Tag Archives: Joseph

#163 – Balthazar

#163 - Balthazar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Balthazar is one of three Christmas beers produced by the Picobrouwerij Alvinne. They are labelled as the Epiphany beers, which toast the pre-Christmas holiday of Epiphany which is popular in Belgium. Epiphany is also known in the Christian calendar as Three Kings Day, which is customary to be the Sunday which falls between 2 and 8 January.

Anybody who was dressed up at primary school as a shepherd will probably remember they spent the whole Christmas play wishing they were one of the Three Kings or at least Joseph! The feast day of Epiphany, certainly in Belgium, commemorates the visitation of the Magi, or Three Kings to the birthplace of Baby Jesus. Balthazar was the dark swarthy third King of Sheba in the story, or at least in the modern accounts of the story which were first documented in about 9 A.D. The legend has it that Gaspar (#188), the white-bearded King of Tarsus brought gold for Jesus, that Melchior, the aging King of Arabia brought Frankincense, and Balthazar came with myrrh. Each of the three above are all Christmas beers from Alvinne.

Balthazar derives from the Phoenician language, and generally is thought to mean “Baal protects the King”, which is apt when considered in terms of the Nativity story. However Balthazar also has other meanings. Some more recent conspiracy theories have suggested the link between the demon Balthazar who was committed by the Demon King Seth to rot in the Fires of Hell for eternity. The thought that the King of Sheba may have also been an incarnation of Satan is a sobering one, but could explain the portent of his impending doom. The Myrrh after all according to legend was saved for the burial of Jesus.

More merrily, and back of course on to our favourite subject, any learned wine or beer scholar will know that a Balthazar is also 12 litre champagne or wine bottle. I’m not sure any beers have ever been packaged in a Balthazar, but if they have then that’s going straight on my Christmas list for Santa. The Balthazar I was drinking tonight however came rather disappointingly in just a third of a litre bottle. It was fairly interesting however, being unsurprisingly dark and full of eastern spice – Balthazar is brewed with four special malts, dark candies and coriander, cardamom and ginger. The result was a unique beer, that was fairly pleasant to drink, but which by the end was perhaps just a bit too quirky to be truly remarkable. This was certainly not an Epiphany for me !

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Filed under 7, Alvinne, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer

#124 – Winterkoninck

#124 - Winterkoninck

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

As we have already ascertained, the Antwerp beer scene is synonymous with De Koninck (#122), although it would be most useful to find out quite how this happened with another history lesson.

The De Koninck story begins as far back as 1827 when a certain Joseph Henricus De Koninck purchased an old coach house which straddled the border post between Antwerp and Berchem. The border was marked by a solitary stone boundary post, on which was sculpted an open hand. The coach house, known as the De Plaisante Hof, was a popular stopping point for travellers who would pull up at the sculptured hand and pay a toll to cross into Antwerp.

Joseph Henricus sadly though was not long for the world, and no sooner than 1833 his widow Elisabeth Cop had remarried a warehouse foreman named Johannes Verliet who decided to convert the coach house into a brewery. The inspiration was the stone boundary post on the roadside, and the new venture became known as the Brouwerij de Hand. Since that very day, the same hand has graced the labels of the beers that have come from this historic brewery.

The fact that the brewery is not known as Verliet may have something to do with the fact that in 1845, Carolus De Koninck, the eldest son of Joseph Henricus took over the business. The place has been in the family ever since, and since 1912 has been called the Brasserie Charles de Koninck. The story of the next hundred years I will happily retell on a later beer, but anybody keen on dropping by the brewery can still see the original stone post which after years gathering dust beneath the Vleeshuis is now proudly and rightfully on show in the brewery courtyard.

If the previous tipple, St Feuillien Noel (#123) was the epitomy of an idyllic white Christmas, then I am afraid the Winterkoninck was of the regular overcast Christmas variety, complete with grey skies and miserable relatives. It had a very dreary amber complexion, with a tacky synthetic aftertaste. While not being horrible in any way, I was just disappointed to follow the St. Feuillien with this. It really was the slushy mess that follows a white Christmas.

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#115 – Joseph

#115 - Joseph

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

Straight after Sara (#114) came Joseph – a kind of younger brother beer from Silenrieux. Where Sara is unusual in that it is made from buckwheat, the Joseph is made from spelt.

Spelt is often known as the ‘poor mans’ wheat’, and is an ancient form of the modern day crop. It does differ in its make-up, but probably only because over the years wheat has been so genetically modified whereas spelt remains fairly true to its heritage. Spelt was the common crop across Europe as far back as the Bronze Age, and survived in abundance right through to medieval times. Only then did farmers began to fiddle with it to ensure a higher level of grain per ear, and therefore better returns. This evolutionary journey is well reflected by the latin term for wheat – ‘spelta’.

Spelt was very easy to grow, in that it did not require particularly fertile land, and inevitably required very little attention to keep it flourishing. Its flavour is often described as nuttier and sweeter, so you wonder what led to the desire to modify it. It may have been much rougher than wheat, and the husks much tougher, but spelt has also been found to contain much more protein, which is one reason for modern day farmers to begin to re-introduce spelt. It is healthier in that it contains more nutrients caused by being genetically unmodified and being grown organically. It is however a popular misconception that spelt is gluten free. It isn’t – although Silenrieux produce two buckwheat beers for this purpose (#110, #114).

The end result is to all intents and purposes a wheat beer – it’s just of course made with spelt. The specimen is pale and fairly cloudy, although the brewers do lightly filter the end product and additionally referment within the bottle. The taste was surprisingly fruity, yet more fizzy and refreshing than your average wheat beer. I really enjoyed this and yet again wished it was a 33cl bottle as it was over so quick. A nice end to a long days driving.

(Post-Script) – I assume the name Joseph is derived from spelt being especially prevalent in biblical times – unless anyone else knows otherwise?

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#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

#65 – La Moneuse

#65 - La Moneuse

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 8 %

There is a most definite morbidity amongst the Belgians. We have already come across and drunk beers known as Judas (#5) and Duvel (#34), and learnt of others called Satan and Lucifer. While there is a certain degree of separation between the modern world and these figures of notoriety, the story behind Blaugies La Moneuse is far more contemporary. The person in question is Antoine-Joseph Moneuse, and the co-owner of Blaugies, Marie-Noelle Pourtois, is convinced that she is his descendant. On further reading I might have kept quiet about this !

A J Moneuse claimed to be a miller and a trader, although most who ran into this unsavoury character would argue this was a euphemistic claim. Moneuse spent most of his career as a coach driver cum highwayman, womaniser, robber and murderer. It was unlikely though that he would become anything but given his family background. His grandfather died in prison while on a fourteen year stretch, and his father was murdered during a fight with a sword. He fell into bad company while driving coaches, and it was inevitable he fell into the highwaymans way of life.

It would be easy to romanticise this character in the style of Dick Turpin, however when you read of his works, it is ever more surprising that somebody named such a great beer after him. Legend has it that when unwitting victims refused to give up the location of their stash, Moneuse and his cronies would burn their feet on the open fire until they confessed. The worst story came from 1795 when Moneuse and twelve other men attacked a hostel killing a couple, their six children and the family doctor. Records of the time reported that the bodies were macerated by both blunt and sharp weapons while the body of a twenty-two month old child was found with the guts ripped out in the arms of her dead sister.

Thankfully Moneuse was eventually caught with a number of his cronies and imprisoned in Asquillies. He was eventually sentenced to death and faced the Guillotine (#61) in June 1798 in the Place de Douai with his accomplices. They were made to wear the shameful red shirts set aside only for murderers and poisoners.

It was with trepidation that I visited the Trois Fourquets in Blaugies for lunch on our last day in Belgium. It was a far more enjoyable experience than the one documented above, ordering local sausages cooked in front of us on the open griddle, and served with a large bottle of La Moneuse. This was as near to an Orval (#37) as I had tasted since, yet more subtle and pronounced in its hoppiness. A truly impressive saison drunk in wonderful surroundings. The beer was a pure pleasure, quite unlike the man it is in honour of.

(Post-Script) – I have done a few brewery taps for lunch in Belgium now, but probably none finer than Blaugies – Its remote but if you get the opportunity do it !

Address: Rue de la Frontière
435 Blaugies, 7370
Belgium
Phone: 32 (0)65 65 03 60
Email: info@brasseriedeblaugies.com
URL: http://www.brasseriedeblaugies.com/



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