unfortunately, my leap of faith wasn't rewarded this time and definitely not worth the couple of days of beer quota to drink them.

Beer friend Al was also on this Chicago trip and bought some of the same Brouwerij West beers.  Check out his more positive perspective.


  1. I haven't gotten to my bottles yet. Thanks for the warning.

  2. Hi!
    Really appreciate you taking the time to write this review. Since you are an artist(poet) I know you understand how exciting it is to have your work out in the world and to receive feedback. Both good and bad.
    I am sorry that my simple beer company did not resonate with you. Brouwerij West is the end product of my 7 years working closely with many Belgian Breweries and most of the American Craft breweries.(i started a speciality belgian sugar import and distribution company)
    For brouwerij west, my goal is to brew great beer and to eliminate all the typical ad copy and let artists control all the content of the beer labels while they paid for the art and they receive full credit. Additionally, the name Brouwerij West, is intended as the combination of my Belgian working history and the beers being brewed in California. Not to rest next to Westvleteren.(I think they are actually, Trappist Westvleteren - not brouwerij) As for the spices and IPA's.. I like both but prefer not brew them.
    After all not every brewer in Belgium brews all Belgian styles. Orval brews a single beer!
    Anyway, we are finally building our own brewery in Los Angeles. If you are in the area, stop by. I'll buy you a beer(one from another brewery!) It would be great to meet with you and to hear your perspective.

    Best regards,

    brian mercer - brouwerij west

  3. Thanks for the response Brian. I like your word "resonate" to describe a reaction to a beer. I know that there are a lot of a beers in the world that resonate with other people that don't strike a chord with me, which I try to make clear in my reviews that this is my personal tasting.

    I am planning to trip LA in the future (used to live there and still visit friends occasionally)and would happily visit brouwerij west for a tour and a local tasting. I will let you know if I'm in the area. Good luck and happy brewing.