Category Archives: Van Honsebrouck

#181 – Kasteel Triple

#181 - Kasteel Triple

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11 %

This is the second and penultimate beer from the Kasteel range which has found its way down my throat. The first was the dark sweet cloying beast that is the Kasteel Donker (#93), where I had previously told the story of the history of the famous castle in Ingelmunster, up until 1986 when the brewing siblings Luc and Marc Van Honsebrouck moved in.

It hasn’t all been good news though since. In 2001 the beautiful moated building was devastated by a terrible fire. Work has been done ever since to restore the castle however so immense was the damage that at least two thirds are no longer open to the public. The structure does though remain, and has been bandaged up over the years to at least look better on the outside, but the heart and soul has literally been ripped out of this historic building. This is no better exemplified than by the loss of almost everything inside – family furniture, tapestries, sculptures and paintings all perished forever one September evening.

It also isn’t the first time that the castle has burnt down. This jinxed building and in fact the whole village of Ingelmunster was completely razed in 1695 following hostilities between English, French and Spanish soldiers. The rebuilding which followed under Hapsburg rule has led to the current design which has only just hung onto existence by the very skin of its teeth. In fact, the only area now safe for the public to enter is the Kasteelkelder, the atmospheric name for the castle’s basement. It is here where tourists and beer fans can enjoy tasting the famous Van Honsebrouck beers in their traditional castle shaped glasses.

The Kasteel Triple is another megalith of a beer. Weighing in at 11% you would need to ensure you had a designated driver if you were stopping in at Ingelmunster for a quick tipple. Somebody recently suggested to me that this beer is similar to the Bush Blonde (#164) by Dubuisson, and to be fair they aren’t too far wrong in terms of appearance and potency, however I feel the Kasteel Tripel has just a little more panache in the finish. There is some fruit in there, some spice and whatever that something is that just urges you to want another. This is by no means a professional ground-breaking brew, but it deserves its place as one of the better super-strength triples.

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#126 – St. Louis Premium Kriek

#126 - St. Louis Premium Kriek

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

Saint Louis has done rather well for himself in the naming stakes. A state in Mexico, a city in the US, a famous baseball team, an Oscar winning movie, and of course the cherry on the cake being associated with a range of low alcohol fruit beers from Van Honsebrouck ;) So who is the gentleman with the crown who graces some of the labels, and what is his association with Belgian beer?

The Saint in question was actually also King Louis IX of France, who ruled between 1226 and 1270. It is unusual for kings to end up as Saints, and indeed he was the only French king ever to be canonised. Considering this canonisation took place only 29 years after his death, it is clear he must have done some seriously good shit in his life to warrant this.

Many considered Louis to be the model of the ideal Christian monarch, a man who spent his early life bravely fighting in the Crusades, and yet always having enough time for the poor and the needy. He was a huge patron of art and architecture, and yet also is remembered as the lynchpin ruler during which the Kingdom of France was at its political and economic zenith. The whole of Europe looked to this fair man as an arbiter at times of struggle, which was some compliment, although the fact he commanded the largest army in Europe at the time may have been a consideration.

Nevertheless, it’s his association with beer which interests us most. During his reign, Louis passed a succession of laws to regulate the brewing and selling of beer, and in 1250 incorporated the first French brewers’ guild. His influence in this sphere at a time when the production of beer was extremely inconsistent cannot be underestimated. Naturally, the good people of Belgium with their love of fine beer have also taken Louis to their hearts, and his name lives on within what I would recognise as pretty decent fruit beers.

The Kriek is made from traditional Gueuze lambic, to which about 25% of fresh black cherry juice and natural sugar is added. The result is a deeply fruity dark red beer, with a pink frothy head which tastes absolutely splendid. It was a mission trying to stop the wife taking sneaky sips, which I am normally very pleased to offer when working my way through your average fruit beer. I realise this review will upset the purists who expect to see authentic steeping of fruit, but if it’s a deliciously sweet refreshing summer cooler you are after, then look no further than the St. Louis Premium Kriek.

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Filed under 8, Lambic - Fruit, Van Honsebrouck

#93 – Kasteel Donker

#93 - Kasteel Donker

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11 %

Kasteel means ‘castle’ in Flemish, and is a direct reference to the U-shaped building that sits proudly on the label. The present castle dates back to 1736, however there has been a castle on this site going all the way back to 1075 when Robert de Fries, the Count of Flanders, built a square fortress on the ruins of an old monastery in the town of Ingelmunster.

The luxurious residence has changed hands many times since it left the hands of the Counts of Flanders in the 14th Century. There followed 200 years of ownership between the Dukes of Burgundy and various other German and French families, until following the Battle of Ingelmunster in 1580, the German colonel Otto van Plotho, who was a mercenary fighting for the French, inherited the fiefdom. It was during this time that the various battles in the town ended up with the Castle completely destroyed and thus the most recent incarnation.

The castle ended up back in French hands in 1825 when the Count of Montblanc inherited the castle due to the 9th generation of van Plotho’s becoming heirless. The castle managed to survive both World Wars, including the first, when it was suddenly commandeered by German troops who stationed themselves there for the duration. The Montblancs managed to keep overall control, and this wealthy family stayed on until 1986 when Baroness Mathilde de Meaux, the widow of the last of the Montblancs decided she had outgrown it. A public sale was conducted and a couple of brothers – Luc and Marc Van Honsebrouck won the bidding rights to the castle. The same Van Honsebrouck family who are the current brewers of the Kasteel beer – a nice tidy end to how this beer got its name.

The Kasteel Donker itself is a bit of a beast of a beer at 11%. I had drunk this a few years ago in London when I first started work and always remember it being extremely sweet. The beer looked majestic on pouring – chestnut brown with a rigid head and the first taste was excruciatingly sweet, proving nothing had changed at all. It had to be the sweetest beer I had drunk yet, even more so than the Mongozo Banaan (#1) on the very first step of this journey. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant, but the cloying nature and the caramelised residue it left on your teeth certainly meant it was never going to attain the highest score of the brown beers.

(Post-Script) – To continue the story of the castle at Ingelmunster, including a recent fire, please read Kasteel Triple (#181).

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#42 – Bacchus

#42 - Bacchus

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

We have already come across a Bacchus (#38) whereby raspberries were added to brown ale – well this is the brown ale in question – Bacchus Vlaams Oud Bruin. ‘Oud Bruin’ is Flemish for Old Brown, distinguishing the colour from other local sour ales like Rodenbach, which tend to be red, and ‘Vlaams’ is Flemish for … well ‘Flemish’ – Flemish Brown Ale.

When we drunk and purred over the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), we learnt that the sour ale is made by oak-aging the beers in order to mature them. It is this process which gives the beers of East and West Flanders their unique acidity. The oak-aged conditioning introduces a similar lactate fermentation to the lambic beers (#12) except that there are less natural yeasts around thus the product isn’t quite so extreme. The brewers also add a dab of acetic acid at this stage to get the flavour going – something taboo for lambics.

The best sour ales of this kind are made in oak-vats and usually kept for two years, although some breweries might resort to using steel casks, or even trying to get the oaky effect by suspending particles of wood in their brews. Van Honsebrouck are reliant on a ‘koelschip’, which is essentially a large vat in the roof where the wort is left to attract natural yeasts just as lambic beers do. It all adds to the breweries attempts to recreate the good old days – even the new paper label of the old bloke with the beer is a typical Flemish old-time image.

The label also reflects the aging process used with the quotation ‘met wijnsmaak’ – meaning ‘with wine taste’, and its fair to say this brew is a little similar. My over-riding impression was that this was like a fruit beer without the fruit – a frambozenbier without the frambozen. It’s certainly sour on opening, and it rightly pongs but it isn’t overpowering on drinking. It looks the part, is pleasant to drink, but it doesn’t really set any standards – unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru.

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#38 – Bacchus Frambozenbier

#38 - Bacchus Frambozenbier

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5%

Raspberry beer – it might sound odd but historically raspberries have often been added to beers after initial fermentation. Lambic beers in particular, where the term ‘steeping’ is used to describe the process of adding bucketfuls of fruit into beer and then leaving to further ferment for about six months. Bacchus Frambozenbier isn’t really a traditional lambic fruit beer, but the lauded quality of these has led to many different brewery experiments over the years. Bacchus (#42) is actually a sour brown ale, and the raspberries have been added for a secondary fermentation. It tends to work pretty well, and Van Honsebrouck and Verhaeghe are good exponents of the fruity sour ale style, with the Echt Kriekenbier (#102) being a perfect example.

The popularity of raspberries in the history of fruit beer is that they are a particularly pungent and aromatic fruit, and it doesn’t take too many to make an impact on the flavour, even in a sour ale. Raspberries and cherries have for this reason been largely used, however in recent times a number of other different fruits such as peaches, apricots and blueberries have been utilised. Largely they aren’t as pungent, but sadly they are much cheaper. As we have already mentioned in other posts (notably #24) syrups and cordials have largely replaced the real fruit to the detriment of the fruit beer, but real fruit lambics and sour ales are a treasure, and often only found in Belgium of course.

I wasnt expecting great things but was happily surprised by this. Where Fruli is bright and radioactive, the Bacchus Frambozenbier was dark and brooding in colour. The smell and flavour was clearly aromatic raspberries but it really didnt overpower me. I could still taste beer in the aftertaste and although it faded and tasted a bit artificial in the end, I really did enjoy drinking this. The stock of fruit beers has risen; albeit a sour ale. Arise the raspberry!

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Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck