Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A Night at the Toronado Tasting Urthel Ales

By William Brand
Friday, January 12th, 2007 at 6:20 pm in Uncategorized.

I must remember to never try and drink beer at the Toronado in San Francisco and conduct interviews. But I always forget and this past Monday night was no exception.

The occasion was a tasting of two beers from Belgium Urthel Hop-It and Samaranth Quadrium Ale***, an ultra-strong, Trappist-style quadruple.

The brewer is Hildegard van Ostaden and the marketing arm of their small company is her husband, Bas. I’ve written extensively about Hop-It***, Hildegard’s very Belgian interpretation of an American West Coast IPA. You can find that Beer of the Week column here.

They were on their way to a beer dinner featuring their beers, put on Monday night by beer chef Bruce Paton. David Keene, proprietor of the Toronado (547 Haight St., San Francisco) at the invitation of Urthel importer, Bob Leggett of Artisanal Imports, held an impromptu tasting before dinner.

A lot of folks headed to the dinner also made it to Dave’s tasting and got to meet the van Ostadens. They are very charming, very European Belgians and they love their beer.
After I wrote my Hop-It column, I got a note from a reader, who is Belgian, who said they were involved in a lawsuit with their Belgian contract brewer, Van Steenberge, and had to have their beer brewed elsewhere.

I asked Hildegard, who said hotly that they had trouble getting their beer delivered and – . Well, I told her, I was here for the beer, not to report on a lawsuit. She liked that.

She told me the beer is now brewed in Holland at the De Koningshoeven Trappist brewery in Tilburg, the brewery where she worked and where she and her husband met and decided to go into the beer biz. Currently, the formulas are Hildegard’s, the brewing’s done a Koningshoeven. The brewery is one of the most commercial of the Trappist breweries and makes and markets the La Trappe beers, which are widely available in the U.S.

A night at the Toronado in San Francisco…

Magnolia proprietor/brewer Dave McLean,
Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden of Brewery
De Leyerth and 21st Amendment’s Shaun

Anyway, about the beer: Samaranth is – at this moment – a blonde beer, but Hildegard saidshe’s changing the malt recipe to add a lot of roast and chocolate malts and the version that will be sold in the U.S. will be quite dark. But the yeast and hops (bullion bittering, spicy Saaz for aroma) will remain the same. Besides barley malts, the beer was made with the addition of candy sugar, about 4 percent, Hildegard said. That’s the way a lot of beer is made in Belgium. The sugar boosts the alcohol and gives a beer an unmistakable light taste that I like.

Right now, it’s a medium golden color with a strong, malty nose and a whiff of heat from the alcohol. The taste begins sweet, but fades into a lasting dryness with a bit of tartness lingering on the tongue.

Hiledgard explained that the beer is almost fully attenuated. That is – it has been fermented to the point that nearly all the fermentable sugars have been converted to alcohol, leaving a very dry, very strong beer.

I noticed that at the Toronado Hop-It was extremely popular as well. Check out my Beer of the Week column for that.

Unfortunately, for my note taking, Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewery & Restaurant and Shaun O’Sullivan, of 21st Amendment showed up and bought us drinks. My note-taking went downhill from there. Oh well.

OK, bottom line, stores in the San Francisco Bay Area with a decent beer list tend to stock Hop-It. If you can’t find it, e-mail me at or call (510) 915-1180 and ask for my 2007 Retail Beer Store List.

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