Kwak: A fad wannabe
I was wary of Kwak from the day I saw some buffoon chugging them back, incorrectly, from the silly, half-yard of ale contraption these beers are supposed to be served in. I didn't like him or the glass, and was prepared to not like the beer. I put off having it for ages. After all, there are tons of fabulous Belgian beers poured in respectable glasses that can be had for the price they ask for Kwak. Why bother with one that needs a gimmick? But, I recently happened on a bottle of it in a shop, and thought the time was finally right. I took it home and poured it in a normal glass to see what I'd been missing.
It's rare that I find a Belgian beer that doesn't hold at least some appeal to me. Kwak is that rare beer. It's not exactly swill, but dollar for dollar, it would rank in the bottom half of any beer list of mine. This is one of the very few Belgian beers I wouldn't recommend to anyone in any situation. How much of this opinion is due to the beer and how much comes from my hatred of the novelty glass? Maybe I can't separate one from the other, even when I have the beer in my own mug? I don't think the brewers want you to separate the beer from the glass. That's the schtick. The beer is mostly forgettable, so they're hoping you'll remember it by what it was served in.
In fairness, the glass did once serve a purpose. Or, at least, that's the myth. A long, long time ago, in a place far, far away, the Napoleonic Code stipulated that coachmen had to stay in their perch if they wanted to grab a quick beer on the ride. When they passed Pauwel Kwak's little pub, he invented a little wooden device that held the glass which he could then attach right to the coach for his customers. The shape of the glass helped reduce spillage on particularly rough passages of the journey. Those days are long gone. The only purpose of the glass now is to lure suckers, and to annoy me.
The beer does look fine in whatever glass it's poured in, a rich and cloudy red-amber with a decent white head. The aroma didn't show up for me until it warmed a bit, but what came along wasn't much to get excited about anyway. For a Belgian strong ale, the 8% alcohol level is about right, but most other decent beers of the type hide the alcohol much better than Kwak manages. There's a bit of sugar in the aroma and a faint amount of fruit, but the alcohol is already evident. It's even more apparent in the flavor. The tingle of it crackles and warms right from the start. There's a quick sip of something like cider, but that fades in a flash to a heavier, syrupy, caramel finish. More complexity is expected from a decent Belgian. Kwak tastes like it's trying too hard, when most beer out of that country tastes effortlessly great.
Kwak is full bodied, so, despite the fact that they're easy enough going down, not very many are going to fit. The alcohol content prevents them from being session beers, anyway. As does the price. And the flavor. They would pair well enough with practically any standard meat dish, but not especially well. Not well enough to drop that kind of cash for a barely acceptable dinner beer that will fill you up faster than the steak. I can't imagine any restaurant bothering to offer it in the first place. There are just too many great beers they could choose from to suit their purpose. Offering Kwak would signal a very lazy and uninformed beer list at any restaurant. If it's on there, the purpose is surely to gouge unsuspecting customers, and it would probably be best to just get up then and move on.
Despite the heft, Kwak is a cutesy beer that uses the glass gimmick to attract customers. They pump up the alcohol and try to balance the flavor by adding more of everything -- more hops, more malt -- until everything is overblown and confused. It doesn't balance; it's just a sticky mess of strong beer without a distinctive flavor. Real beer drinkers should know to steer clear of this fad wannabe. The only benefit it has is the amusement factor in watching the idiots trying to drink the stuff out of the ridiculous glass. Invariably, they know as little about how those half-yard of ale glasses work as they know about quality beer. The bulb holding the last, big swallow lets go all at once, and the buffoons end up wearing the last bit of the over-priced ale. A suitable punishment for being taken in by a quack beer.