Tag Archives: beer

#186 – Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

#186 - Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

There are two beers which make up the Bourgogne des Flandres range. Most punters would likely have first tasted the brune, which is a famous sour ale from this area of West Flanders. I however first managed to get my hands on the golden Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde, the stronger but less auspicious sister beer.

The most striking quality about these beers is perhaps the bottles. Both come packaged without traditional labels but with beautifully crafted and embossed images of the Bruges skyline, complete with the famous Belfry, or Belfort. It was here about seven generations ago that the artisanal brewers of the Van Houtryve family first got their hands dirty with the fine sour brown ale. A further clue to this strong family tradition is the shield of the Van Houtryve family which bedecks the neck of the bottle itself.

The family stopped brewing the beer themselves in the 1950’s, whereupon distant relatives at Verhaeghe took over the production; themselves well renowned for their sour ales of Vichtenaar (#146) and Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105). Time ran out on this partnership however in 1985 when Timmermans offered to become chief custodians. The 25 year relationship has been successful for the Bourgogne des Flandres beers, which have been marketed under the Anthony Martin’s “Finest Beer selection since 1993.

To be fair most of the marketing around the beers is about the famous sour ale which continues to gather dust in my cellar, however the blonde accompaniment is no trite addition. It is a lively little beer which mixes a spicy bitterness with a dry hoppy nature. It doesn’t exactly blow you away, but I’d recommend anybody buying at least one and keeping the bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere for friends and family to admire at their leisure.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Timmermans

#185 – N’Ice Chouffe

#185 - N'Ice Chouffe

Size: cask

ABV: 10 %

If you still believe in Father Christmas, as well as little elves, goblins and gnomes then please look away now. In fact I would suggest immersing yourself in the fairy tale of La Chouffe (#168) rather than reading on any further. I had previously written that La Chouffe beer was once made by gnomes from golden nectar that flowed from a sacred spring, however I wish to make it clear that this is categorically not the case.

I realise this may come as something of a shock to many regular readers and beer aficionados, but the story of the gnomes is just a cruel marketing ploy by the brewers at Achouffe to lure small bearded men in bright clothing to drink their beers. Not long after the brothers-in-law Chris Bauweraerts and Pierre Gobron had set up their hobby-cum-brewery, Chris had spotted the logo of a dwarf on a painting used by a local charity to raise money for victims of a storm. The image had such an effect on him that the very next day the brothers were conducting a business meeting to discuss using a similar design for their beer label. The fact that Chouffe is Wallonian dialect for a gnome or dwarf, and is almost identical to the spelling of the place where the beer was brewed, was in fact just a brilliant coincidence.

Pierre commissioned a work colleagues daughter to knock up a drawing for them, and the rest just fell into place, with the brothers then able to conduct a fantastical fairy tale, set amongst the idyllic Ardennes countryside. The whole thing was a perfect marketeers dream – even the valley where the brewery sits is known locally as the Vallee des Fees, (the Valley of the Fairies).

Nobody would surely though deny these gentlemen this slight twisting of the truth. What started as a hobby when Gobron quit his day job in 1982 was big enough in cash and potential to lure Duvel Moortgat to invest heavily in the venture in 2006, therefore continuing to safeguard the very future of the brewery. It is a massive success story

I finished my night in the Rake with the breweries winter offering – the unfiltered N’Ice Chouffe on cask, which turned out to be another fine brew. A malty thick soup of spicy cheer, that bulged in your mouth with every swill. The flavours are imparted through the addition of thyme and curacao, although by this stage of the evening I was far too busy lamenting the fact that the elves of Achouffe do not exist to bother with the finer details of the beer.

(Thanks to http://www.beerobsessed.com for the picture)

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Filed under 8, Achouffe, Belgian Strong Ale

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#183 – ‘T Smisje Tripel

#183 - 'T Smisje Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The brewery Smisje has been around since 1995, but began life as the Brouwerij De Regenboog. In fact it was known under this name right up until 2008 when the owner Johan Brandt moved his premises to Oudenaarde.

Brandt was born in 1963, and had trained in the graphics world for most of his tender years. He married Christine de Schepper in 1998 and soon had two sons called Stijn and Joris. The couple set up their own printing business which was fairly successful, and everything in the Brandt garden was rosy – yet the call of beer would eventually become too much. Johan was already brewing beer as a hobby, and thus the kit that was beginning to take over his home was the start of something special. Eventually, the beer did take over his life and he gradually reduced his work in printing, although continuing to use the name of his existing business, De Regenboog, which translates as ‘The Rainbow’.

The first beer produced at De Regenboog was simply known as ‘T Smisje, and was largely experimental in its nature. Brandt was also a bee-keeper and thus plenty of honey was used in this brew. The name ’T Smisje means ‘little blacksmith’, the connotation coming from a local blacksmith’s forge which was adjacent to the location of the Brandt house in Assebroek, a suburb of Bruges. This name was apt in that it in many ways sums up the hand-crafted artisanal nature of this first beer – although to be honest little has changed since. The range of beers from De Regenboog over the years have used a myriad of natural fruits, herbs and spices.

I had heard a fair bit about the beers from De Regenboog, and so when I saw a couple of bottles from the range in The Rake pub in Borough Market, there was never going to be any other choice. I started with the ‘T Smisje Tripel which was absolutely delicious, and bombarded me with the heady sweetness of vanilla and banana, coupled with the seriousness of a Westmalle Tripel (#149). The company was excellent also, bumping into inadvertently another beer blogger by the name of Impy Malting who is considerably further ahead in her writing than my good self. Anybody who travels half way across London to seek out beers of fancy is worth a read in my book.

 

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Dog, Smisje

#182 – St. Bernardus Prior

#182 - St. Bernardus Prior

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

I’m running out of superlatives and stories for the St. Bernardus beers – this is the fourth of my Odyssey, after the Abt (#46), Wit (#100), and Tripel (#106). I have talked a lot about the history of St. Bernardus, but not a great deal about the recent stuff.

It was 1992 when the brewery split asunder from St. Sixtus (#46) and was politely asked to drop the Trappist nomenclature. This transition had been managed by Guy and Bernadette Claus, the son-in-law and daughter of Evarist Deconinck. Both had both been in place for over thirty years since 1962, when Guy took over the brewing from Deconinck. It was only in 2003 that he retired as brewmaster at St. Bernardus, but both he and Bernadette continued to stay on and run the St. Bernardus guesthouse.

The ‘T Brouwershuis bed and breakfast has long been something of an institution in Belgium, and is often listed among the top places to stay in the country. It currently comprises twelve immaculate rooms which are set fairly uniquely within the grounds of the St. Bernardus brewery grounds. Bernadette was actually born in this rambling property, and for those that are lucky enough to stay here, it really does feel like a home away from home. The attraction for beer lovers is to spend time chatting with the family, in the midst of a famous brewery, and of course not to forget the cabinet stocked full of a wide range of St. Bernardus beers. The beauty also is that even non beer geeks will get something out of a visit here. The breakfast is apparently sumptuous, guests have a free run of the house, complete with full library and solarium, and the welcome from the owners is second to none.

Reading about the guesthouse has done enough to convince me. I have resolved to head over in the spring with Mrs Beershrimper for a couple of days pampering ourselves on fine beer and conversation, in front of the roaring fire. I will be more than happy to accept a St. Bernardus Prior on my arrival. This beer like all the others from the range is made with water that has been pumped from as deep as 150 metres underground. Scientists even claim that the water from the St. Bernardus well originated as rainfall from the time of Joan of Arc which has seeped through hundreds of years and layers of Watou rock from the St. Omer region of France. It gives you a warm glow reading things like this as you look deep into your beer. The beer as usual with St. Bernardus looked the part, thick and velvety, and it was a similar experience on the tastebuds, with plenty of malt and fruit.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, St. Bernardus

#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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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Van Honsebrouck

#180 – De Block Speciale

#180 - De Block Speciale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

De Block is a solid little brewery tucked away in the Flemish Brabant region of Belgium. I had already tried their Dendermonde Tripel (#47), and Kastaar (#96), each of which had a unique story to tell, but as yet the story of De Block has gone untold. They don’t produce a wide range of beers so I will take my opportunity now.

It’s another great family tradition that has endured for well over half a millennia. The actual brewery was initiated by Louis de Block who was a local miller and farmer, who married the daughter of a brewer from Baardegem. This was particularly handy for Louis as he had inherited a right to brew beer from his immediate family. Henricus de Block way back in the 14th Century had been bestowed this privilege for his contribution as a vassal of the Duke of Brabant and Burgundy. Whether Louis had chosen his bride out of love, or for her specialist brewing knowledge is now immaterial.

As is common in the lowlands, the family tradition has been to hand down the baton of brewing to the next family member, and the De Blocks are no exception. We can trace the family history right the way back. The most recent beneficiary is Paul Saerens who married into the De Block family. He has been keen to ensure that the De Block name continues despite the apparent void of male heirs. It has been under Saerens that De Block have widened their scope in the export market. Flemish Brabant is not shy of a few breweries, being one of the most condensed areas in Belgium for beer production. Saerens spotted this and opened up De Block to the rest of Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, and now almost 80% of current production leaves Belgium for foreign shores. Perhaps the most recognisable brand is that of the Satan beers which dominate the brewery’s marketing.

You might be mistaken for thinking as I was that, that the De Block Speciale is a staple house beer. It is far from that! The unique taste of this attractively packaged beer is certainly one to divide opinion. It is actually a brew blended from both young and old beers, and is flavoured with pomegranate and elderflowers. This certainly accounts for the bizarre medicinal floridity which is definitely one of the most unsubtle kicks I have had so far on this journey. Although on first appearance the De Block Speciale looks like a traditional golden ale all comparisons thereafter can be written off. This is a particularly carbonated fruity sour ale albeit with a redeeming bitterness. It is certainly unique, although after about half a glass becomes somewhat tiresome. I guess this is one of those beers you would have little chance of not recognising blindfolded, and I am still trying to work out if that is a compliment or not.

(Thanks to Andrew at 40 Beers at 40 for the excellent photograph)

 

 

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, De Block

#179 – Duivels Bier

#179 - Duivels Bier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is yet another tale of a modern beer with a very rich and gothic history. Frank Boon (#89, #147) our hero and defender of lambic put Duivels Bier on the market in 2003 – a very unassuming looking dark beer amidst a sea of high quality lambic and gueuze. He had once enjoyed a beer called Duivelsbier which was produced by Vander Linden. Sadly this was another regional brewery who bit the bullet during challenging times, and Frank, just as he did with lambic, could not bear to sit by while this favourite beer rotted into extinction.

The original Duivelsbier was the first of its kind in Belgium to appellate itself to the Devil. In 1883 the brewery in Halle known as Petre Freres started brewing a Scotch Ale that was made with the raw materials of a Faro, yet with English hops and yeast. It did so well that in 1900 Joseph Petre won a “Grand Prix” award, and by 1916 the town of Halle was famous for it. It would still be another eight years until the famous beer from Moortgat would title its beer after the Devil (#34). This would eventually lead to quite a fierce rivalry for the name.

The brewery Petre Freres unfortunately lost its way after the Second World War, and in 1952 was taken over by Vander Linden who acquired the brand name of the Devils beer, and repackaged it in enamel 33cl bottles. In 1958 they further upped the stakes with a switch to a darkly gothic label and font – one not at all dissimilar from that of the most well known beer named after the Devil as illustrated below.

Gothic Label

The rise and fall of each beer over the next forty or so years is most appropriately indicated by the fact that when Frank Boon repackaged Duivels Bier in 2003 he was not best placed to recreate the original gothic labels so as to distinguish itself from Duvel.

The two beers are of course very different. Duvel is a famous golden ale, whereas the original Duivelsbier from Halle was much darker, sour and spontaneously fermented. Frank Boon has kept the new Duivels Bier a much more steady brown offering. It is fairly sweet and yet remains dry on the palate with hints of malt and chestnuts. It is thick enough to discern itself from other similar beers but for me is still rather living in the shadow of a beer that in a previous life was once its apprentice.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Boon

#178 – Girardin Gueuze White Label

#178 - Girardin Gueuze White Label

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5 %

The Brouwerij Girardin is something altogether a bit special. People often talk about their Gueuze Black Label as being the ultimate lambic experience. When you consider that they live in the company of greats like Boon, Cantillon, de Cam and Hanssens, you begin to generate an instant respect for this quiet and secluded countryside establishment.

With beers as good as theirs are supposed to be, you would expect them to be crowing about it from the top of the hill on which the brewery is spectacularly set, but it’s the complete opposite. They don’t even have a website, which makes the life of snoops like me much more difficult. The family see marketing as nothing more than driving around the local countryside in a van selling their beers to shops and cafes. Paul Girardin, the latest in the long family dynasty is reported to have said “Here we brew beer, we don’t do marketing!”

What happens behind the scenes at Girardin is also a complete mystery. They don’t advertise, they don’t run tours, and they certainly don’t talk about themselves. They just brew. I completely dig the attitude of Girardin. It is indeed extreme but is not atypical of much of the Belgian beer community. Pockets of inspiration hidden away in the countryside behind modest premises often produce such gems of brilliance. Even if there was a beer writer out there who had had the fortune of seeing what goes on behind the scenes at Girardin, they would probably feel like they were telling on a friend were they to share their story.

Girardin don’t actually need to market their beer. It does it by itself. I remember reading not so long ago articles on Belgian beer that were preparing for the death of the craft scene. The astronomical reduction in the number of breweries over the past hundred years is testimony to this but it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened because of breweries like Girardin, and because of people like you and me who know what we like. Quality and integrity are rare commodities in business these days, but the beer industry in Belgium can largely hold its head high. I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather write about.

The filtered Gueuze White Label was my first foray into the world of Girardin, and although still completely novice on all things lambic, I was very impressed with the professionalism of this brew. It was clean and crisp and still remarkably tart and pungent. Although still with my true heart in other beer styles, this was my first real feeling that I might someday really start to enjoy gueuze like the moustachioed professional I aim one day to be. The unfiltered pinnacle of the Black Label still awaits my exploration but I think I will be more than prepared for the expedition by the time it arrives.

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Filed under 7, Girardin, Lambic - Gueuze

#177 – St. Paul Double

#177 - St. Paul Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.9 %

The range of beers named St. Paul are currently brewed at the Scheldebrouwerij, however it hasn’t always been that way. As noted on the St. Paul Speciale (#143) these were once part of the Sterkens family of beers. To all intents and purposes they still are really, since Sterkens just use the brewing facilities at Schelde to produce the beers. Sterkens still market and export the beers as if they brewed them, and a visit to their website gives little away of this secret.

The move away from brewing their own beers has been a gradual one for Stan Sterkens, the fourteenth generation of brewmeister since the family began brewing way back in 1651. He has been very successful in setting up brewpubs for interested parties. They provide the money, and he puts in the equipment and expertise. One such enterprise was with his daughter Leen Sterkens in Spring Hill, USA. Others have been set up in places as far afield as Taiwan and Japan.

The whole idea of going foreign has worked very well in fact, where the export market has proved exceptionally lucrative for the Sterkens clan. Until 1990 the brewery mainly distributed to over five hundred restaurants and pubs in Belgium. Now however, up to 95% of production is sold abroad. You are far more likely to see a bottle of St. Paul in a US bar or beershop than you would in Belgium. It was for this reason that when I saw a selection of the colourful odd shaped bottles in a Belgian beer shop at Christmas last year I snapped them up.

The St. Paul Speciale was hardly a classic, and to be honest I didn’t really get much joy from the St. Paul Double either. To be fair the beers may have been rebrewed, and it looked like I may have an older selection of the range, but I would expect more from a beer firm who are seemingly pleasing the US market. The craft beer scene in the US is probably second only to Belgium in the world, and as you would expect with the Americans it probably won’t be long before they are knocking the spots even off the Belgians. This beer was thin, bland and boring. I still await my epiphany.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde

#176 – Brugs Witbier

#176 - Brugs Witbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

Brugs Witbier, or Brugs Tarwebier as it is known locally, is a cloudy unfiltered wheat beer which is based on a traditional Brabant recipe. Although now mass produced by the Brasserie Union (Alken Maes), it was once upon a time brewed exclusively in Bruges, at the now defunct Gouden Boum brewery, which you may recall also used to produce the Brugge Tripel (#104).

Although the above is all now just history, the Brugs Witbier label still interestingly adorns the logo of the Gouden Boom (Golden Tree). This is a nostalgic reference back to the Gouden Boom trophy which was awarded to knights that won medieval tournaments in the city way back in the Middle Ages. The Golden Tree has been a key symbol of Bruges since 1587 and even now is still a key part of the traditions of the City. Tourists often flock to the Pageant of the Golden Tree which is a massive carnival held in the town square which seeks to recreate the famous wedding of Charles the Bold (the Duke of Burgundy, and Count of Flanders) to Margaret of York (the sister of King Edward IV of England) which took place in 1468. The modern day festivities usually comprise well over 2000 actors, six choirs and 100 horsemen who retell the events within around ninety different scenes.

Even now wandering around Bruges, it is difficult to wander the cobbled streets and not feel yourself transported back in time. It is unlikely however that the Cities’ coaching inns and taverns would have served the Brugs Witbier to its discerning customers. In the 21st Century, the Brugs Witbier is traditionally served with a slice of lemon, and is brewed with bitter orange peel and coriander. Had any man asked for a pint of this in bygone days, then execution for treason may have been a suitable punishment. The beer is though particularly turbid, which would have been representative of beers of the Middle Ages, where particularly crude filtering techniques would have been employed.

The Brugs Witbier that I was drinking was very typical of a modern day wheat beer – it was cloudy, fairly tart and even without a slice of lemon was reminiscent of citrus. I really struggle to get excited about most Belgian wheat beers today. I don’t think any country really makes a better wheat beer than the Germans, and this was absolutely no exception.

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Filed under 6, Alken-Maes, Belgian White (Witbier)

#175 – Pilaarbijter Blond

#175 - Pilaarbijter Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

There are two Pilaarbijter beers produced by Bavik, and I was drinking the Blond today. Pilaarbijter is a word that is largely disused in modern times, but was prevalent in the 16th Century and meant ‘a hypocrite’, especially with regards to views on religion. The term literally translates into ‘pillar biter’. There is a very good reason why Bavik chose the name of this beer, but I will save that for the Pilaarbijter Bruin.

The real fun with this beer came when I discovered where the brewery got the image of the unfortunate looking gentleman biting the pillar on the label. If you study the painting of ‘Netherlandish Proverbs’ by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, you will eventually find the identical image – I say eventually, as it took me ages to pore through the detail. I won’t spoil the fun of pointing out its exact location so feel free to try and find it yourself. In fact, if you look close enough you can find over a hundred different proverbs being acted out in this crazy village scene.

The point of the painting wasn’t to catalogue as many Flemish proverbs of the time in art form, although it would have been a bloody good idea. Brueghel’s real aim was to define on canvas the pure stupidity of man. The original title of the painting was ‘The Folly of the World’, and if you look closely at the characters you can see the blank faces which Brueghel often used to represent fools in his work. Just sitting there picking out the characters got me thinking – surely there must be more proverbs which relate to my journey to drink and write about all these Belgian beers?

People mocked me when I began my Odyssey. Perhaps I was trying to hold an eel by the tail (to undertake a difficult task)? Or was I just simply yawning against the oven (to attempt more than I could manage)? It is worth bearing in mind though that once I have spilt my porridge I cannot scrape it all up again (once something is done it cannot be undone), and that the journey is not yet over until I can discern the church and steeple (do not give up until the task is fully complete). It may take many years but an odyssey is an odyssey after all. I still got plenty of empty fields to walk through yet!

Anyway in the midst of all these proverbs there’s a beer that needs my attention. The Pilaarbijter Blond was a decent one at that. There was enough body and strength to keep it interesting, and plenty of fruity citrus which blended well against a spicy backdrop. I would hazard a guess at peaches and lemons. I’m distracted. Sorry, I can’t leave without a few more brilliant 16th Century Flemish proverbs.

1. What is the good of a beautiful plate when there is nothing on it – some beers certainly look a lot better than they taste.

2. You shouldn’t cast roses before swine – yes, maybe I am wasting some of my time on drinking the unworthy!

3. Wild bears prefer each others company – I thank all the sad beer drinkers of the world for that!

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Bavik

#174 – du Boucanier Dark Ale

#174 - du Boucanier Dark Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV : 9 %

I had already tried the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27), which dealt with the origins of buccaneering. I won’t go into that again, however it would be good to explore the links between buccaneers and their beer. They certainly didn’t mess around when it came to drinking!

These undesirable pirates of the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean had a tradition of drinking a toast while on the deck of plundered ships or harboursides they may have just overrun. Not content with a nice 330ml tumbler or tulip, buccaneers had an altogether different vessel of choice for their strong seafaring ale – their boots! A sobering thought given the hygiene issues many of these vagabonds would have endured. To drink from the boot of a fellow buccaneer was seen as a symbol of brotherhood and a bond of trust between fellow seafarers. It was known as the custom of being “brothers of the coast”.

Modern day acts of brotherhood often include initiation rituals or the sharing of blood. I would imagine all are preferable to swallowing the verrucas and corns of stinking scurvy ridden sailors. This hasn’t deterred the marketeers of the du Boucanier beers though, who have continued the tradition into the modern day world, and sell glasses shaped as half-litre boots. These can be ordered from their website should anybody wish to indulge.

I opted for a half of the dark ale served somewhat more sedately in a Grimbergen chalice. It was not how I would have envisaged real buccaneer dark beer to be though. Although strong and weighing in at a hefty 9%, this beer didn’t have a lot of guts. It was thin and limp, and lacking in any real definitive robust flavour. I enjoyed it, as I do most Belgian beers, however these leaner dark beers often tend to be ten to the penny on the market, and thus this one gets the boot from me I am afraid.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#173 – Omer Traditional Blond

#173 - Omer Traditional Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Omer Traditional Blond is a highly regarded beer whose recipe is based on one that has been passed down from generation to generation of the Vander Ghinste family. It all started way back in 1892 when Remi Vander Ghinste bought a brewery for his son Omer. As part of his gift, he named it the Brouwerijen Omer Vander Ghinste. This name stuck for another 85 years until 1977 when the brewery was renamed Bockor for commercial purposes.

The recipe for Omer has always been something of a secret, and each father of the family would pass it down to his own son. This has continued at the latest count for five generations, and the upshot is that the eldest son of every generation is called Omer, and hence becomes the head of the brewery.

The reason for this is particularly interesting. Back in 1892 it was unusual for brand names to be used for beers, moreover they were often named after the owner and the brewery. Omer Vander Ghinste had promoted his beer by making stained glass windows which incorporated the slogan ‘bieren Omer Vander Ghinste’, and after passing on the brewery (and recipe) in 1929 to his son Remi, it was deemed excessive to have to replace the expensive windows every time there was a change of owner. It was therefore decided that the name Omer would precede the name of each owner for every generation to come. This is true for Omer who followed Omer Remi in 1961, and then for Omer Jean in 2007 who still runs the company today.

Clearly this tale of old traditions has been the inspiration behind the name of this beer which celebrates the famous recipe, and of course keeps loyally to the same name. The beer itself is made from the highest quality malted barley from the Loire region of France, and uses three varieties of hops harvested from the fields of Germany, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. It is these hops which help to identify the sharp bitterness which this beer imparts on consumption. The Omer Traditional Blond is a good beer which is crisp and fruity, as well as hoppy and is very professionally produced. It doesn’t quite leave you gagging for the same beer again, but then I am becoming more and more choosy with each beer.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Bockor

#172 – Timmermans Kriek

#172 - Timmermans Kriek

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 4 %

It has been a while since I last supped on a Timmermans beer (#12), which gave me the opportunity to talk about their gueuze. It seems only right now to introduce a little bit of the history.

Timmermans is naturally a family business, and first started brewing gueuze in a disused cow shed in Itterbeek, a suburb of Brussels, way back in 1781.The first brewer was a gentleman by the name of Henry Vanheyleweghen who eventually handed over and leased the buildings to Jacobus Walraevens. By 1832 the smallholding had amassed also a farm, an orchard, café and malt house, and also a name – the Brasserie de la Taupe (the Mole brewery).

Eventually the son of Jacobus, Paul Walraevens inherited the business and continued to provide a multitude of excellent local products. It was only in 1911 under new ownership that all subsidiary activities were finally stopped, with the complete focus being the pub and brewery. The youngest Walraevens daughter had married brewer Frans Timmermans, although the name didn’t finally stick until 1960 when Paul van Cutsem, the son-in-law of Frans, took over proceedings and changed the name to Mol Timmermans.

The Timmermans name still lives on even though the brewery is now under the stewardship of the Anthony Martin group. They are famous for their lambic gueuze and faro, and for the colourful range of fruit lambic beers of which the Timmermans Kriek is one of the most popular – I certainly did enjoy this one. There are almost certainly more authentic and traditional lambic krieks out there, but this one certainly hit the spot for refreshment and sweetness. I had the larger 330 ml bottle which meant it wasn’t over before it had begun. The flavour lasted to the very end, and bearing in mind they sell this in my local supermarket, I may well be going back on a hot summers day to try this one again.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Timmermans

#171 – La Ploquette

#171 - La Ploquette

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

This is an important beer for the town of Verviers as it purveys the rich history of the flourishing wool industry here. Although the beer is now brewed at the nearby Val Dieu, it was actually once brewed just outside Verviers at the Brasserie Ruwet, which now just concentrates on cider.

The strange bowler-hatted characters depicted on the label of this rare little beer are actually wool merchants; typical in the Vervietoise region of East of Belgium. The characters are based on a 3 metre high bronze statue by Louis-Pierre Wagelmans (Marchand de Ploquettes, 1999) which stands in the town of Verviers in the Place des Martyrs. These typically jolly merchants in bygone days would earn their living wandering the towns and countryside with the finest local and international wools for sale. These wool samples were cylindrically packaged in blue crepe paper ploquettes which can also be seen in the hands of the merchants on the label.

The beer represents a golden age for Verviers; an age when the town was once considered to be the Wool Capital of the World – something that perhaps only Bradford in the UK, Monchengladbach in Germany, and Roubaix in France could have equally lain claim to. In fact even now these places are twinned! The wool, or “soft gold” as it was once known locally was said to be of such a high quality due to the quality of the water from the Vesdres river which flowed through the town. Although the wool industry may have waned somewhat over the years, the town of Verviers is now more recently famous for its water. It is regarded as a Ville d’eau (water town), with the showcase being the Parcours des Fontaines (Route of the Fountains).

The beer itself was surprisingly good. I had picked it up quite some time ago in a great ramshackle beer store in Annevoie, and have never ever come across it since. It poured a hazy blonde with some floating yeast, although it soon settled nicely. It hit the palate with an impressive fruitiness with just enough spice to keep it interesting. I would say if you see this beer sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere – give it a home.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Val Dieu

#170 – Palm Speciale

#170 - Palm Speciale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

In 1984, the legendary beer guru Michael Jackson was reported as saying “If I could have a beer for breakfast, I would have a Palm.” I can only assume he was severely hungover when he said this, or maybe I am doing the brewery a disservice. One thing is certain though – there is certainly some history!

Palm, or De Hoorn as it was previously known, is so old it’s frightening. They are a Belgian institution and for that certainly deserve some respect. There is evidence that from 1597 on the site opposite the church in the town of Steenhuffel, there was a farmstead named “De Hoorn” (the Horn), which by 1686 was an inn with its own brewery and the same name. In the 1747 census of Steenhuffel there is categoric evidence of the De Hoorn brewery in direct competition with another brewery named “De Valk” (the Falcon).

In 1801 the brewery, which by now contained a malt factory, farm, brandy distillery, and inn with stables, was bought out by Jan Baptist de Mesmaecker. His great-granddaughter Henriette would eventually marry Arthur van Roy who took the production of beer at the brewery in more ways than one into the 20th Century. While the brewing world was beginning to move away from classical hop-fermented beer and choose cheaper pilsner style lagers, Van Roy stuck true to his principles. That was until World War I when the brewery was completely annihilated. Arthur van Roy now had grand ideas for a rebuild far beyond the village environs; but that’s a story for another beer I am afraid.

The Palm Speciale had been sitting in my cellar for quite some time. I had picked it up in a small rural store in Purnode for just 76 cents. It is made with a mixture of English hops, French barley and Belgian yeast – a truly cosmopolitan concoction. I wasn’t expecting great things despite the proclamations from Mr Jackson, and indeed from the website, which goes so far as to suggest that Palm Speciale is “one of the better beers of the 20th Century”, and the “Absolute number one Belgian amber beer”. I would say that for a 5.4 % ‘sensible alcohol content’ beer, that it is reasonable but some of these assertions are just ridiculous. The website also calls it ‘the sociable beer for every day, for everyone’. If you consider that the vast majority of Belgians themselves still choose to drink Jupiler above their craft beers, they may still have a point I suppose!

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Filed under 5, Belgian Ale, Horse, Palm

#169 – Lucifer (pre 2008)

#169 - Lucifer

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

There is almost a frightening symbolism to the fate of the beer Lucifer. Here was a strong golden ale which stood proud and strong in the pantheon of beers, and yet following the bankruptcy of the Riva brewery it found itself cast down into Purgatory.

Lucifer, as the beer label of the pre-2008 beer will attest, is a name nowadays widely used to describe the devil himself. Interestingly however this particular reference is never used in the Bible. In fact according to the Old Testament, Lucifer refers to the latin term lucern ferre meaning ‘light bearer’, referring to the rising of the Morning Star (the planet Venus).Throughout religious antiquities, stars have often been commonly regarded as living celestial beings, and it has commonly been believed that shooting stars are in fact fallen angels. One such famous fallen angel from Apocalyptic literature is Lucifer.

Lucifer was though not just any old angel – he was the favourite archangel of God, only second in command after his own son Jesus Christ. His light which shone more brightly than all the others reflected his perfect form and powerful intellect. So the story goes that he began to seriously believe in his own hype and became intensely jealous of God’s son, believing that it should be he, and only he, at God’s side. He began to appeal to the other Angels who he promised he could offer a better life, not only as replacement as God’s deputy, but inevitably as God himself. The Angels of Heaven watched on in horror as Lucifer managed to stir up a rebellion against God, who sat passively with his security blanket of omnipotence watching the malevolence play out.

Thus it was that Lucifer, the light-bearer and sharer of God’s glory became Satan, God’s adversary. The battle of good and evil began to play out, and once satisfied that Lucifer could not be saved, God inevitably expelled him and his rioting angels from Heaven. Lucifer had been cast off and forced to seek his revenge on mankind. The same of course was true for the beer. When Riva could no longer afford to pay the bills, Duvel Moortgat came in to offer a lifeline, although inevitably opted to give more attention to the fruit beers inherited from Riva. The beer deserved better, and eventually an agreement was made with het Anker to re-launch and re-brand the beer. Lucifer, the fallen Angel was given another chance at redemption. God’s work is seemingly playing out in the kettles and tuns of East Flanders.

I managed to get my hands on a 750 ml bottle of the original pre-2008 Lucifer. It was a strong golden ale, very much of course in the image of Duvel (#34) and Judas (#5), particularly fruity, but somehow lacking in the depth of the former and ending up more in similarity with the less impressive latter. It was not quite as good as I remember it had been in older days, but I had taken my Belgian beer drinking much more seriously since then. I will be keen to try the new reformed Lucifer just to see if the light truly has returned to this famous beer.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Riva (defunct)

#168 – La Chouffe

#168 - La Chouffe

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8 %

Any range of beers that is world famous for a little gnome deserves to have a fairy tale written about it. Please permit me the opportunity to be Hans Christian Belgianshrimper just for today.

Once upon a time in the beautifully forested swathes of the Ardennes, there lived an industrious colony of gnomes. Hidden away in the secluded hills, these small creatures were rarely seen but were able to brew enough beer to keep the entire Realm of Belgium suitably merry all year round. This golden nectar flowed directly from the sacred spring in the woods of Cedrogne where a thousand years before the Knights Templar of the Crusades had convened secretly to plan their wars. This magical place, once the highest point in the Realm, served as the font of life to its people.

Fate however was to befall this fertile place when a great plague brought devastation to the region. All the local villages rotted away through the ravages of time and neglect, while a great natural disaster caused the hillsides to implode burying alive the gnomes of Achouffe. Almost at once the magical font in Cedrogne slowed to a tiny drip as the thirsty locals queued in despair. Years later water began to seep back through the hole in the rock, and the surviving inhabitants who by now were forced to brew their own beers, began to use this sacred water in honour of the legendary gnomes.

A remarkable event happened many years after the disaster when the last remaining gnome ever seen in the Realm of Belgium had managed to escape from the rockfall under the forest. He would only get as far as the small house owned by two brothers-in-law from the village of Houffalize though. Before he drew his final breath he whispered the legendary recipe of the La Chouffe beer to the gentlemen in question. Those two gentlemen were Pierre Gobron and Christian Bauweraerts and they have remained in Achouffe ever since, drawing the water from the magical spring. That is the fable, and the rest is history.

The beer itself is a completely unfiltered golden beer which is extremely good. I had guests round to dinner and was delighted to share out the 750 ml bottle. Friends who are normally satisfied with lagers in tins were amazed that a beer could be this strong and as tasty. La Chouffe is a fruity delight, with hints of coriander, vanilla and other legendary gnome ingredients. It remains smooth and strong to the very end, and my guests were crying out for more.

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Filed under 8, Achouffe, Belgian Strong Ale

#167 – La Montagnarde

#167 - La Montagnarde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

You might expect a beer that is named after a mountaineer to be based somewhere alpine, but as we have already elicited from the Abbaye des Rocs Brune (#67), the area around the village of Montignies-sur-Rocs forms part of the High Lands National Park. It isn’t mountainous but you could argue it is a little bit hilly. It is for this reason that inhabitants of the village are called Montagnards. This beer is therefore somewhat of a tribute to the people from Montignies-sur-Rocs.

It is very much a village famous for its beer, thus the female brewer Natalie Eloir is something of a local heroine, although there have been other famous female Montagnards. One of these was the French Countess Jeanne de Belleville who laid her hat here at the end of the 19th Century – it is after all a pretty impressive and beautiful place for a Countess to settle. She lasted here until the Great War in 1914 where she did her bit as a nurse at the British military hospital of Audregnies. The nearby Battle of Mons which the allies were to lose however was to be a turning point for the Countess who had assisted getting stranded British soldiers to safety. She was subsequently arrested by the Germans in 1915 accused of “treason in time of war”.

Belleville was part of the underground network set up by Edith Cavell which worked against the Germans, and she was subsequently sentenced to death later that year. Cavell however was unfortunate enough to have been executed first, and such was the outcry from nations such as England, Spain and the USA, that the Germans agreed to commute the Countess and her compatriot’s sentences to life imprisonment. She would see out the rest of the war in the concentration camp at Sieberg until liberation came in 1918. It was Edith Cavell who would end up the martyr, but one should never forget the actions of this Montagnard.

The beer itself is an absolute delight, and almost certainly one of the best beers I have had to date. It was a delicious blend of strength, sweetness, viscosity and spice which tantalised the taste buds. It is a remarkable feat to engineer a beer that is at once sharp and bitter, and yet leaves you overwhelmingly with the addictive flavours of caramel and toffee. This was as close a beer as I had found to Boskeun (#82) which is still the pinnacle for me thus far on this journey, yet with the La Montagnarde, the Eloirs may have created a more stable and consistent contender. I get the impression the Boskeun might have an off day once in a while, but this little treat will always taste as good. A perfect tribute to a real local hero.

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Filed under 9, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale