Tag Archives: Couvin

#110 – Sara Brune

#110 - Sara Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

Silenrieux is a rare breed among breweries in Belgium, promoting a range of traditional beers that are made from the most natural of ingredients. Eric Bedoret started the brewery in 1995 while living on his parent’s farm in the Ardennes countryside. Eric had spent a fair amount of time in the local library and had begun to discover that the area in which he lived was once rife with two rarer types of grain – namely buckwheat and spelt. He also discovered a history of local brewers long since out of business who had used these grains to produce beer. His mission was now to recreate them; firstly by growing the grains, and then turning the harvest into a range of drinks.

With the help of a number of local authorities including the Director of Agriculture he was able to glean the farming know-how, and through liaising closely with the professors at the University of Louvain was able to rework ancient recipes into a modern day solution. Eric then set about the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of getting a loan to fund the whole enterprise.

The money soon began to trickle in though, as the quality of the beer became known, and the switch started to trigger in customers that here was a very natural beer. The story reached even greater success with the Sara and Joseph (#115) launching as truly organic beers in 2000. This meant following stricter guidance on the production of the ingredients, but this move towards producing ‘superbeers’ has really paid off. What used to be a rustic farmyard is now a modern brewery which is reeling off 70,000 gallons of excellent beer each year, and exporting as far and wide as much of Western Europe and the United States. You can even drive by and drink the beers on the premises at the bar-restaurant should you wish.

This Sara Brune was picked up in a local beer store in Couvin and drunk in the safety of my own home. I was very interested to discover what a buckwheat beer tastes like, but like most 25cl beers it was all over so soon. It was though pleasantly crisp and light for a dark beer, and fairly spicy on the tongue. I wouldn’t be in a rush to drink another but felt strangely liberated to be drinking an organic beer !

(Post-Script) – Silenrieux also make a Sara Blonde (#114), and this report highlights how the beer got its name.

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#58 – Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

#58 - Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

My final blonde of the night was Cuvee li Crochon Blonde – a little beer with a funky label, and another one from Couvin. The website which gives some information on the heritage of the beers identifies the Couvin warehouse as one of only a few in the area that actually stock this beer, thus this and its sister brown beer may be one of the rarer ones tried so far.

It is worth starting with the regionality mentioned above and the Onhaye municipality which has a population of only about 5000 inhabitants. It may be a tiny place, but it is proud of its beautiful Ardennes location (only 5km west of Dinant); so much so that in 1982 the ‘La Confrerie Li Crochon’ was founded. This Brotherhood of Li Crochon, as it translates, was set up to promote tourism in this area mainly based around local cuisine. Li Crochon is not the heron on the label, which I immediately assumed on drinking, but actually a symbolic dish of the region, which refers to the end slices of a loaf of bread, which are spread with local cheese and then roasted over a wood fire. By god that sounds delicious!

A modernised version of this dish tends to refer to a hollowed out bun, which is topped with cheese, ham and cream and baked in the oven. It must be good if they set up a brotherhood to look after it and then brewed a beer to accompany it. The brewing is now carried out by Du Bocq, but previously a couple of local brasseries began the tradition of finding a perfect beer for the dish. I must confess I am not sure they did a particularly good job. I found this blonde easily the most disappointing of the night. It neither fizzed or popped on opening, and once poured looked almost green in the light, and anaemic. It smelt of nothing in particular and tasted watery and weak. I had only reserved scores of below 5 for poor fruit beers and the truly disgusting but this moribund effort sadly didn’t make the grade. I just hope the dish Li Crochon is better or they may as well sack the Brotherhood.

(Post-Script) – At least the Cuvee li Crochon Brune was a lot better (#136).

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Du Bocq, Heron

#56 – Super des Fagnes Blonde

#56 - Super des Fagnes Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Beer #52 in Belgium, beers #53 and #54 in Luxembourg, beer #55 in Germany, and now beer #56 in Italy. We were clearly covering a fair bit of ground (or maybe I was drinking too slowly). We had been aiming for Lake Garda by evening but the driving was beginning to do me in, and so after we saw the beautiful view of Lake d’Iseo from the hill, something drew us down. Within an hour we had secured a modern cabin on the edge of the lake. The views were fantastic, the weather was stunning, and I had a fridge! Happiness is clearly putting ones feet up by the lake as the sun begins to set with one gorgeous brunette and three chilled-out blondes. Although the blondes in question turned out to be all surface no feeling. So often the way.

The first was another from the Fagnes school, that I had picked up in the Couvin warehouse. I had recently learnt that the warehouse has a close association with the Brasserie des Fagnes, and I feel I must briefly talk about this place as for anyone on their first real Belgian beer stock-up, there really is no finer feeling. OK, I had wandered around Beers of Europe up in Norfolk which makes you feel like a kid in a candy shop, but its like you are too young to be able to afford everything you want. Being in the ‘Comptoir des Fagnes’ with all the time in the world, was like being like a kid in the candy store you loved as a kid, but with a pocket full of cash. Most beers were about a Euro each on average, and my only limitation seemed to be the amount of room in the car. I was reliably informed that this store had over 600 Belgian beers, and so choosing a hundred or so proved particularly difficult for me. I grabbed a trolley, got my Belgian Beer Guide out and spent the next hour in an orgasmic trance.

These warehouses are often known as Drankencentrales, or Drankenhandels in Flemish speaking areas, or negociants or depositaires in the more French areas. They exist primarily for local cafes and stores, although thanks to the world opening up, its not unusual to see other people like me wandering through, and contributing to the store-keepers nightmare – 100+ singly purchased bottles – each to be hand entered on to the till,  and each with a ten cent deposit to be rung through. I’d even managed to get into the wrong queue and so had irritated a number of rushed locals behind me looking for a quick few crates on the way home. They didn’t seem to care though, and even helped me carry the boxes to the car. I had decided to stock up on a few rarer beers and it became evident that to get to a thousand beers I was clearly going to have to kiss a few frogs.

The Super des Fagnes Blonde was clearly not as refined as her darker sister (#50). She certainly wasn’t unpleasant and certainly didn’t taste sticky or cloying as some stronger beers can. She gave me a good head, with a grapefruity aroma but it just went nowhere after that. She promised me so much and delivered so little. I was just thankful I had another blonde lined up straight after (#57).

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Brewers, Deer, Duck, Fagnes

#51 – Abbaye de Forest

#51 - Abbaye de Forest

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The light had begun to fade at the campsite after our late start, and it had started to get a little chilly. I dug around for my army jumper, pulled myself up to the barbecue and decided to have one last beer for the night. I closed my eyes and randomly stuck my hand into one of the boxes I had filled from our Couvin stop. Abbaye de Forest from the Brasserie Silly, and I just assumed from the uninspiring label that it was one of those tawdry beers made by a supermarket with a made-up Abbey name to sell a few extra brews. I was wrong, not that I am going to apologise to anyone.

There is actually an Abbaye de Forest, and there is actually a place called Forest. Remarkable what a little research can do. Instead of contemplating the two strange campers with the worlds smallest tent who had set up a late night butterfly watching vigil in the woods, I might have sat there pondering the decline of yet another Benedictine Abbey.

The Abbaye de Forest was founded in 1106, and it grew in splendour and importance due to its location near Brussels on the main road from Paris. Often key dignitaries in olden times heading to Brussels, would stop here for food, shelter and entertainment. The community was thus able to grow in size as craftsmen, brewers, wine growers and farmers moved to be near the opportunities provided by the Abbey. The inevitable decline came however in 1764 when a massive fire razed the place, and it wasn’t until 1964 that the local commune were able to begin the restoration of this once majestic complex. The Abbaye is available for visitors now, and is apparently well worth the effort – sadly unlike the beer.

I didn’t expect much, and to be fair the Abbaye de Forest did its best not to disappoint. It looked pale and golden once the froth had decided to calm down, a little like a Duvel (#34), although clearly that is where all comparisons ended. It was watery and non-descript, and although clearly better than most premium lagers, it certainly won’t stay long in my memory. If I was throwing a barbecue in the summer, and this was on offer in the supermarket, I might consider it for the less discerning English drinkers, however I am not, and that’s what Stella Artois (#116) is for anyway.

(Post-Script) – having visited Brussels on my stag weekend, it is clear this is a staple beer of the city;  being freely available in many bars.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Silly

#50 – Super des Fagnes Brune

#50 - Super des Fagnes Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I have reached a milestone. Just like the first beer (#1) when I started this pilgrimage, there is no great celebration to commemorate my 50th Belgian beer. Lets face it, Super des Fagnes Brune is not the Real Madrid of the Belgian beer world. The fact I am in rural Belgium and picking up local regional beers is more than enough for me.

Tash and I had stopped in a local campsite in the Namur countryside, and what spare gaps we had left in the car had been filled up with a bottle stop at a wonderful beer warehouse in Couvin. If we had had the time we would have called in to the Brasserie des Fagnes, but we didn’t. So much later, on a warm balmy evening we settled down, cooked an amazingly fragrant Ardennaise sausage dish on our Skottel brai and cracked open a few local Belgians – one of which just happened to be from Fagnes.

The brewery, opened in 1998, is actually named for its geographical location. The Hautes-Fagnes is a highland situated in both Belgium and Germany, between the famous Ardennes and Eifel highlands, of which the highest point is Signal de Botrange near Eupen. It is a fairly wet area, and thus often very swampy and several rivers begin here – notably the Vesdre, Ambleve and Rur. The Hautes-Fagnes translates into English as the ‘High Fens’, and is probably well represented on the label – and to be honest, that’s about as exciting as it gets. The evening was perfect and the beer wasn’t at all bad but I would remember the evening more for the location and the cuisine, and of course the celebration of the half century.

The Super des Fagne Brune looked great as it bubbled away after the initial pour, with a deep burgundy appearance with hints of russet and orange when held up to the light. It smelt great, and was surprisingly malty and treacly on first taste, and as it continued there were some great aftertastes – particularly of liquorice. A good holiday feeling from a less than famous brewery.

(Post-Script) – Less impressive however is the Super des Fagnes Blonde (#56). One to Avoid.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, Deer, Duck, Fagnes