Monthly Archives: November 2009

#26 – Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

#26 - Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The beers of Steenbrugge are steeped in a rich beer-fuelled history – 925 years to be exact! It was then in 1084 that a certain Arnold of Tiegem – the dude kissing the potato waffle on the label – founded St Peter’s Abbey in Oudenburg in West Flanders, where he wished to escape a life of fighting. It was here that St Arnoldus started to brew some serious beer, as monks tended to do at this time as it was healthier than water. History suggests however that there was a certain magic to his brews and that those that drank his beers would be healed – and he eventually become the Patron Saint of Brewers. Yes, we do indeed have St Arnold of Tiegem to thank for this gift to life, and if you are ever in Brussels in July, you can join the throngs honouring him on the ‘day of beer’.

The item on the label is not actually a potato waffle, nor either a Belgian waffle – it is in fact a mashing rake, used while brewing to stir the mash. Anyway, long after our good friend Arnold had gone, the years took its toll on the monastery, but in 1898 a certain Abbot Amandus Mertens decided to recreate the beers to honour his St Peter’s Abbey. Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin is one of these.

I think its possibly one of the most attractive labels but quite under-drunk beers. The head was fine and lasted well, over a thin dark underbelly of beer. The smell was bright and hoppy, as was the taste. It continued to sparkle with thin warmth in the mouth and remained clean cut and distinguished but nothing of that remarkableness I was hoping for from a beer of St Arnold.

(Post-Script) – for something with a bit more bite you might want to try the Steenbrugge Tripel (#103)

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Palm

#25 – Leffe Brune

#25 - Leffe Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

Almost every UK supermarket now seems to stock Leffe, in both 330ml and 750ml varieties. Since being taken over, most recently by In-Bev, the saturated marketing ploy is clearly evident. It hasn’t always been this way however, as Leffe was first brewed almost 800 years ago by the monks of St. Norbert, at a small abbey on the Meuse river in Dinant, Namur. Things went well until the 1460s when the Abbey was first flooded and then invaded by Burgundian troops. It took until 1719 for a new church to be consecrated on the site, but the good days didn’t last long, as the French Revolution took its toll on the Abbey when it was continually vandalised and eventually abandoned under Republic Law.

The Abbey saw further immeasurable grief during World War I until once again the Norbertine monks took control of the Abbey in the 1950s and eventually made a deal with the brewer Albert Lootvoet to re-launch the production of Leffe beers, starting with Leffe Brune. It seemed to work wonders, and the rest of the Leffe brands followed. 1977 was a pivotal year in which the Artois brewery came in and took control, but I will leave that story for the next Leffe beer (#41).

Leffe Brune is readily available but shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a fine drink with a good solid chocolate coloured appearance and a sweet smell. The taste is cloved and malty and stays to the end. This beer won’t win prizes but is certainly value for money.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, InBev (Belgium)

#24 – Fruli Strawberry

#24 - Fruli Strawberry

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 4.1 %

I love the ‘Good Beer Guide: Belgium’. I love the ‘Good Beer Guide: Belgium’ so much because of its waging of war on the fruit flavoured beers. I asked author Tim Webb why he had omitted Fruli from the Good Beer Guide: Belgium, and the response I got was.. “Somewhere between don’t know, don’t care, and isn’t a beer anyway!”

I am going to use the Guides own words to sum up these style of fruit beers as I don’t want to even compete with such bitterness. I’ll let you know what I think once I have drunk it.

‘Regular readers will notice that we have finally tired of some brewers’ relentless pursuit of mediocrity, as represented in part by the wave of so-called fruit beers – now over 100 – most of which are made by adding syrup, concentrate, extract, or cordial to an otherwise dull beer. The Guide will continue to introduce readers to the delights of drinks that for centuries have been made by steeping fruit in vats of soured ales or lambics and praise them unceasingly. On the other hand, these modern incarnations have been red-penned. However ‘nice’ some are – and many taste frankly disgusting – these are not beers and have no place in this book.

Tim Webb continues later ‘Strictly speaking, lambics are wheat beers. This may explain the ghastly new trend of adding fruit syrups into wheat beer before bottling. By all means try these concoctions but, if you do, could you please hide your copy of the Guide from view.’

For the mission to reach 1000 beers I will not red-pen these beers. As unlikely as I am to rate them particularly highly, it would be wrong of me not to judge them fairly and equitably, although having already squirmed through a Mongozo (#1) I cant exactly say I am looking forward to them. As for the Fruli, it testifies quite openly to being 70% wheat and 30% fruit juice. The advertising on the world wide web seems to openly laugh in the face of beer snobs and clearly is targeting a younger and more inexperienced beer drinking clientele.

It was certainly refreshing, and certainly tasted of strawberries. Definitely one for the summer, and definitely one for the ladies – to which I mean absolutely no disrespect for the few craft beer drinking ladies I have met. Sadly I have just found out that there are another three types of Fruli beer out there somewhere. Lets hope fate keeps me away for long enough to reach the 1000.

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Filed under 4, Fruit Beer, Huyghe

#23 – Cookie Beer

#23 - Cookie Beer

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Ecaussinnes make the unusual Cookie Beer with speculoos – a type of brown shortcrust biscuit made with traditional christmas spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Whatever were they thinking?

The biscuits are generally native to Belgium and the Netherlands, and are traditionally baked for St Nicholas’ Eve – December the 5th or 6th depending on whether you live in the Netherlands or in Belgium. It is fair to say the Belgian varieties tend to be less spicy, but they are extremely popular all year round, and are awash in many beer supermarkets throughout the country.

The name probably comes from the Latin speculum, which translates as mirror, and reflects the images which are etched in bas-relief onto a stamp and then the face of the biscuit. The most famous place in Belgium for speculoos is Hasselt which has a strong history and association with different varieties. I have indeed tried the biscuits and urge anyone to stick to these instead of trying this beer. It was actually so bad, that I opted not to finish it.

This was a bad idea for a beer. What next, Garlic beer in France? Chorizo beer in Spain? It looked ok on pouring – nice and thick and a sweet sweet smell. There was a fair amount of sediment, obvious from the late brown mottling on top, but the flavour started bad and simply got worse. I left at least half in the glass. Neither beer nor cookies – just shit !

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Filed under 2, Belgian Strong Ale, Ecaussinnes

#22 – Lamoral Tripel

#22 - Lamoral Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Lamoral Tripel is more than a beer. It is in many ways a celebration of national pride. It may seem a long time ago, but Belgium and the present day Netherlands were under Spanish rule back in the 16th Century. At that time, Lamoral the Count of Egmont, was a wealthy and influential statesman and general who despite being loyal to Prince Philip II of Spain, was very much opposed to the introduction of the now-legendary Spanish Inquisition. He was not alone, with both William of Orange and the Count of Hoorn reflecting the views of the increasingly frustrated populace. Egmont even travelled to Madrid to beseech the King to withdraw this policy, but met with complete disinterest.

The people continued to revolt, and during the period of Iconoclasm, when the protestants began to attack the Catholic church, Egmont remained loyal to his King, while William of Orange read the warning signs and decided to flee the country. It was to end badly for Lamoral, who along with the Count of Hoorn was captured by the Duke of Alba, who had been sent to quiet the unrest in the lowlands. On June 5th 1568 both men were cruelly beheaded in Brussels main square, and this essentially sparked what became the Eighty Years War which eventually led to the independence of the country.

Who knows to what degree the majesty of Belgian beer is owed to the Count of Egmont – at least enough to dedicate a beer to him – unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly memorable one. It started well, with a pumping froth and an amber tangerine liquid bubbling away. Good first tastes, strangely of licquorice and a certain floridity, but it really didn’t last which was a shame, ending fairly average and meekly unlike Egmont who went down dignified right to the very end of his life.

(Post-Script) – It turns out beer runs in the family. Did you know that Kastaar (#96) was allegedly the son of the Count of Egmont?

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Van den Bossche

#21 – Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit

#21 - Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I had decided to tarry a while longer in the Dovetail, and having been so mightily impressed with the Grand Cru (#20), decided to partake in the darker sister beer – the Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit, or in more guttural Flemish ‘Verboden Vrucht’. It is even given the term ‘Le Fruit Defendu’ for the French speakers of the region. Big brother marketing.

Again, it is the label that sparks debate and tells the story of the name of the beer, and closer inspection reveals a comedy-take on Peter Paul Ruben’s painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Pierre Celis had brewed the beer originally as an offering for the Diesters company to celebrate an event in the town of Diest. Due to a disagreement over the use of the name Diest by the townspeople, Celis decided to call his beer ‘Forbidden’, and thus the evolution of the forbidden fruit theme in the story and painting of Eden.

It doesn’t end there however, in that when Celis took the beer for export to the US, it was very quickly banned as it infringed their strict policies on nudity. The brewery were quick to counter that this was not pornography, “but a great work of art from our country”, to which the American Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms replied “Yes, but Adam should be handing her an apple – not a beer.”

Don’t you love the Americans? Well Pierre Celis was clearly not put off because in recent years he now lives in the US brewing very popular proper white beers. This beer though was far from white – the head was piebald and cookie coloured, and the undercurrent a dark writhing mass. She tasted particularly smooth and chocolately with a definite dark cocoa finish. It never went on to throttle the tastebuds but all in all I couldn’t complain too much. Now I really needed to eat !

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev)

#20 – Hoegaarden Grand Cru

#20 - Hoegaarden Grand Cru

Size: 330ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Hoegaarden is reknowned for it’s plain wheat beer, which is something of a shame as it is a common concern of many beer fans today, that the quality of Hoegaarden (#81) has declined since it was taken over by AB/InBev. I would rather tackle that issue another time, as in actual fact, the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, which I painstakingly selected from the bar menu of the Dovetail in Clerkenwell was a much too pleasant beer to be negative about.

I was interested in the concept of Grand Cru. What on earth are they talking about? I must admit I had only heard this term largely used by winemakers, where it generally referred to the specific growth-place of a wine, intimating a region more so than a particular vineyard. The addition of ‘Grand Cru’ is a suggestion that this beverage is indeed a special one of this variation – the ‘great growth’. The term ‘Grand Cru’ can often be associated with foods, spirits and beers, but it doesn’t hold such an obvious official meaning, in that there is no regulation of what is or isn’t a ‘great growth’ beer. Pierre Celis, who invented the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, clearly felt this was his premier beer, and even went so far to use a Grand Cru wine label as the label for his new beer. His revelation in his autobiography ended much speculation that the mansion on the cover had some particular relevance to him – it was actually just a wine label he had happened to come across.

The beer itself was fantastic. A good solid head and a creamy dense mass underneath swimming in a sea of rich sediment. It felt alive. The taste is sweet and meaty and reeling with deep inner strength. I hadn’t eaten, and didn’t need to after this. I had good company in the bar, but noted quietly to myself that this was definitely a good one to look out for when restocking the cellar. Definitely some great growth in this one!

(Post-Script) – I was so impressed with this beer that I followed it, not with food, but a Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit (#21).

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev)

#19 – Barbar Belgian Honey Ale

# 19 - Barbar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This beer was probably the first Belgian beer I ever drunk back in 2000, when I was travelling through the lowlands while supporting England during the European Football Championships. I was actually driving at the time, and felt safe having a quick half. I wondered why I was half cut getting back in the car, and it was then I learnt that Belgian beer is not to be messed with.

I think the main reason I chose it back then on that warm summers day was that it said on the menu that it contained honey. I had a sweet tooth so it made perfect sense. How wrong I was. If you consider that beer dates back to the Egyptians and Sumerians (#1), then honey beer is quite simply Neolithic. Essentially ‘mead’ – as it translates from the term honey in many languages – is fermented honey and water, and was actually discovered by accident. During the harvests of the Middle Ages, honey was raided from beehives and preserved for its properties as a sweetener and other uses, in large vats of boiling water. Once the liquid cooled, and the slabs of honey removed, a sweet mixture remained that had naturally fermented with the yeasts in the air. This became the drink of the workers, and after a long hard day, men would dunk their cups in the vats and drink and be merry. Of course, honey was more expensive than naturally grown cereals, and so mead eventually declined in popularity, but its place in the history of beer is clearly evident and is now often drunk on special occasions.

Barbar disappointed me intensely. He barely smelled of anything on popping and there was little or no carbonation. I kept waiting for the taste of honey, that really just didn’t come. Barbar was smooth and the strength was well-hidden, but that was really just it. Next time – show me the honey !

(Post-Script) – I had hoped that the Barbar Winter Bok (#48) might have redeemed the Honey Ale, but alas it also fell short!

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Lefebvre

#18 – Pater Lieven Bruin

# 18 - Pater Lieven Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

Pater Lieven translates from Flemish as the ‘Father of Lieven’ – the father being a certain patron saint of the local parish – St Livinus. Now, any art lovers may have heard this name before, but if like me, you have been touring the brouwerijs and brasseries and not the museums, then perhaps you might wish to make a stop at the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Inside is the famous painting by Peter Paul Rubens, called ‘The Martyrdom of St Livinus’ (1633). I have stuck the picture in the People section for anyone keen enough to get a closer look at poor St Livinus having his tongue ripped out by a torturer.

Lebwin, or just Livinus, as he was known then, was actually the son of a Scottish nobleman and an Irish princess. He was raised in Ireland, and eventually left for England where he studied and was ordained into the monasteries. His mission took him on to Flanders where he eventually became the Bishop of Ghent. As was common at the time, the secular protestant society often found themselves grumbling at the church and in an effort to stop Livinus preaching he had his tongue forcibly removed. Legend has it however, that the tongue continued to preach on its own.

St Livinus was one of a number of martyrs at this time, celebrated by the Jesuits during the counter-reformation. St Livinus lives on as a hero of legend locally, and hence the reference for this range of beers from Van den Bossche.

This was another exploder that I failed to learn my lesson with. New trousers back in the wash ! A good creamy aroma, with a fantastic soft head maintained trimly atop a dark brown ale. The taste was distinctly chocolately although perhaps ended up just a little too subtle to register as a classic. The missus was impressed though.

(Post-Script) – a less impressive beer though was the Pater Lieven Blonde (#73).

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Van den Bossche

#17 – Rodenbach Grand Cru

 

#17 - Rodenbach Grand Cru

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

Rodenbach is an extremely unique brewery in that after brewing and fermenting in the normal fashion, the beers are aged in oak casks – something of a Flemish tradition. There are about 300 ceiling-high oak wooden tuns on the premises, all of various sizes, and each gives the contents a slightly different taste and colour.

Rodenbach age the beers for two distinct periods of time. The “young” beer tends to mature for four to five weeks to give it the sharpness, however the “old” beers tend to mature for about two whole years – although this is by no means official information such is the secrecy instilled within the brewery.

The key to the production of the Rodenbach beers is that the contents of these tuns are mixed together to create the different Rodenbach beers. The standard Rodenbach (#195) beverage mixes the young and the old together for bottling, whereby the Rodenbach Grand Cru uses only the finer mature tuns.

The end result is that of a red Belgian Sour Ale, that the sadly departed beer guru Michael Jackson labelled “the most refreshing beer in the world”. From my experience on a warm night in, she poured a dark crimson, with a lacy head and a real pungent aroma immediately pleasured my olfactory senses. With a fine amount of fizz, the beer stayed both immeasurably fresh and sour from start to finish. It has a fairly odd taste to your normal beer, but you really can’t help but enjoy it. For anyone who doesn’t like this, then surely it must be a case of sour grapes.

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Filed under 8, Rodenbach (Palm), Sour Ale

#16 – Westmalle Dubbel

# 16 - Westmalle Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The third Trappist brewery of my adventure already, although the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle (or Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) was only founded in 1794, and not conferred Trappist status until 1836. In the same year abbot Martinus Dom began the brewery, which is now the biggest of the Trappist sites with a brewing capacity of 45,000 bottles per hour !

It is often said that the terms ‘dubbel’ and ‘tripel’ hailed from the Westmalle Abbey, and the dubbel from the original recipe that was first brewed way back in 1926.

A trappist dubbel is usually dark in colour, and invariably sweet, with complex flavours comprising malt, caramel and sugar. It was said the original meaning of the term ‘dubbel’ was that it needed double the malt of a regular beer. Breweries often play with these recipes to add spices, and fruits to enhance the complexity. They are also usually pretty strong normally topping 7% ABV. I would be lying if I said a ‘dubbel’ couldn’t be blond, but it is unusual.

I still think that the bottle is better than the beer but it is still a fine brew, with a complex dark smell and extremely malty flavour with a long dry taste.  This is certainly not a guzzler but one to sip and enjoy early in the evening. Beware on opening though as it frothed a brown auburn ejaculation causing me to smash my favourite Orval (#37) glass as I frantically tried to avoid wasting the beer on my groin.

A better beer is by far the Westmalle Tripel (#149).

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

#15 – Piraat 9

#15 - Piraat 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Feast your eyes on any shelf in a decent Belgian Beer store, and you will find a number of beers dedicated to life at sea. Van Steenberge brew Piraat which of course is Flemish for ‘Pirate’ – essentially defined as ‘one who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation’.

The age-old legend of piracy is one which conjures up images of drunk salty sea-dogs, cutlasses, eye-patches and of course the infamous Jolly Roger flag and is therefore a popular image for marketing beer. Pirates have been around since approximately the 13th Century, and still operate today, famously off the African waters of Somalia.

Beer is long associated with the sea, in particular strong beers like the Piraat 9, which kept well on long voyages. Historically, beer was always known to boost energy and certainly strengthen the morale of sailors stuck on boats for long periods of time – often noted to be at least a gallon a day !

This is actually a fine fine beer. It has a less than exciting aroma and the head is semi-frothy, but the warmth that resonates after every taste leaves you wanting more and more. Its fruity, deep and it stays with you like no other blonde has yet on this pilgrimage. A gallon of this however  would probably not strengthen my morale the next morning !

(Post-Script) – as an example of other sea-faring beers from Belgium please try the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27) or perhaps the Biere du Corsaire (#80).

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#14 – Abbaye de Malonne Blonde

#14 - Abbaye de Malonne Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Malonne is a small village in Namur, where the Abbey Notre-Dame de Malonne once sat. The abbey was built in the 7th Century by an Anglo-Saxon monk named Saint Berthuin. The Abbey was the centre-piece of the heavily forested local area, and the village grew up around it. The Abbey has  long been dissolved, but the people of Malonne still celebrate the memory of the Irish monk.

Every year villagers carry a shrine throughout Malonne, which is offered to everybody to touch to bring good luck throughout the year. Inside this silver and gold shrine are the bones of St Berthuin. Nice !

The beer itself is elaborately brewed with natural ingredients according to monastery traditions including Bavarian hops. It all started well with a good typical blonde smell, and a buoyant head, but it fast faded – ending watery and distinctly unmemorable. There is little substance to the beer and even if this was to bring me good luck for a year I definitely wouldn’t touch it again!

(Post-Script) – I did later touch the Abbaye de Malonne Brune (#92) and to be fair it did little to lift the reputation.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Lefebvre

#13 – Trappistes Rochefort 10

#13 - Trappistes Rochefort 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.3 %

The story of the Trappistes Rochefort Beers starts on very much the same vein as that of the Grimbergen beers (#8, #9). Abbey makes beer – Abbey gets destroyed by plunderers – Abbey reforms several times – Abbey begins to make beer again. All this over a period of 400 years.

The Abbey in question is that of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Remy, near the town of Rochefort, and has been indulging in the making of beer since about 1595. This is the second of the six Belgian Trappist breweries we have come across, and of course follows all the traditions – probably even more strictly than any of the others. The brewery is not open to the public *, and the recipes which are extremely well respected by all connoisseurs are very much shrouded in mystery. The Cistercian Monks of Strict Observance lead an austere lifestyle, and are firm adherents of their motto ‘Curvato Resurgo’ – ‘Curved,  I straighten up’.

It is thought that about 15 monks still live within the walls of the Abbey, and since 1952 have invested heavily in equipment and facilities to produce a set of three quality beers, although they still remarkably draw their water from a well within the monastery walls.

The strongest is the Trappistes Rochefort 10 – the one with the blue cap – which weighs in at a hefty 11.3 ABV. Definitely one to sup on a cold winters night and pull the blanket up with. It is thick, rich and full of bite. Easily the best beer I have tried as yet on my own strict observance, although it would later be surpassed by its younger brother, the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31).

* (Post-Script) – although much later in my journey I did manage to sneak into the grounds and take a peek while construction work was being carried out

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Rochefort, Trappist Beer

#12 – Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

#12 - Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

This is a tough ask – to sum up Gueuze in a paragraph or two. How can one possibly do that without delving deep into the world of lambic? Well here’s the whistle-stop tour. We can wade deeper into the effluent as the journey continues.

OK. Lambics are beers but not as we know it. They require wild yeasts that sit in the air in the Payottenland area around Brussels to ferment the beer, and they sit for long periods open to this natural process. They do indeed use hops, but only the oldest ones, and so the usual beer flavours are barely noticeable. It is a combination of these two circumstances that cause Lambic based beers to be sour, acetic and somewhat an acquired taste. Gueuze is the by-product of carefully combining these lambics, and so by mixing older ones with younger ones, blenders are able to sweeten the final result. This occurs as the younger lambics have yet to fully ferment and so the fermentable sugars start to work on the combination – the end result being Gueuze.

Timmermans have been making Gueuze since 1781, and despite now being subsumed into the Anthony Martins group, they still retain their ancestry in the staff and identity in their brand. I get the feeling this was a pretty tame Gueuze to begin with. It was particularly sweet and I expect the brewery intended this to make it more marketable alongside a number of their other fruit lambics. The sweeter a Gueuze, the more able it is to mask the often difficult flavours behind it. This tasted more like a flat cidery champagne to me, as I kind of expected. There were some hints of grapefruit in there which added to the sourness somewhat. I have certainly lain my hat in the strong Belgian ale and Abbey Dubbel brands, and so this was an interesting diversion. I can’t say I am a true fan yet !

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Filed under 5, Lambic - Gueuze, Timmermans

#11 – Abdij van Roosenberg Blonde

 

#11 - Abdij van Roosenberg Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.2 %

The Abdij van Roosenberg, or as it is most commonly known – the Abbey of Waasmunster is a strikingly post-modern complex which sits in the East Flanders countryside just a stones throw from the A14. This is in actual fact the third incarnation of the Abdij van Roosenberg, and the original ‘Monte Rosarium’ depicted beautifully on the beers label was the first. In 1237 the nuns of the convent of ‘Les Prez Prochins’ began the rich history on the orders of the Tournai bishop Walter of Marvis. The Abbey was plagued with plunderings throughout the Middle Ages – 1379 and 1459 saw it destroyed by the people of Ghent, and in 1578 by the Calvinists. It succumbed to fire in 1419  and was completely destroyed again 1797.

Following the French Revolution, the Abbey was eventually reformed in 1831 and became known as Roosenberg II, before it was finally reformed again in 1975 in its current guise – Roosenberg III. The name of the Abbey translates as the Rose Mountain and is currently a far cry from the one depicted on the label.

Van Steenberge brew the current beers linked to the abbey, however an original Abdij van Roosenberg beer existed which was brewed over time by the now defunct Thuysbaert brewery. This has proved a fairly contentious pilfering of a once famous brand of beer. The new beer is little known to Belgian beer drinkers, but is actually a surprisingly good beer which demonstrates immediate strength that holds right to the end. The head is as big as any drunk yet, and the colour rich and golden. Perhaps the only major downside was a bit too much back-flavour of copper in the after-taste. The bottle promises little but this is a good solid blonde I would recommend.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#10 – Kwak

 

#10 - Kwak

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Talk about Kwak, and almost certainly conversation will revolve more around the glass, than the actual beer itself. Served in a round-bottomed hourglass that is unable to stand freely unless attached to a laboratory style piece of wooden apparatus, the beer is certainly one of the more attractive specimens on offer in cafes.

There is however a story behind the gimmick which the brewers at Bosteels are only happy to tell. Pauwel Kwak was an 18th Century innkeeper and brewer whose De Hoorn Inn in Dendermonde was frequently visited by horse-drawn mail coaches and their thirsty drivers travelling between Mechelen and Ghent. During these Napoleonic times, the mail coach drivers were prohibited from leaving the vehicles and were not allowed to be seen drinking alongside their passengers. Our man Pauwel then invented this glass which could be hung on the side of the coach enabling the drivers to continue to imbibe as they drove away, without spilling any of the precious brew. It was with this in mind in the 1980s that Bosteels launched this famous amber, and its test-tube styled accessories.

There are also stories in recent times that Pauwel was only named Kwak because of his heavy stature, and that in fact the beer is so named because of the ‘quack’ sound which is made when quickly drinking the beer from the special glass. These are crap stories but when you take into account the actual quality of the beer it does make you begin to wonder. I have always probably been more disappointed with Kwak because of the reputation it affords. The pour is a mix between amber and brown yet remains coppery clear. Its fair strength is barely unnoticeable but I’m not always convinced that is always a good thing. Kwak is a palatable but really rather unremarkable beer which almost stands in stark contrast to the vessel which so often accompanies and accentuates its sales !

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Bosteels

#9 – Grimbergen Dubbel

#9 - Grimbergen Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

In 2007 as previously mentioned (#8), Alken-Maes was a bit-part of the major deal which saw Heineken team up with Carlsberg to usurp British giant Scottish Courage. Heineken effectively then became the worlds second largest brewing company after AB-InBev. The Grimbergen range however does survive just as a tiny flea does in the fleece of its strutting master. In fact, Heineken owns two more Abbey brands of beer in Affligem and Postel and the beer drinking world awaits the fate of these in the face of the dog-eat-dog business world that Heineken et al dominate.

It is fair to say however that Heineken has never been a major player in Belgium. Where the Dutch and British mass market have been quaffing Heineken lager by the hectolitre, the Belgian undiscerners have preferred the equally indistinguishable Jupiler (#192), Stella Artois (#116) or Maes. This may all change though as Heineken is the largest multinational brewery in Europe, and is active in over 170 countries. In 2008 alone she saw 125.8 million hectolitres pass under their umbrella, and at least half of that was sold within the European Union. You may have heard of the following beers which are also Heineken staples – Zywiec, Cruz Campo, Birra Moretti, Murphy’s, and 33 Export. While this is something of a success story for the beer business started by Gerard Heineken in 1864, it is a major worry for small regional breweries who struggle to compete financially. The decline in the numbers of breweries over the last fifty years threatens everything we all love about craft beers. I hope this story isnt a portent of things to come in Belgium.

The Grimbergen Dubbel has rich brown chestnutty hues yet remains clearer and thinner than many other brown beers. With more head than the blonde and a definitively smokey aroma, the taste is surprisingly sweet and uncomplicated, yet very pleasant indeed. As you continue to drink, hints of mushroom leap out at you in a brew that is far too drinkable for a dark/dubbel. With availability in UK supermarkets this beer goes very well in a slow cooker casserole *

* (Post-Script) – this has fast become a favourite meal of mine, whereby recently becoming decadent enough to replace the Grimbergen Dubbel with a couple of Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) – a la bloody carte if I say so myself !

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#8 – Grimbergen Blond

#8 - Grimbergen Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

In 1128 St Norbert of Xanten built a majestic abbey for the eponymously named Norbertine canons of the time in a quiet place called Grimbergen. It is very unusual for an Abbey to have actually been established by the founding of an order, and these religious fellows were famously reknowned for their hospitality and especially their homebrew.  The Norbertines, or the Praemonstratensians started life near Reims in French Champagne country and moved northwards. The original building, like many other abbeys, has been knocked down and rebuilt many times throughout history, including 1796 when Napoleon decided to shut up shop, however a beautiful church remains left in the town as a reminder of former glories. Much of this is due to the rebuild which happened in the 1830s after the Abbey had been secularised, and further restorations continued in the 1920s to ensure it is now among one of Belgium’s prettiest churches.

Brewing probably started at the Grimbergen Abbey in the 1600s and only stopped due to the French Revolution. The rich brewing traditions however passed to Maes brewery in 1958 at the monks own request, and this alliance has continued even despite Maes merging with the Alken brewery in 1978 to form Alken-Maes – who now comprise part of the larger Heineken chain. Confusing, but at least the Grimbergen range with its immense brewing history is still going strong today.

This beer smacks of gold; with its vivid colour and smooth texture. There were few bubbles and barely any head to report, and the first taste was fairly lagery but going down it hinted at more. On a session night in beautiful rural Cornwall, this beer proved very drinkable, perhaps too so at the 6.7% strength. It needs perhaps to do more though to impress and really was just a bit too sweet in the end.

(Post-Script) – A better beer, which I often use in cooking, is the Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), which strangely was up next on my list, although the pick of the range is probably the Optimo Bruno (#194). Not that that is a ringing endorsement for what is essentially a pretty average bunch of beers.

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#7 – Chimay Red

#7 - Chimay Red

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7%

Chimay is an authentic Trappist brewery, located at the Scourmont Abbey deep in the Hainaut countryside. The Abbey was formed in 1850 and beers have been brewed there since 1862. There are 171 Trappist monasteries in the world yet only seven produce official trappist beer – six in Belgium, and one just north of Belgium in the Netherlands. Many beers, as already noted (#4) claim to be Abbey beers and only because they don’t meet the three rules that designate a brewery as a Trappist Brewery.

Firstly the beer must be brewed within the walls of a trappist abbey – if it’s not a Trappist Abbey then forget it! Abbeys which are Cistercian or just Benedictine do not count. Secondly it must be actually brewed by the monks or at least under their supervision – the monastic community has to determine the policy and provide the means of production. The Abbey brewery of Val-Dieu in Aubel (#216) is an example of one that didnt quite make it. Finally the majority of the profits from the brewery must go back in to the social fabric of the community or for social service – as if providing high quality beers wasnt enough!

Since 1997 authentic Trappist products have been identified by a hexagonal logo on the label – this includes cheese and other foodstuffs made on the premises. Despite this status, there has been increasing criticism of Chimay in recent years for the commercialism which has accompanied the rise to fame of this brewery, and which has threatened to weaken the flavour of the beers through increased production. Having only just started my Odyssey I will have to take their word for it, although it is fair to say you can seem to get it anywhere these days !

I opted for the 330 ml bottle, as opposed to the 750 ml ‘Premiere‘. It certainly looked rich and complex, but was actually a very easy to drink beer, which is eminently pleasant although lacking in a certain character which once upon a time it may or may not have had. This is the sort of beer that you can begin to quaff and finish without perhaps really taking much notice of, although I have to say it certainly looks the part !

(Post-script) – For a much more enjoyable experience give the Chimay Blue a whirl (#45) or get out to the Abbey itself for the rare Chimay Doree (#49). Failing that, the Chimay White (#165) is an excellent example of a dry Tripel. All taste much better out of the bigger bottles as well.

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