Tag Archives: beer

#200 – Achel Bruin 8

#200 - Achel Bruin 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It has taken me 200 beers to finally try a beer from all seven official Trappist breweries. The final piece in this monastic jigsaw turned out to be also the smallest of the lot – the Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse.

Achel, as it is more commonly know, is a small municipality hidden away in the north east of the country in the sparsely populated province of Limburg. As the official title of the monastery suggests, the brewery is situated in the Abbey of St-Benedict. The first beer, Patersvaatje was brewed on this site as far back as 1852 when the building was a priory, although it wasn’t until 1871 that the site became an Abbey with brewing capabilities.

Life at the brewery remained virtually unaltered for years until the German invasion of World War I. As was standard practice for those Abbeys affected, the monks were evicted and the Germans dismantled the entire brewery in order to recycle over 700kg of raw copper for their eventually unfruitful war effort. Life changed dramatically after the war when the monks who returned to the Abbey were forced to find other ways to gain a subsistence. Agriculture and farming were the obvious choices but these took their toll on the more elderly monks. Eventually, with a large injection of cash, and with help from the monks at the Trappist Abbeys of Westmalle and Rochefort, work was completed on the sixth and final Trappist brewery in Belgium.

The beers were not instantly made available for distribution, and existed only at the adjoining tavern, however word of mouth soon spread on the quality of the brews at the local Auberge, and the crowds began to flock on what was a popular hiking and cycling route. The monks soon cashed in on the popularity of the beers, and their smooth path to existence has remained ever since.

The first beer I managed to get my grubby paws on was the relatively common Achel Bruin 8 which weighed in unsurprisingly at a robust 8%. It was a bubbly dark brown pour; perhaps a little thinner than some equivalent Trappist beers I had tried. On the nose it was malty, dark and full of rich Christmas promise, and on the tongue it tasted like rich pulpy fruit mixed into burnt toffee with a tartness which didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. In the end it was a pretty delicious beer to bring up a significant milestone on my Odyssey, although I couldn’t quite help feeling that this Achel was still someway behind the comparable beers of Chimay (#45), Rochefort (#31) and Westvleteren (#198).

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Filed under 8, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#199 – Waase Wolf

#199 - Waase Wolf

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

If ever there was a beer that deserved to be blogged then Waase Wolf is that beer. I mean, here is a beer with the tagline, ‘Not for little lambs’ that was brewed in memory of a legendary wolf that ran amok on the Belgian/Dutch border in 2001 mauling and killing sheep for fun. Brilliant stuff – and I reserve any apologies to any sheep offended by this article.

The terror started in October 2000 when a number of farmers around the Zeeland/Waasland border found their valued ovine littered as carcasses across the countryside. Initial thoughts were that this was the work of a depraved fox or dog, but once an eye-witness video of a stray wolf emerged, coupled with reports of a private owner losing such an animal, then word of mouth spread – as did the number of mutilated flocks. The farming community laid siege to the local authorities, and soon the united forces of the police and specialist wolf teams were scouring the countryside in tracking down the beast. Everyday new evidence emerged of alleged sightings as more and more victims piled up.

Like the Beast of Bodmin did in the UK many years ago, so in this small quiet area of Belgium did the Waase Wolf burst into prominence in local folklore. Known at the time as ‘Isegrim’, the animal captured the nation’s attention. Sheep farmers became increasingly anxious as the body count continued, and in the Netherlands rewards of up to 10,000 guilders were placed to kill the wretched beast, much to the dismay of the hordes of conservationalists who rallied in support of the perpetrator, sticking two fingers up at the families of the poor innocent dead sheep.

Then one day in late December, with the collateral at 62 (47 in the Netherlands, and 15 in Belgium), an anonymous email to police reported the beast had been quelled by a bullet and buried humanely in the woods. Nobody ever found the whistleblower or the cadaver but sure enough not another animal was harmed after the 22nd December, and on the 9th January 2001, both police forces officially closed the case. Cue a lifetime of novelty thimbles, tea-towels and t-shirts for anybody visiting the area. And of course where else but in Belgium a commemorative beer.

The Waase Wolf was a thinly bodied amber that was littered with sediment. It smelt absolutely delicious, and once settled I was able to sit back and enjoy this lovely beer. I wasn’t really expecting from the first appearances a really light fruity taste and it made a real change from the recent selection of beers I had tried. There was enough spice and hops to make it interesting, coupled with the delicious sweetness which always seems to keep me coming back for more. The Boelens brewery have delivered  much more here than simply a commemorative beer – I will definitely go back for a pack of these.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Boelens, Wolf

#198 – Westvleteren 8

#198 - Westvleteren 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is currently the final beer on my Westvleteren journey (unless I’m fortunate enough to end up with a bottle of the long retired Westvleteren 6)  and having already rambled about the phenomenon which is Westvleteren (#66), and the history of the brewery itself (#90), this gives me the opportunity to finish the story by giving a little history of the abbey.

The Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus began life in 1831, although the plot on which the Abbey was formed had been a spiritual home for hundreds of years previously, with at least three different monasteries occupying the land. Historians suggest as far back as 806 the Cella Beborna was built on this land. Records also show that between 1260 and 1355 there was a nunnery, and between 1610 and 1784 the place was occupied by a monastery. If you ever get a chance to wander around the area there really does feel an eerie sense of spiritual history.

The catalyst for the most recent incarnation was probably the hermit Jan-Baptist Victoor, who left Poperinge in 1814 to settle in the woods of St. Sixtus, where he rebelled against the rules of Emperor Joseph II and took up the monastic tradition. It was only when the prior and a few other disparate monks at the Catsberg monastery joined the hermit that the Abbey was officially formed. The monks here often went off on journeys to found other monasteries, and you may recall from the tale of Chimay White (#165), that the Abbey at Scourmont was started by the monks at St. Sixtus.

Life at the Abbey in Westvleteren though began to grow, and by 1875 the number of members totalled 52. It was still mind you a completely peaceful rural community which would have seen very few visitors. All this was to change during the first World War, when hundreds of refugees and approximately 400,000 allied soldiers lived in and around the abbey. Now it is once again a very peaceful place with only around thirty brothers, who serve the community and provide the world with some of the finest beers known to humanity.

Once of which is the Westvleteren 8, and I had been saving the blue-capped beer for a special occasion and this one happened to be a relaxing Christmas afternoon after the usual three thousand calories of roast!. The pour was everything I hoped it would be – thick and viscous with a ring of rustic head, but I wasn’t getting much in the way of the nose. The taste was very good, with a mix of chocolate, coffee and festive spice. Perhaps though it was the lack of room in my stomach, but I felt just a little let down by the beer in the end. It was still impressive but I guess I had fallen for all the hype. I was expecting some kind of oral firework show, but all I ended up with was an overwhelming desire to nap!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#197 – Ename Cuvee 974

#197 - Ename Cuvee 974

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is an interestingly titled beer, which actually refers to the founding date of the local borough of Ename, which has now essentially been subsumed into the bigger town of Oudenaarde.

The beer was first brewed in 2002 as a winter beer, at a time when the local town was working very hard to celebrate its rich medieval heritage. Since the 1980s there has been an ongoing project called Ename 974, jointly sponsored by the Flemish Heritage Institute and the Province of East Flanders. The aim of this work was to conduct important archaeological excavations, historical research and to promote the local municipality. The resident brewery Roman supported this work by promoting a new beer to the Ename range.

Another key driver of the Ename 974 project is the Provincial Archaeological Museum which was opened in 1998 and is located beside the St Lawrence Church. It highlights the daily life in Ename from the early Middle Ages until the present day. The Roman brewery also supports this local cause in the form of royalties paid for the sale of its beers. The logos that adorn the Ename range of beers are in reference to the ruined Abbey which is part of the archaeological presence in the town. It’s pretty much an accepted truth that a brewery who can tie their beer to an Abbey will sell more beer regardless of the quality.

There are plenty more Ename beers to be drunk and so I will save the enlightening history of the abbey until then. For now I need to wheedle my attentions away from archaeology before anyone falls asleep and onto the important matter in hand. Beer. The Ename Cuvee 974 was a promising looking brew, which poured obediently leaving a good looking average sized head atop a dark amber mass. The aroma was hoppy and herbal with a tinge of fruit, which to be honest promised more than the actual beer delivered. There was certainly a degree of exotic spice contained within but it was eminently unable to take me anywhere else. A nice beer but in the end really rather average. I guess at least though I have done my bit for the restoration of history in Ename.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#196 – Buffalo Belgian Bitter

#196 - Buffalo Belgian Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Brouwerij van den Bossche is most well known for it’s range of Pater Lieven beers (#18, #73), however they have also been brewing another range called Buffalo for well over a hundred years now. As ever, there is an interesting tale behind the name.

It all started in 1907 on the town square in Sint-Lievens-Esse – the home town of the van den Bossche brewery which had started up a mere ten years earlier (#73). At this time the town square had been taken over by an American travelling circus and the entire local population were clamouring with excitement to see this exotic show. With this in mind, Arthur van den Bossche for one particular noon showing gave a pass out to all his brewery staff to attend the circus. They were still in heavy production of their beers, and so Arthur arranged for the youngest apprentice to stay behind and tend to the brewing kettles.

The luckless young man who had missed the show duly watched the kettles meticulously in their absence however had forgotten in all the excitement to regularly stir the contents. The result was that the beer had completely roasted due to the young boys’ negligence and caramelised on the bottom of the kettle. There was general dismay on Arthur’s return as the exuberant workers returned to survey the wreckage. It was only when a number of staff actually tasted the resulting beer that they decided they actually quite liked it. From that night on, this style of dark burnt beer became the staple diet of the brewery, and the recipe has remained virtually unaltered to this day. The ‘Buffalo Bill’ travelling circus though was gone the next day.

It wasn’t the famous stout I was trying tonight, but the Buffalo Belgian Bitter, a solid 8.5% amber blonde. It was a great beer to accompany a night on the cards, and much better than I had expected on first surveying the bleak label. In fact I would go as far as saying it was pretty much on a par with the XX Bitter (#131) from De Ranke. The full hoppy flavour was clear and sharp, and each mouthful was perfectly crisp on the tongue. I’d definitely recommend this beer for anyone wanting their Buffalo wings!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Van den Bossche

#195 – Rodenbach

#195 - Rodenbach

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Rodenbach is a name that many beer afficionados will immediately get excited about, primarily for the highly rated Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17) which is likely the finest example of a Belgian Sour ale that is known to man. There also exists the standard Rodenbach which was to pass my palate on this particular occasion.

Now, where the Rodenbach Grand Cru relies upon the finest matured vats of sour ale from the cellars to be mixed together, the standard Rodenbach mixes the old with the much younger which inevitably results in a more subdued flavour as you might expect. Essentially what this means is that after the original beer has had its main fermentation, it is then conditioned for around four to five weeks in casks, whereby the beer starts to acquire its sharp lactic flavour. The brewery are not particularly open in terms of the exact time they leave the younger beer to develop, however it is fair to say that the longer a beer is left in this fashion, the less likely it will be to retain its fresh clean taste. It is likely now that for the standard Rodenbach offering a period of four weeks is given to condition the “younger” beer.

Once the brewers are able to nail down the younger beer, they are able to play around with different varieties of the matured casks to create different strains of beer. A number of these efforts already sit in my cellar waiting to be drunk on a special occasion. The key to the development naturally comes not only from the various ages of vats, but also from some very special and unique varieties of yeast. Rodenbach tend to play with around twenty different strains, which include lactobacilli and Brettanomyces – reknowned of course for their important role in the production of lambic beers. A number of very reputable breweries, including De Dolle and Westvleteren used Rodenbach yeasts for around twenty years!

This particular beer was always going to be a little bit of a step down from the Grand Cru, however it was far from being the ugly sister. It had all the same colour and consistency that graced the Grand Cru, and poured without virtually any traces of head. The flavour was naturally sour but without the lip smacking tartness which I had previously encountered. It was a very pleasant start to the evening and a great example of a typical standard Belgian sour ale which many other local breweries have not been able to produce so appealingly.

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Filed under 7, Rodenbach (Palm), Sour Ale

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix