#250 – Les Brasseurs Tripel

 

Les Brasseurs Tripel

Size: cask

ABV:  5.5 %

Stag parties tend to drink quicker than average; which in Belgium can be pretty dangerous. The poor Best Man will tend to hold the pocketful of age-weathered bank-notes and begrudgingly have to order a round of drinks every time the quickest drinker finishes his; and everybody else is too embarrassed to decline a drink so will continue to drink apace. In this case our quickest drinker was one of those more mature gentlemen who spends the majority of his time at the bar in England quaffing three or four pints of real ale every hour and never ever getting even slightly tipsy. This was very bad news.

We had only been in Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place for about eight minutes and we were already on to round two, which included the time it took to order from the bar. Table service seemed to have dried up at the moment the proprietors clocked it was a stag party, although from what I have heard about this place it could just as likely have been their customary incalcitrance. This brewpub is quickly having its reputation tarnished as an unfriendly tourist trap, which of course my party were not helping in any way with.

The location though is damned impressive; set literally just an inch off the Grand Place in Brussels. On a warmer day one can sit outside with a fag and a beer and watch one of Europes finest city squares go about its business. Today though it was cold, and we were all firmly indoors, which is also something of a pleasure. As soon as you enter Les Brasseurs you are immediately faced with the copper brew kettles on your left, from which seemingly miles of steel tubing wends away around the bar, upstairs, and into various atmospheric niches, nooks and crannies. The brewpub is set on three levels and the owners have done well to cram it all in so snugly. If you get bored tried to follow the maze of tubes with your eyes, then there is plenty of breweriana to explore.

Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place opened in the summer of 2001, and occupies a splendid looking building in the corner of the square. It was once a grocers, hardware store and even a concert hall, before finally ending up a famous coffee house in the 14th Century. It was only after a terrible fire in more recent times that the premises changed to one of Belgium’s most famous microbreweries. They continue to serve Brussels tourist fraternity by everyday drinking hours, and only somehow find the time to brew overnight when the public have finally been shoe-horned out the premises. It’s an expensive place to drink as you would expect, and they clearly make a lot of money given the daily throughput.

I recently read a comment about Les Brasseurs along the lines of “it could and should be so much more”, which is really quite painfully true. Here sits a microbrewery set in the very beating heart of a beer drinking capital which doesn’t seem to really take care of its customer. Les Brasseurs seem to have targeted their market at the average tourist, as opposed to any particular beer aficionado, and I feel their beer portfolio probably reflects this well. The Tripel was distinctive in its flavour but not particularly memorable. It was quite pale and a little flat, and I had hardly time to dwell on anything else before somebody was lining up my next one. Sigh

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Brasseurs de la Grand Place

#249 – Les Brasseurs Ambree

#249 - Les Brasseurs Ambree

Size: cask

ABV: 6 %

Most stag weekends these days tend to head to hedonistic Eastern European cities, where the beers are cheap, the police turn a blind eye and if you want to look at ladies or worse, then you don’t have to look too far. Imagine the glares on my friend’s faces when news spread we were heading to Belgium for my weekend of debauchery. A country famed for its expensive beers, heavy handed police and distinct lack of vice; not to mention the tapestries, chocolate and lace.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m the wrong side of thirty, and that my obsession with Belgian Beer was quickly becoming obsessive. Brussels would be the perfect destination for twelve good and proper gentlemen to educate themselves in the art of drinking beer – its just most of them didn’t know it yet. I left the Best Man to sort out the travel and the digs, while I pored over a succession of esteemed beer joints to continue on my Odyssey in style.

Eurostar took eleven of us into the city centre by early afternoon on the Friday, and while we waited for the final team-member to arrive from the Middle East we began to fill our boots in the hotel reception. The sensible ones started on the easy drinking Maes, while in true Beer Shrimper fashion I went for the high ABV Trappists early doors. I’d managed a few of these by the time all parties were present and we headed into town. I’d managed to convince everyone to trust me on the first round of drinks and manfully got the Best Man to rustle up twelve Tripel Karmeliets (#229). While the quality of the beer was never in question there were a few discerning remarks from the real ale drinkers about drinking from floral goblets, and questioning the sexuality* of those who might choose to. If I was to continue educating my group in the finer aspects of Belgian beer then I would need a different approach.

I’d planned the visit to Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place a little later in the night, but now seemed a good a time as any. A real microbrewery, with real mens glasses right in the middle of the famous town square. I could tick off a few more beers that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else, and my chums could choose from a varied selection of home-made beers or any other lagery drivel they wanted. The more sensible in the group went off and took the opportunity to grab some strategic food to help soak up the alcohol while I stood strong in advocating that any kind of eating was most definitely cheating. It would inevitably be a truly regrettable stance.

The first selection from this tiny little brewpub was the Les Brasseurs Ambree. Contrary to public opinion of which I am now more recently acquainted I found this to be a pretty enjoyable little beer. A deep copper coloured beverage with a spicy little accent on the nose, or at least that’s what I seem to recall. I remember thinking this was going to be the first of many decent beers in this joint but it was largely the pick of what turned out to be a fairly sorry bunch.

*Anybody who has enjoyed the film In Bruges may remember a similar scene.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Brasseurs de la Grand Place

#248 – Achel Blond 8

#248 - Achel Blond 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It wasn’t that long ago that I had first tried the Achel Bruin (#200), and up next was the highly rated Blond. The previous tale I spun was around the history of the brewery, but one shouldn’t leave these beers without a good look at the Abbey itself.

The real origins of the Achelse Kluis began way back in the mid 17th Century, out in the isolated countryside of Achel, which was then a small Princedom belonging to Liege. Here was built a small chapel which served the community as a worshipping place for the Catholic people of the nearby Protestant Netherlands who were not allowed to worship there under the current regime. The roots of the Abbey itself stem from Petrus van Eynatten heading here fromEindhoven in 1686 and setting up a priory of hermits which soon began to lead a life of prayer and contemplation. This quiet remote area would have drifted on and on but for the French Revolution in 1789 which tore the heart and soul out of the place.

The priory was then sold into the private hands of Jan Diederik van Tuyll van Serooskerken, but monastic life would eventually return thanks to the Trappist monks from the Abbey of Westmalle who founded the Abbey of St. Benedict in 1846. They put all their energies into ramping up the agricultural infrastructure; largely by developing livestock farming and by replacing wasteland with arable soil. Achel was granted Abbey status in 1871 and from here on really began to prosper, and sister projects would eventually spring up at Echt, Diepenveen, Rochefort (#31) and even at Kasanza in Congo.

Life would remain pretty unchanged at Achel until 1917 when the invading Germans dismantled the brewery for copper – 750kg of the stuff. The monks left, and a new Abbey was eventually built between 1946 and 1952, although in 1989, just after brewing had recommenced on the premises, most of the land attached was sold to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. What remains at the Abbey now is the final Trappist brewery, and a number of tertiary services which also include a small shop selling various paraphernalia, and a guesthouse.

Achel is often the most overlooked of the Trappist breweries, and I have to admit I haven’t been completely convinced up to now as to what all the fuss is about. I sat down to drink the Achel Blond the night before my stag weekend expecting something a little more grand. It was an enjoyably strong tripel which had a clean and crisp flavour but it certainly lacked any of the fire that you associate with the monastic brewers of Belgium. I began to wonder what this might have tasted like prior to World War I and ended up drifting off to sleep on the sofa.

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Filed under 7, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#247 – Tongerlo Christmas

#247 - Tongerlo Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I have slowly been working my way through the Tongerlo collection; a fact made more noticeable by the recent re-marketing of the beers and adaptation of styles. I first tried the very average Tripel Blonde (#30) where I was able to introduce the brewing at the Abbey. I then followed up with the slightly better Dubbel Bruin (#137); and a look at the Norbertine monks. The latest offering is the Tongerlo Christmas beer, and now a closer look at the history of the Abbey.

The religious community at Tongerlo was formed in 1133 by a group of monks from the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael of Antwerp, who had been invited by the wealthy landowner Giselbert Castelre to settle on his Tongerlo estate. The monks were characterised by the Norbertine traditions which was a popular and modern movement at the time. The Abbey grew in power through the 13th Century as a papal bull placed Tongerlo at the centre of a number of parish churches in the region. Numbers soon grew on the estate and the community began to spread itself wider. The remit of the Abbey steadily became more powerful, and the buildings grew in size with the best local architects enhancing the beauty of the place.

The rise to prominence was only checked in the 16th Century when the Abbey fell under the strongly Catholic stronghold of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.Rome began to increase taxes and salaries from Tongerlo considerably, and it was only in 1629 under the Calvinist revolt that Tongerlo was spared. It was probably a case of ‘better the devil you know’ however as the Calvinists banned all Catholic worship and many monks were exiled away from their parishes. Things became even worse in 1796 when the French Revolution swept into town and the Abbey came under private ownership. It was as late as 1838 when the Belgian state came into being, that a religious community found its way back to Tongerlo. The brothers have largely remained ever since; with just a brief sojourn at the Abbey of Leffe when a huge fire swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in 1929.

The Tongerlo Christmas is not your traditional dark Christmas fayre. It pours a rusty copper colour with a small and unassuming head. The hint of vanilla on the nose wasn’t completely lost on me, although I struggled to reach the same conclusion once it hit my tastebuds. It was a fairly fruity and enjoyable beer which just lacked any unique characteristics which might have led me to recommend it any further. Essentially if Father Christmas was buying you a sack full of Christmas beers this yuletide you might be a bit disappointed with too many of these.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, Haacht

#246 – Mystic Limoen

#246 - Mystic Limoen

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3.8 %

I often feel small pangs of guilt when having to write the odd bad thing about a beer; I mean at the end of the day it’s just my opinion right? There is however, a moment every so often, when you come across a beer which is crying out to be slam-dunked in the public forum. I have therefore absolutely no compunction whatsoever in advising every discerning and non-discerning beer drinker to steer well clear of the Mystic Limoen.

Any self-respecting beer aficionado of course wouldn’t need me to tell them this but there is clearly a market for the Mystic beers otherwise the brewers Haacht, and the number of other similar purveyors of these alcopops wouldn’t pollute the market with them. I would though like to bring to the attention of those who might fancy a brief dalliance with these beers, exactly what goes into them, because it certainly aint just barley, water, hops and yeast. According to the official ingredients you will also find the sinister sounding Acesulfame K among other dubiously unnatural additives.

I remember having a long conversation once with a homeopath about diet drinks and artificial sweeteners. The general view was that chemical additives such as aspartame end up pickling your internal organs if drunk in excess, and I’ve been cautious ever since. I decided therefore to have a quick look at Ace-K, or Acesulfame Potassium, or Sunett or Sweet-One as it is also more familiarly marketed as in the US. It has been an officially approved sweetener since 1988; approved that is by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. Remarkably Ace-K is two hundred times sweeter than table sugar and therefore has been widely used in carbonated drinks alongside other high street sweeteners, whereby a combination of both can often reduce the natural bitterness. That is about all the good news.

The bad news is that this is an additive which has barely been properly tested. Although the FDA in the USA and similar bodies in Europe will deny any concerns, Ace-K contains methylene chloride which is generally held to have carcinogenic properties. Aside from cancer, long term exposure to this compound can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver and kidney dysfunction, and visual disturbances. Tests conducted on rats over three months showed that an administration of acetoacetamide (a breakdown product) caused benign tumours. The FDA argue that further tests have proved inconclusive, in particular a study by the  National Toxicology Program where 60 rats were exposed to massively high does of Ace-K and did not contract tumours. Either way, there is clearly some concern over these additives, and it is generally accepted that Ace-K is one of the most under-tested and potentially most dangerous of the artifical sweetener family.

I’m not stating a case either way but one thing is for sure; that sweeteners such as Ace-K have no place in the world of beer, or certainly not the beer world which I want to live in. The Mystic Limoen was a dreadful experience in its own right, but when you consider the potential implications on your health of drinking beverages like this it just further adds to your woe. The irony of potentially poisoning the very punters that keep them in business at least raised something of a smirk; which is at least more than the beer or this story did.

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Filed under 4, Fruit Beer, Haacht

#245 – Chapeau Gueuze

#245 - Chapeau Gueuze

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

The Chapeau is the fifth gueuze of my journey thus far. I had started with the fairly unimpressive Timmermans (#12), and Belle-Vue (#62), and had then moved onto the much more respected Boon (#89) and Girardin White Label (#178). My recent lambic enlightenment however took a bit of a step back with this sweetened offering from de Troch.

The Chapeau portfolio of beers is largely dominated by an extensive selection of lambic fruit beers, topped off with a Gueuze, Winter Gueuze and a Faro. They tend to take a bit of a hammering in the company of other such purveyors as Hanssens, Cantillon and Boon but de Troch are a bona fide lambic brewery, who lovingly tend to their beers in the age old traditions. Pauwel Raes is the latest in a long line of family who have headed up the brewery, and he strongly believes in keeping to the old traditions.

The buildings at the de Troch brewery date from 1795 and are steeped in history. Even the equipment still used at de Troch is ancient; an example being the coal-fire kettle which is still used to brew the beer. The buildings are protected by an archaeological order, and while using older equipment in more dated confines does slow down the brewing process, Pauwel Raes argues that it has been instrumental in maintaining the quality of the beer. While many lambic breweries leave the wort to cool in koelschips in the open roof, Pauwel suggests the bacteria have long since just chosen to reside in the open air, but have impregnated every nook and cranny of his premises. It is for this reason that de Troch will resist any movement to bring their technology fully up to date. Pauwel explained that when a recent food safety inspection was carried out, the brewery were ordered to disinfect all the buildings and to stop using wooden barrels. This would have essentially ended the whole possibility of brewing lambic beer and thankfully pressure from local beer groups were able to ensure that less stringent measures are needed to be in place to ensure lambic breweries and blenders can continue to produce this unique brew.

The Chapeau Gueuze is made to the traditional lambic style, and follows a menu of 70% barley, and 30% wheat which is boiled to form the wort ready for spontaneous fermentation. Quite what happens thereafter is unclear but the end result is really quite blindingly sweet. This gueuze was much more akin to the Timmermans and the Belle-Vue than the drier gueuzes and for me tasted much more like a sweetened Faro. Pauwel Raes argues that because of the use of coalfires there is less overall control of the heat, and that this causes a heightened flavour of caramel in the final beer. Having quickly guzzled the contents of my glass I can kind of relate to that. I admit to being a bit of a stickler for sweet beers but having tried now a few of the more respected gueuze on the market I would certainly seek the latter out on a warm sunny afternoon to quench my thirst.

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Filed under 6, de Troch, Lambic - Gueuze

#244 – Dulle Griet

#244 - Dulle Griet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I first came across the Dulle Griet when drinking the Kastaar (#96), a review retelling the story of the Biervliet festivities which have regularly culminated in acts of mass kleptomania. One of the items once purloined was the 12 ton cannon named the Dulle Griet. This medieval supergun sits in Ghent (no doubt now superglued to the pavement) and was built in the early part of the 15th Century. It was then fully utilised on behalf of the City of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, which didn’t completely end happily as the retreating fighters were overrun and the gun taken. It was only finally returned to its true home in 1578, and tourists regularly come across it on their way through the Friday market square in the old town.

The gun was one of a number of 15th Century superguns which were used in battles of the age, and all were cutely personalised in a similar style. (Faule Mette, Faule Grete, Grose Bochse). While the examples in parentheses were titled for either their cumbersome nature (Lazy Mette, Lazy Grete), or their sheer size (Big Gun), the Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) paid its homage to the female figure of Flemish folklore who was famously the subject of a 1562 painting by our old friend Peter Brueghel the Elder (#175). The painting which can be viewed in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp depicts the peasant woman Meg leading an army of women to plunder and pillage Hell.

Brueghel’s paintings are often uncomfortable on the eye when you start to pore over the detail, but equally the vivid nature of the detail is engrossing once you give it your attention. The female protagonist is caught in a moment in time as she sprints across a desolate landscape; armour covering her modest dress with her weapon drawn in one hand and all her worldly possessions in the other. All around her the world is in turmoil, as her reality drifts into a perverse freakshow of fire and brimstone, which leaks from the scarlet sky above. Hell and Earth are uncomfortably uniting before us and you wonder just what future Brueghel thought Europe faced at this time. Little could he have known that 450 years later the land painted on his canvas would be an idyllic paradise of fine beer and gourmet cuisine?

The Dulle Griet which found itself into my glass this evening was a 7% dark beer which didn’t quite match the drama of the previous incumbents of the title. She poured a chestnut hue with an off-white head which quickly receded to nothing. The nose was alluring, and was matched by a spicy malt flavour which was definitely enjoyable. There was no standout moment for me though, and while I enjoyed the beer I couldn’t see myself going out my way to either overly recommend it or buy any more. Longer in the memory though will remain the painting.

Dulle Griet, by Peter Brueghel the Elder

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde