Monthly Archives: December 2009

#66 – Westvleteren 12

#66 - Westvleteren 12

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.2 %

My last beer in Belgium on this trip was always going to be a bit special. In 2005 there was something of a media frenzy whipped up when the Westvleteren 12 was again voted the best beer in the world. It seemed preposterous to the journalists of the world that a beer made by monks in a tiny monastery in the middle of nowhere could lay claim to this, and they decided to investigate. The inevitable happened and the eyes of the world turned to the Trappist Abbey of St Sixtus (#46). Suddenly, and rather uncomfortably for both the monks of Westvleteren, and indeed the local population, hoards of beer lovers and profiteers alike from all over the world descended on the quaint country lanes north of Poperinge. For anyone who has driven up to the Abbey, they will testify that this must have been pure carnage. It is hard enough finding the place, let alone considering 3km queues of angry punters not being able to get anywhere near the Abbey doors.

The monks remained unrepentant and refused to up the sales of the beer. In true Trappist tradition (#7) they remained vigilant in only producing enough beer to provide for themselves and the community. On the opening of the new brewery premises, the head abbot stated “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.” – a wonderful sentiment, but not one to appease the outside world who misread this statement as an indication of the beers becoming even rarer, and thus the queues grew and the media frenzy intensified further.

The monks have been true to their word, and even now only brew 4750 hectolitres per annum. To put this into perspective Chimay probably turn over 135,000 hectolitres per annum, which is almost thirty times the amount of beer! They are able to manage this by advertising sales by appointment only from the website, and by restricting public sales to a very limited amount on visiting. In fact I was only able to buy six Westvleteren Blondes (#90) to take away at the ‘In de Vrede’ café/brewery tap, and as many as I wanted of any of their three beers as long as I was on the premises. Time was short and I had a car to drive, so Tash and I shared what is still, according to the ‘Rate Beer’ website, the best beer in the world.

It was over four Euros which is fairly excessive but probably not really when you consider the location and how I paid nearly double that for a bottle of Westvleteren 8 in the UK (I wont tell you where in case I get anyone into trouble). It was elegantly poured and served at our cafeteria style table, and looked superb glistening under the lights. It was dark, but just enough light was able to radiate through. The overriding aroma was of liquorice and christmas pudding, followed by fruit and malt and many many more winter treats. On the palate it was solid, thick and venomous, as if the best mince pies had been liquidised with good beer. In a way it was more like dessert than a beer, and therefore I still vouch that the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) is a tidier beer for its subtlety and style. The Westy was trying just that bit too hard, although I think maybe this might have tasted better had I the opportunity to savour my own by the fireside on a winters evening, as opposed to sharing a quick sip in a heaving tourist-ridden cafeteria in the middle of the day. We will meet again I am sure.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#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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Filed under 8, Blaugies, Horse, Saison

#64 – Deugniet

 

#64 - Deugniet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Deugniet tends to have three English translations. Originally this would mean a good-for-nothing, usually it would mean a rascal or a scamp, and occasionally it might mean a knave or a jester. If you look at the label of this beer it becomes fairly evident that Du Bocq almost certainly focussed on the latter.

I chose this beer at the end of my first brewery tour in Belgium. I had previously done a tour of Carlsberg in Copenhagen as a student, but that was more for the free beer than it was for the insight into brewing, although I really needn’t have bothered too much as we ended up on the Flemish/French tour. We thought we might get by as I learnt a bit of French at school, and Tash spoke some Afrikaans, however we may as well have just done the tour in Swahili. I managed to understand some of what was going on using the English pamphlet I was so considerately given, but apart from key words such as ‘biere’, ‘Du Bocq’ and ‘bonjour’ everything else seemed to drift in one vacuous ear and out the other.

If you asked me to sum up the brewing of beer however from what I learnt at the tour, then… Men in white coats choose their ingredients, and then after messing about with the grains, they boil everything up in these big copper funnels in a very pretty rural set of buildings. After a while – probably an hour or two – the residue is left to filter and then the men in white coats add hops and spices in big vats for cooling and more filtering. After a number of rickety staircases, the porridgy mixture is transferred to another bigger vat where it is left to ferment (and stink the place out) for about a week. The resultant beer is then left to condition, and in the case of these bottled beers further conditioned in bottles by adding yeast. Once they are ready they end up in the conveyor belt room, which looks like something out of a Willy Wonka film, and the labels and bottles end up in crates on a fork-lift truck. In the case of todays visit, this was St Feuillien Blonde (#29) which DuBocq brews on behalf of St. Feuillien most of the time.

I did get the time to ask a few questions in the Brewery Tap at the end as I tucked into my Deugniet which I will share another time (#210), but now for the beer itself. Served in the appropriate glass, it was cool, golden blonde and high in carbonation. It immediately slaked my thirst from walking round confused for an hour and certainly had a bit of kick to it. There were some hop flavours, but I really couldn’t put my finger on any others. A run of the mill blonde I would say, from a run of the mill brewery.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Du Bocq

#63 – La Gauloise Brune

La Gauloise Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.1 %

My second beer in the Purnode campsite was another local brew from just across the way – La Gauloise Brune. This is a beer that celebrates the many Gallo-Roman sites in the locality, and which when first brewed back in 1858 by Du Bocq, attempted to recreate how those residents of ancient Gaul would have brewed beer. The strapline of the beer echoes this – ‘La biere de nos ancetres’. These ancestors funnily enough were known as Gauls.

Gaul is the historic name used by the Roman Empire to refer to the region of Western Europe that was what is now largely France and Belgium. In fact, Julius Caesar went as far as to break Gaul down further into three distinct ethnic groups – The Aquitani in the south west, the Celts in the middle, and the Belgae in the north between the Rhine and the Seine.

Gaul was eventually conquered by the Romans during the Gallic wars, where at least a million people died, and a further million were enslaved (totalling almost a half of the entire Gallic population). three hundred tribes were subjugated, and eight hundred cities destroyed. The tribes never really had a chance to be fair, as more often than not they were fighting amongst themselves, even when Julius Caesar became the common enemy. Their principal religion tended to be animism, in which animals were worshipped, and they tended to follow the political inclinations of the Druids, who had particularly strong beliefs in not recording the Celtic wisdom and literature into writing. It is often said that this is the reason the language of the Celts has virtually disappeared without trace except for parts of Brittany. For anybody seeking further information on the Gauls I would suggest reading Asterix. From what I have read on Gaul so far, it remains remarkably coherent in its portrayal of life at this time.

I was served the beer in a cracking little tankard with the newer logo on it, and after pouring I held it up to the light, to see a chestnut brown infused with ruby red. It looked the business, especially with its sepia head remaining pert on top. The aroma was intensely malty, and the taste was smooth and strong, echoing even more maltiness. It was a pleasant drink right to the end, but just didn’t go far enough to earn a better rating. Anyway, it has inspired me to go back and read Asterix, which of course I will do once I finish Tintin.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Du Bocq

#62 – Belle-Vue Gueuze

#62 - Belle-Vue Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

I introduced gueuze after reviewing Timmermans Traditional Gueuze (#12) and this was another of those more sweetened lambics for the mass markets. After a few heavy days driving on the road back from Italy, through Switzerland and France, we were back in Belgium, at a small homely campsite in Purnode, a stones throw from the Du Bocq brewery. The owner ran a cosy restaurant with a limited bar, and I had spotted a few I had yet to try.

The Belle-Vue Gueuze is labelled as a filtered gueuze, which is a fairly complimentary term for a mass market gueuze. There was a famous Royal Proclamation in 1993 that ruled that any beer wanting to use the term ‘lambic’ or ‘gueuze’ on its label, must have a proportion of authentic lambic beer in it, of at least 10%. Therefore breweries such as Timmermans and Belle-Vue (now under AB InBev’s tenure) are able to increase their sales of their produce with the cheapest methods available. Lambic beer takes time and loving care to nurture, so why would a brewery intent on a fast buck want to use the authentic stuff?

Although a number of breweries have tried to muscle in on the gueuze market, it should be fairly easy for anybody even new to these beers to spot the filtered type. If its sweet and your girlfriend likes it, then it’s most likely filtered. Tash was very fond of this one so I was fairly convinced I had found a duffer. It poured a feint orange with barely any head, and a reassuring whiff of caramel. The taste was refreshingly sweet, and if anything tasted like a Caramac bar. Not the usual thing I am looking for in a beer, but I couldn’t deny it wasn’t actually as bad as it could have been. The child in me quite enjoyed it.

(Post-Script) – for the first real authentic gueuze I would try, please refer to the Boon Oude Gueuze (#89).

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Filed under 6, Belle-Vue (InBev), Lambic - Gueuze

#61 – La Guillotine

#61 - La Guillotine

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

La Guillotine by Huyghe is a beer that was first brewed in 1989 as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Anyone who does a search on the French Revolution on this website or who has read all the reviews so far will know how influential the Revolution was on the entire history of monastic life in Belgium. The Abbeys and abbey life almost ceased to be, henceforth so did almost all the associated breweries.

The symbol of the Guillotine on the label is one that symbolises the immense loss of life suffered during the ‘Reign of Terror’. The names of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, and Maximilien Robespierre are all well known and were notable beheadees of the Revolution, but another estimated 40,000 people were executed in this manner, almost certainly without trial, and in many instances, without reason.

It would be impossible to sum up in such a small opportunity the entire history of the Revolution, but it would be worth taking the time to explain quite why this event had such a profound effect on the clergy in Belgium. Essentially at this time, there was increasing poverty across this area of Europe, and while the monarchy lived the life of riley, and the clergy held important powers while being exempt from taxes, a bubbling resentment began to boil up throughout the 18th Century. The riots which led to the eventual storming of the Bastille were a build up of years of hostility to the ever growing gulf in fortunes. Once this iconic moment in the Revolution had happened, it seemed to foster anarchy across the whole nation who soon gained the confidence to attack chateaux and monasteries as evidence of their displeasure. This became manifest in November 1789 when the National Assembly declared that the property of the Church was “at the disposal of the nation.”, and legislation abolished monastic vows. The nail in the coffin came in February 1790 when all religious orders were officially dissolved, and monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life. What religious buildings didn’t close were usually destroyed and under the Reign of Terror many priests were imprisoned and massacred.

Quite what possessed Huyghe to introduce a beer to celebrate these events is beyond me, but drink it I did, while in a Bed and Breakfast in Tivoli. Again, I had secured a room with a fridge and after a hot sweaty day toiling around Rome this beer was badly needed. It poured an immense head that took forever to clear, leaving a pale coloured liquid, beneath which was as super-carbonated as any beer I had tried yet. Just watching the legs fizzing down the side of the glass was mesmerising, leaving an intense lace. The flavour was nothing special but there was definitely pineapple and lemon somewhere within, and the overriding experience in drinking this was the profound strength. It was tart and rigged with an extremely powerful kick, and I hate to say this because others already have, but any more than two or three of these and you are guaranteed to lose your head!

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#60 – Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune

#60 - Abbaye D'Aulne

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Another different Abbey beer brand – number 18 of the journey so far, but within the story of this one there is a nice ending which almost leaves this beer unique amongst Abbey beers.

The general history however is far from unique, other than that at some points in its history, the Abbaye d’Aulne has been Benedictine, Augustinian and Cistercian. It was founded in around 637 by St. Landelinus and remained Benedictine until around 1144, when secular clerics took over who adhered to the rules of St. Augustine. This was short-lived however, as in 1147 the Cistercian Abbot, Franco de Morveaux continued the religious traditions. The Abbey remained Cistercian until the French, no doubt jealous of such fine beers, used the backdrop of the French Revolution to once again destroy a wonderful building and brewing tradition. Though the buildings were destroyed in 1752, the monks did re-establish the brewery in 1796, although it petered out by 1850 as the number of monks eventually declined to the point of being unable to support the brewery.

As was typical in the 1950’s, a number of local breweries, including de Smedt, had latched onto the Abbey theme and associated their beers with the Abbey d’Aulne, but in 1998 something quite remarkable happened, in that the Val de Sambre brewery set up shop in the ruins of the Abbey. If we go back through our veritable trail of Abbey beers, very few can lay claim to still being brewed in the Abbey grounds. The actual current brewery is what used to be the stables in the Middle Ages.

So what could a microbrewery do in an old outbuilding? The answer was not great things. The Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune poured a good frothy head atop a chestnut hued lake. The smell promised much with mysterious aromas emanating but this ended up tasting like most standard browns. There was the odd touch of caramel and liquorice which my uneducated palate picked up, but it ended up far too weak and watery for an 8% beer to warrant any further attention. A fairly stable beer if you will excuse the pun.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val de Sambre