Tag Archives: Trappistes

#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

#192 – Jupiler

#192 - Jupiler

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Jupiler is probably the most popular beer in Belgium, in terms of hectolitres consumed. If you thought that every Belgian sat in their local cafe sipping Trappistes Rochefort 8s (#31), or Orvals (#37) then you are sadly mistaken. As with any country nowadays pale lagers are king, and Belgium is no exception. The name of the beer comes from the town in which the Piedboeuf brewery is based; Jupille-sur-Meuse, once a municipality itself, but now rather subsumed by the city of Liege.

The logo of Jupiler is that of the bull, and is very much marketed at the male gender in Belgium. The beer is the main sponsor of the top Belgian football division, and has also sponsored the Belgian national football team. I don’t need to sum up how Jupiler represents the masculinity of its drinkers, as no better illustration exists than the marketing contained within the official website. Enjoy…

Jupiler has an outspoken image of masculinity, courage and adventure. Furthermore, Jupiler understands men like no other brand and shares their best moments. This combination of male bonding, self-confidence and self-relativation, speaks to all men and makes Jupiler an ally on their road through life.

Jupiler is the official sponsor of the highest Belgian football division, the Jupiler League, and also supports the Belgian national football team. Just like football, Jupiler is all about competence and ruggedness, effort and reward, team spirit and… festivity!

Aside from understanding exactly what constitutes ‘self relativation’, I am keen to know what exactly Jupiler contains that ensures my ‘competence and ruggedness’. It is in truth a pale lager made from maize which has very little flavour. I drunk this beer while enjoying a cottage in rural Devon. Had it been even faintly drinkable I might have managed to quaff half a crate, beat my chest and go fight with a few locals but it had barely touched the sides before I decided to quickly move onto another beer that tasted of something. So far plenty of effort, and very little reward. What a load of bull.

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Filed under 4, Bull, Pale Lager, Piedboeuf

#123 – St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

#123 - St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

We already know who St. Feuillien was (#29), and that beer was brewed in the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. Production did stop here in 1796 though when the French Revolution did its worst, but the story and beers of St. Feuillien continue to live on, and that is largely due to Stephanie Friart who resurrected the St. Feuillien brewing tradition in 1873 in a new set of premises on the edge of Roeulx. The Brasserie Friart was born.

The brewery held on to this title for well over a century until in 2000 the fourth generation of Friarts decided to revert back to the monastic title of Brasserie St. Feuillien, to match the name of their popular signature beers. It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, with the brewery being shut for production between 1980 and 1988 when all brewing was undertaken on their behalf at Du Bocq. I can verify there is still a working relationship taking place between these two, as on a visit to the Du Bocq brewery recently the main beer in production was the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29).

The recent success of the brewery since re-opening has been clearly evident in sales, especially at a time when the powerhouses of beer production in Belgium are putting pressure on the independent brewers. Much of this success sits with the industry and application of the founders great-grand niece, Dominique Friart who in her role as Managing Director for the business has kept the home fires burning while travelling the world and marketing the beers. If ever there was an example of a successful family run business – this is it.

Anyway, I was thirsty, and on my third or fourth beer of the evening when chance led to the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel cooling nicely in the fridge. I had for some reason expected this to be a run of the mill addition to the evening, but I was completely mistaken. This was easily the best Christmas beer I had drunk yet. Dark, thick and warmly satisfying – the perfect addition to a winter’s night. It wasn’t perhaps as complex as a Trappistes Rochefort, yet was equally as nourishing. I will be seeking this out by the crate-load on my next Christmas jaunt to the continent.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, St. Feuillien

#107 – Trappistes Rochefort 6

#107 - Trappistes Rochefort 6

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Sadly the Trappistes Rochefort with the red cap is the last of the famous triumvirate to pass my eager lips. Just over a hundred beers in and I need to conclude my notes on this fantastic Trappist brewery. To be honest there isn’t a lot else to say that I haven’t already covered in reviewing the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13) and Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), apart from the fact that interestingly these range of beers have only recently acquired labels. Previously images were screened directly onto the bottle and thus if you find one of these on your travels then hang on to it, or pass it my way!

What first started to baffle me though was why the Trappistes Rochefort beers are called 6, 8 and 10. Clearly this is not to do with their ABV as the Trappistes Rochefort 6 weighs in at 7.5% however it is to do with the overall gravity of the beer. The difference is that various scales have been used over time to measure essentially the same thing. Original gravity in a nutshell is a reading which is an estimate of the amount of sugar which will be turned into ethanol by the yeast, and is usually calculated using a table of figures. The reading will express the sugar content in units of grams of sugar per 100 grams of wort, and it is usually expressed as “degrees Plato” (abbreviated °P). As mentioned, different scales have been used in various places, and Rochefort in the good old days measured the gravity of their beers through the obsolete Belgian scale.

In this instance the 10 corresponds to 1.100 (25 °P), the 8 corresponds to 1.080 (20 °P) and the 6 corresponds to 1.060 (15 °P). This is the ‘original gravity’ (OG) as it is a prediction of the potential alcohol once the yeast has worked its magic on the sugar. Specific Gravity (SG) is a term often used, and is slightly simpler in that it corresponds to the relative density of a liquid, relative to that of water at a certain temperature. This is the gravity measured with a hydrometer. Brewers are able to compare the OG and the SG to monitor the progression of the fermentation. Essentially once the SG stops declining the fermentation has been completed. Happy Days !

The Trappistes Rochefort 6 essentially started off as the Pater beer (#2) for the monks, but it’s far better and stronger than a typical table beer. At 7.5% it lacks the killer strength of its older brothers but it is still a fine beer. It’s the hardest of the three to pick up but well worth it if you fancy a few without a headache the next morning. Its cleaner and thinner than the others, but the famous datey taste still permeates every mouthful and it remains just that bit more subtle. It’s readily available in the villages near Rochefort, although there is no brewery tap – it’s the only Trappist brewery without one. The Relais de St. Remy about 2km out of town is your best place to find it.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Rochefort, Trappist Beer

#45 – Chimay Blue

#45 - Chimay Blue

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Chimay print the year of bottling on their ‘Blue’ labels. Many other beers do, but not prominently on the front of the bottle. One of the unique selling points of good Belgian beer is that it will age well if cellared, and Chimay Blue, or ‘Grand Reserve’ as it is known in the 75cl bottles, is probably the most renowned exponent. They put the year of bottling on the front, in the sense that it identifies the vintage.

We have already drunk a few beers that age well – notably the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) and Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), and they tend to be the heavier complex dark beers, which change, vary and usually improve when exposed to periods of time in the dark! This is known as cellaring. I don’t have a cellar, but I do have a large space on the floor in the bedroom (which my wife calls the Floordrobe) where my constant supply of beverages sit. There is however a darker place, deep in the real wardrobe, where I keep the darker, more appropriate beers, and there are one or two Chimay Blues among them ready for a tasting in a few years.

Cellaring works because the beer is bottle-conditioned. The yeast that is propagated at bottling will continue to work its magic if given the right environment, just as a plant will flourish if given the right feed, compost and climate. Two golden rules that many experts allude to is, a constant 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit if possible (normal room temperature), and little or no exposure to light. Any temperature higher than this can cause the lifespan of the beer to drastically shorten, and anything much lower will often induce a cloudiness which is referred to as ‘chill haze’. It is important to remember that the recommendation above is for beers of the Chimay Blue ilk – such as barley wines, triples and dark ales). Actual cellar temperature (normally 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit is normally recommended for standard ales – such as IPAs and Saisons, while even lower temperatures (ie 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit – refrigeration temperatures) are recommended for lighter beers such as wheat beers or pilseners/lagers.

I couldn’t get my hands on anything older than a 2008, and so my review is based on that. I guess it is important to note also that it is from the 330 ml bottle, as opposed to the ‘Grand Reserve’. It is often reported that the yeast weaves its magic better in the larger bottle. The beer, regardless of age is beautiful. It pours a dark brown that shimmers when held up to the light, with a yeasty froth of head. It smells mysterious, and the flavour is smoky, bordering on dry but with a distinctive flavour of malt. If this one is this good, I can’t wait for another one in 5 years !

(Post-Script) – I couldn’t wait five years and so on a heady night in the Kulminator bar in Antwerp I tried a vintage ‘Grand Reserve’. Believe the hype; it was remarkable !

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Chimay, Trappist Beer