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Pauwel Kwak

Brouwerij Bosteels

Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 8.4%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

For my latest International Beer Month stop, I’m venturing from the Belgian Trappist breweries, all the way to, uh … well, Belgium. But this time, we’re stepping away from the monasteries and into the mainstream, with Brouwerij Bosteels Pauwel Kwak.

I touched on Bosteels last year at this time, when I reviewed one of my all-time favorite brews, Tripel Karmeliet. Tripel Karmeliet was a touchstone brew for young Nigel, one of the first authentic Belgian ales that I ever sampled. While not technically Trappist, the complexity and quality puts it on that same high level. Tripel Karmeliet was, however, the only brew that I had tried from Bosteels, a brewery that’s been around since 1791, until recently.

Upon a visit to a tiny local pub with a huge selection of imports, I discovered Pauwel Kwak, a beer from Bosteels that I’d seen many times, but never tried. Given my man-crush on Tripel Karmeliet, I figured I’d give it a shot. Granted, my first taste came after having indulged in a not-so-great Polish beer, but I was very impressed. Tripel Karmeliet? Not even close, but Pauwel Kwak, while very different, was still very good.

Pauwel Kwak is a bit of a different beast in the Belgian world. Considered a “Belgian Strong Ale,” a category that is open for interpretation, it doesn’t have the typical tongue-numbing spiciness associated with many Belgian ales. This is no tripel or abt; rather, it’s more lager-ish, a bit darker and maltier than many popular Belgians. Named after an 18th century brewer/innkeeper (I’m guessing his name translates to “Paul Duck” in English), Pauwel Kwak is the only other widely distributed brew from Bosteels (the powerful, unique Deus Brut des Flandres is the only other Bosteels brew available on a semi-mainstream basis).

Pawel Kwak pours like a Belgian ale, with a monstrous head of a couple of inches that slowly dissipates, leaving a plentiful, creamy lace throughout the session with a bit of stickiness on the sides of the glass. A wonderful amber hue with decent carbonation and little sedimentation (unlike most Belgian beers, this appears to be filtered) it’s a good looking brew in the glass, though unique for a Belgian ale.

Aromas are moderate, but a bit off. It’s somewhat acidic, with a touch too much alcohol, as well as that bland, “normal” beer aroma. Sugary hints, mainly in the form of caramel and brown sugar come through initially, joined by light fruit (mainly citrus, some banana) and a touch of grain. A hint of Belgian yeast gives it that “authentic” feel, but all in all, it smells like your average, run-of-the-mill beer.

The flavor redeems, though this isn’t a five-mugger by any stretch of the imagination. Tripel Karmeliet impressed, but Pauwel Kwak simply satisfies, not that that’s a bad thing. Dominant flavors are light fruitiness (grapefruit, orange, and banana), with a good amount of sugary sweetness (caramel and toffee). As the beer warms, earthy malt begins to take hold, mostly a grassy, tepid flavor … not anything overly smoky or roasted. The biggest detriment, as it was in the aroma, is the presence of alcohol. An eye-opening zest hits you upside the head on occasion, which draws away from the zesty fruit, light sugar, and rich malt. For the most part, Pauwel Kwak maintains its balance, but at times it begins to challenge the palate more than it needs to. When the alcohol and stale grain takes over, it moves away from an interesting, unique Belgian ale, into the realm of a boring ol’ beer, which is a shame. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, the high ABV (8.4 percent) and sometimes challenging drinkability makes this a one-time treat rather than a session brew.

Overall, a good drink. While the Trappist ales, as well as big brother Tripel Karmeliet are far better than Pauwel Kwak, it’s a decent beer. Certain unpleasant characteristics rear their ugly heads at times, but for the most part the flavor and balance drowns that out. If you’re looking for a strong but approachable import of quality, Pauwel Kwak may be just the ticket. Available in 11.2-ounce singles or the 25.8-ounce champagne-style bottle, it’s a definitely worth a shot.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 23, 2010.
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