Richard Armitage and blondes. No, not Genevieve O’Reilly.

[re: the spelling of “blond / blonde” — Belgians actually use “blond” rather than “blonde” to describe their ale, but the label varies in the U.S., and for various reasons I decided to use “blonde” all the way through this post except if I am referring to a male actor. There are probably typos, sigh. One tries.]
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Spooks-00328Richard Armitage as Lucas North in Spooks 7.5 with Hermione Norris as Ros — my favorite blonde actor with whom Armitage has worked. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Ready for the weekend, everyone?

Regular readers know I enjoy a beer or two of an occasional evening, and I sometimes find myself wondering whether Richard Armitage and I would be compatible as drinking buddies. In the one fantasy I wrote down where he appears in my “local,” I have him drinking Saison Dupont, a blonde saison. At some point he mentioned, I think in one of the twitter interviews, that Thorin’s drink of choice would be room temperature ale, but it was unclear that would be Armitage’s choice.

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vlcsnap-2014-02-28-21h55m11s87Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) gets a mug of ale at the Prancing Pony in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Overall, however, Thorin seems to get more thrill from smoking.

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Even so, despite a statement in the Cinemaxx interview in December 2012 that he “[doesn’t] really drink beer,” in July of 2013 at the World’s End premiere in Wellington, Armitage admitted to planning a “pub crawl” with Graham McTavish and preferring a particular sort of beer:

Someone’s already made pinot noir recommendations, but I don’t recall anyone doing blonde beers, at least not  yet.

I never used to be an intense beer lover — when I lived in Germany, I learned to enjoy Bohemian beers like Budvar and Pilsener Urquell — remember my thrill when Armitage did that ad? — but I didn’t pine for them if I couldn’t have them. I enjoyed some of the better Rhenish white wines, and we went on vacation in France a few times and I developed a taste for bone dry whites (Loire valley origin mostly, some from Burgundy too), but one of the joys of the last three years of my life has been turning away from lagers and pilseners and developing a greater familiarity with the world of Belgian and Belgian-style beers. I should note that I’ve fallen in love with them solely on the basis of how the beer tastes to me; I am not qualified to comment in much detail about brewing, fermentation, conditioning, etc.

So I have a few recommendations for Mr. Armitage, should he be looking for a cloudy blonde this weekend or any other time. And I recommend to him, should he find said blonde, that he not recount what he’s described as his only joke. Just a suggestion. Save it for when you’ve made the sale, dude.

(Servetus encourages everyone to drink responsibly.)

(Servetus is sure that Richard Armitage only ever drinks responsibly at all times.)

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Taminner1

Richard Armitage and Tami Lane (2012?). This one could maybe go on my top ten against the winter blues list. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Belgian brewers themselves don’t obey style rules — they are mostly labels to make a beer recognizable to consumers. But for purposes of taxonomy mostly important in judging craft beer competitions or trademark labeling, a (Belgian) blonde ale does have particular characteristics that you can read about here. The main features are a yeasty aroma and taste, a malty sweetness at the beginning of the swallow, with a dryness toward the end and low bitterness (15-30 IBU/EBUs). They have a medium carbonation, are best served cooler than room temperature, and should hold a head fairly well. For beer lovers the head is not wasted space, but a component of the drink, a quality feature of a beer that a lot of novice bartenders unfortunately ignore in their rush to give the customer good value. Good taste in beer dictates that even for a high alcohol beer, one shouldn’t immediately taste the alcohol, and the ideal blonde is absolutely not alcohol forward; if the taste of alcohol emerges at all in the tasting it should be at the end of the swallow. Alcohol by volume (ABV) ranges around 7 percent, which is more than the usual U.S. commercial lager (around 4 percent) but a relatively low amount for a Belgian beer, which ranges comfortably through 12 percent. The blonde is not a traditional style, really — it became popular in the postwar era, made to appeal to drinkers who prefer drier pilsener.

tumblr_lxwvglff0N1qes3igo1_400So, assuming Armitage stated his “signature” beer preference accurately and knows what he’s talking about, what can we hypothesize? We can infer that he likes a pale beer that is not especially bitter and stronger than the average American lager but not a knockout. (So despite the ad, he probably doesn’t like Pilsener Urquell all that well; it’s comparatively bitter. Oh, well. Another dream dashed!) Anyway, the comment about “cloudy” possibly points to enjoying the yeastier aspects of the beer; he might like some of the cloudier saisons or farmhouse ales, as well. These beers all have an enticing phenol smell, sort of spicy or bubblegummy. Blondes tend to be described as “sessionable,” which means that you can spend an entire evening drinking them. They are a bit sweet, which is good — were Armitage on the current bandwagon for increasingly hop-heavy, ever more bitter beers (my upper limit is about 50-60 IBUs), he and I might eventually find it hard to go to the same bars. Hypothetically, of course. There are a few IPAs I can choke down. And after all, it would be Richard Armitage … maybe I could make an exception … oh wait, back to the topic: Armitage and blondes.

Now, I admit that the “single” blond is not my favorite style; despite the fact that one can drink a lot of it, I tend to find its flavor a bit stingy. Ideally, though, I like a dubbel, tripel or a dark strong ale /quadrupel, all of which are higher in alcohol content, maltier, and darker. I also love sour beers, lambics, and Flemish reds, precisely because of the really strong, intense, flavors. The exception that looks blonde would be the occasional blond saison, or a Belgian Golden Strong Ale — there’s an American beer made in this style, Delirium Tremens, that is much beloved of beer drinkers. But on the whole, the beers I prefer are not really sessionable; they are too intense in flavor and too high in alcohol to make me want more than two rounds. This kind of beer is served in smaller portions (usually in a chalice or goblet) and tend to be more expensive.

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series7-28Lucas North (Richard Armitage) and Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones) in a production still from Spooks 7. I guess Penry-Jones doesn’t look all that blond here. Source: Phyllys Faves (probably from RichardArmitageNet.com)

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Nonetheless, the blonde is a tasty style, at least for people who aren’t in thrall to the current fashion for hops, and one that’s caught on in the U.S. in the last decade as Belgians have exported more of them and Americans begin to brew in the Belgian style. So herewith a few recommendations — from the easy knock-back to a more challenging swallow — for Armitage or anyone who wants to go on a pub crawl and prefers to do it with blonds or blondes. (Servetus smiles.) Some are Abbey beers or Trappist beers, exclusive designations that connect them to their histories in monastic institution and which carry a cachet to those in the know.

leffeThe easiest blonde to find in the U.S. is probably Leffe (6.6% ABV). It’s an InBev product which means beer hipsters think it’s cool to hate, but as a consequence,  it can be obtained practically everywhere, especially in supermarkets (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had it on draught, which is how I prefer beer). It pours really beautifully, holds a head well, and is just plain pretty to look at. If you’ve never drunk beer before, or if you’re used to lager and you’ve never tried a blonde,  this isn’t a bad place to start. It will taste a little sweeter than you’re used to, but along with the yeast flavor, it has a citrusy tone and a dry finish. Drink cold, as it will taste sweeter as it gets warmer and flatter. Unremarkable, but sessionable for a practiced drinker. An Abbey beer.

duvel-single-fermentedThe next most easily available blonde is likely Duvel Single (6.8% ABV). I’ve had this on draft at least once. It’s less yeasty and notably less sweet and fruity than the Leffe, but the single can be harder to find. Duvel’s more traditional offering is the dubbel (8.5% ABV), which is yeastier, fruitier, and more intense — and also more popular among beer lovers, who tend to think of the single as a product that’s been altered from the original in order to appeal to a market that likes a lighter beer and wants its beer sessionable, which this one definitely is. The single has a more noticeable hop note and practically no yeast flavor at all. I don’t especially like this one but it’s another choice that wouldn’t be a bad beginning for people who are accustomed to lager.

La_Trappe_Taca_01-500x500Next comes a beer from a brewery that I love, La Trappe (a Trappist brewery), but their blonde (6.5% ABV) is the product of theirs I’ve tried that I like the least, probably because I find it too heavily carbonated — indeed, it actually calls itself a lager — but it doesn’t hold its head well. Totally sessionable and probably a good beer to have with dinner; it has a noticeable bready taste (Armitage might like the cloudiness) that overwhelms any element of fruitiness. You will get the wrong impression of this excellent brewery if this is your introduction to its beers. The flavor is not complex, and it doesn’t change with the temperature of the beer, either, which is a flaw. If you drink a glass of a Belgian, you should taste different things as the beer warms.

Too much beer? Do we need another blond?

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hobbit-dean-ogorman-richard-armitage

Dean O’Gorman as Fili and Richard Armitage as Thorin in a production still from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

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Editiepajot_Affligem_BlondSo, other than Dean O’Gorman, which blondes do you recommend, Servetus?

In the running for a solid, delicious single blonde that is easy to find would definitely be Affligem Blond (6.8 % ABV), another Abbey beer. It wins prizes year after year and two or three mouthfuls will explain why. It’s got the most complex yeast flavors of the beers I’ve described so far — this is something that’s hard to explain if you’re not a beer drinker, but different strains of yeast can be used to make a beer and whatever they’re using for this one occasionally has a peppery note. The middle of the swallow tastes a bit grassy or stably and towards the end of it, I get a hint of citrus. (I really like beers that taste of hay — don’t ask me why — it’s just a taste I prefer — and if I were recommending a widely available saison with a more pronounced flavor in this direction I’d pick Vapeur Saison de Pipaix.) Very fruity (especially apple) and creamy flavor, and has a heavier mouthfeel and flavor palate than the ABV would suggest it should have. Potentially sessionable if measured by ABV, but I think two glasses would be enough in terms of flavor.

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 8.28.45 PMIf the drinker is willing to go for more alcohol, i.e., still a blonde but a strong ale instead of a single, I really like the La Chouffe Achouffe (8% ABV — so beware, dieters and motorists, we are now entering the realm of two servings of alcohol in one beer). This a beautiful beer from start to finish — an appealing head and a fantastic mouthfeel. Cloudy, yeasty (and even yeastier, if you pour it from the bottle, as it’s bottle-conditioned and depending on your tastes, you can massage those last dregs out to enhance the taste), malty sweetness forward, a sort of slightly bitter citrusy lemongrass taste toward the back end of the swallow. Note: this one is not “funky” — no hint of hay or pronounced sour taste — but has a very uniform, fruity flavor all the way through, a dry finish, and pleasant, spicy aftertaste. This is a newer beer; it’s only been in production since the 1980s so doesn’t have the half-century or century-long history of some of the earlier beers mentioned, but its extremely friendly and consistent quality means that it’s become widely available. In my opinion no beer at 8% ABV or above is truly sessionable except in a long session if the drinker is very experienced, but you don’t taste the alcohol. In this category (Golden Strong Ale), I also love Dupont Moinette (harder to find in the U.S. — I noted in my fantasy that it would impress me if Armitage knew to order this), which is somewhat more bitter than the La Chouffe, and, as I mentioned above, Delirium Tremens, probably the most popular U.S. domestic offering. New Belgium (purveyors of Fat Tire) makes a lot of these, for instance in its Lips of Faith series, but the quality varies drastically, I find.

dsc00785Source: Beer Blotter

A local brewery that’s been garnering national attention that produces a lot of blonde saisons that I would recommend to anyone is St. Somewhere. Not many of them are distributed nationally, but one of those that is the cloudiest blonde ever, Saison Athene (left; 7.5% ABV). I also adore, adore, adore their Pays du Soleil (8% ABV), which as a dubbel is a little darker, but not all that much. Both of these beers are just full of stuff to love. They pour with fantastic heads that last for the entire glass; they have really explosive flavors, with yeast forward, herb and spice tones, sour and musky tastes midway through the swallow, and an aftertaste that just makes you want another mouthful, and another. The alcohol is unnoticeable in the Athene, and while you smell it in the Pays du soleil, you don’t really taste it. If you’re in an area where they distribute kegs, there are lots of other pale beers to try, among them Caroline, Serge, and Cynthiana (has grapes in the mash).

Val-Dieu_Blonde_RRMy favorite beer in the center of the blonde style, however, is the Val-Dieu Blonde (6% ABV), another Abbey beer. Extremely flavorful but also fully sessionable if you can drink more than two glasses of something that to me has a very fruity, intense flavor. I have never had this one on tap, unfortunately, which is my only reservation about recommending it more broadly. Gorgeous head that fades to a cap but leaves suds in every swallow; strong phenol forward aroma; very yeasty taste; just enough carbonation to awake the tongue but not enough to distract from the extremely fruity flavor. The drinker should start with it reasonably cold, but as this beer warms, various herbal aromas and flavors emerge from the glass and unfold around the tongue. Signals at the sugary / caramel flavors that one expects from the dubbel, but without the heaviness or extra alcohol. Still, not something for those who prefer a more bitter blonde.

ommegang-goudenhop-belgian-style-blonde-ale-beer-new-york-usa-10565282A final random “blonde” recommendation, since Richard Armitage now finds himself in New York — one of my favorite breweries, Ommegang, would be a nice weekend trip for beer lovers or anyone else. I’ve never tried their Belgian blonde ale, but I love every other beer they’ve made that I’ve tried.

Oh, and I’d really like to recommend some pale beers that taste like champagne (Bière-brut), but this is already too long. We’ll see what Armitage says about beer next and go from there.

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Here is a picture of Ian Macilwain and beer and one of Richard Armitage and beer. No blondes.

And one final picture of Richard Armitage and a blonde, just to end the evening well.

BAFTA2010-14

Richard Armitage and Miranda Raison, BAFTA TV Awards, May 2010. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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(Servetus encourages everyone else to drink responsibly.)

(Servetus is sure that Richard Armitage only ever drinks responsibly at all times.)

~ by Servetus on March 1, 2014.

33 Responses to “Richard Armitage and blondes. No, not Genevieve O’Reilly.”

  1. “So other than Dean O’Gorman…” *dies laughing*

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  2. This makes me want to begin a tasting quest for all that you have mentioned above. Many years ago I was quite a beer drinker, but haven’t had any for some time. I’ve always preferred a darker beer, but these “blondes” sound wonderful to me.

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    • I like darker beers better now, too — but none of these are bad and these days I like them all better than lager.

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  3. All excellent choices I’m sure! When it comes to cloudy, blonde and ale-like, I’m a big fan of Spotted Cow…pity it’s only available in one place 😉

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  4. Ode to Blonde Brewskis

    Three cheers for the beers that are gold,
    May their flavors be forever bold.
    Let us each raise our glass,
    And toast RA’s fine ass .
    A view that never gets old,

    Feel free to delete this if it is too crude. My feelings will not be hurt. I thought it was funny, but maybe not.

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  5. My local occasionally has LaChouffe. Pricey, but yummy.

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    • yeah, that’s the advantage to the InBev products — more widely distributed, cheaper … and honestly, while I like LaChouffe I think the price is usually more than I want to pay for this kind of beer.

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  6. Oh Servetus, it’s great that you get to enjoy our lovely beers! As they say: you’ve never really had beer until you’ve tasted the best of Belgium! I invite you all to come and visit our original beer cafés to taste them the way they were meant to be tasted. I enjoy a Leffe now and then, but there’s also Grimbergen, Ter Dolen, Hoegaarden, Chimay, Kwak, Westmalle, Orval, Vedett, Brigand, Straffen Hendrik, Maredsous, Omer, etc.etc….All with their differences and specific tastes.
    One funny detail is that Stella Artois, for instance, is the ‘cheap beer’ here in Belgium, but that it’s sold as high-quality (and pricey) beer abroad – always makes us chuckle!
    Cheers!! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Inge, and I totally agree about the diversity of Belgian offerings — he was the one who said he likes cloudy blondes, not me — there are many, many better Belgian beers than the ones I’ve listed. I was recommending ones I’d had in his preferred style. I’ve never had the Grimbergen or the Straffe Hendrik singles, and afaik the others don’t make a single blonde.

      My favorites from Belgium are probably St Bernardus Abt 12 and La Trappe Quadrupel. I also just got to try a La Trappe bock (who knew?) that I loved. Chimay is widely available here and I really like it. But my favorites are all darker, higher alcohol, and not cloudy blondes 🙂 — well, with the exception of the saisons / farmhouse ales …

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    • should add — I did get a half a bottle of the Westvleteren 12 that everyone says is the best beer i the world, and I thought it was great — but I didn’t get to drink enough of it to really put it on the list of my absolute favorites … sadly …

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  7. Good choices. I am more of a wine drinker, but have been trying to broaden my beer horizons, and have tried some of the mentioned beers.

    As a blonde, I approve 😉

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  8. […] can’t believe I forgot to include a reference to this last night — I think must have been too focused on the beer aspect of the […]

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  9. This must be my favorite post ever! Painful to read as I’m awfully thirsty and homesick now. A cloudy blond is my favorite though I occasionally will try something darker and when I spotted Porter at my local brewery I just HAD to try 😉

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  10. Really appreciate you mentioning the value of the head to a beer, I never fail to complement when I’m served a beer WITH a head. Luckily the US has become more educated to its value. I’m going to add the temperature is another. I’ve taken a road trip to Ommegang and walked through the brewery. There’s also the Cellis brewery in Texas, the original Hoegaarden people who searched for the cleanest water source in the US. I’m going making a note of your suggestions and will be sure to taste them. I think I’ve mentioned Kriek Lambiek on draft will always remain my ultimate favorite

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    • it’s a struggle. I’ve settled for always going to the same bar, telling the bartender i want to see a head and if they don’t know how to get one, I will show them how to pour (which makes them laugh), then telling me they think the beers are expensive (which they are, they’re not Budweiser) and they want to give me as much beer as possible, to which I say, I will give you a better tip if you pour me a head. I say that to every bartender and after a year it’s starting to pay off …

      temperature is really hard in the US. I don’t know what to do about that one. I usually just wait for the beer to warm up, but of course that means the head dissipates somewhat.

      I had a Kappittel Prior last night that was fantastic. Great head, correct temperature, and malty suds all the way down the side of the glass as I drank more and more. It’s not the greatest example of the style, but correctly presented beer can make up for other problems.

      Kriek Lambiek on draft is *fantastic*!!

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  11. Good post! I don’t really drink beer, don’t like the taste. I am the one who buys it in our house and Mr. 70 tends to only like European beers or specialty ones from the US. Son1 has also bought home some good ones or so I have heard. The rule is bring it home but you got to share with dad. Son1 like Guniness the best known as motor oil in our house for the color. I do like Crabbies Ginger Beer and their Orange Beer.

    Love the picture with Rupert Penry-Jones and Richard, my two favorite actors together. Maybe someday they will act together again.

    Like

    • I don’t like Guinness, which is unfortunate b/c it was the first beer in that style I tried — I like other beers in that style now.

      Like

  12. […] Mr. Armitage, you can drink some of these blondes I was suggesting for you a while back. And I know you resolved to eat less this year, but surely you’ll make an […]

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