Daily Archives: December 15, 2009

#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

#44 – Maredsous Tripel 10

#44 - Maredsous 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

Maredsous is another example of a range of Abbey beers, whose monks still take the concept extremely seriously. The beers have long since been brewed outside the Abbey, now by Duvel Moortgat, but the Maredsous Abbey has a long tradition of making beer and cheese from its completion in 1892.

The Abbey itself is picturesquely sited in the Namur countryside just outside the village of Denee. It is a truly stunning piece of Neo-Gothic architecture as I can testify after a short visit there this summer. If you stand in front of the main towers and look up at the sheer splendour set against a radiant backdrop it really sends you dizzy with awe.

Maredsous Abbey was another example of a Benedictine Monastery. At the end of the 18th century there were about 50 examples of these dotted around the territory which corresponds to modern day Belgium, however within years there were literally none remaining! I have already touched on this a few times, but the desolation caused by the French Revolution was a major catastrophe for the monastic ways in these lands, as the abbeys and monasteries were sold, and if not sold, almost certainly destroyed. The monks did fight back however, but it was nothing less than a struggle. Some didn’t make it (Floreffe #40), but Maredsous did and the evidence is clear there today, where in excess of thirty monks still live, pray and work according to the strict rules of St Benedict. They still have a key role to play in the brewing of the beer, as the Maredsous recipes at Duvel Moortgat are still fastidiously observed through the supervision of the head Abbot himself.

I took this strong Tripel into the fading sunshine of my balcony. It was a splendid end to a tough day at the office. The pour was pert and amber with an average head, accompanied by a strong smell and even as ten-percenters go this one tasted stronger than usual. I’m a big fan of tripels but this seemed to lack some of the characters of others. It was hard to define any definite flavours other than the taste of spice, and I left unenthralled as I had heard great things about this beer. I am definitely more in awe of the building than the beer.

(Post-Script) – I have since had my faith restored by the beautiful Maredsous 8 (#111).



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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Duvel Moortgat

#43 – Dikke Mathile

#42 - Dikke Mathile

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.0 %

The beer Dikke Mathile is what one might call a beer of vanity. Two beer fanatics from Ostend decided that they should brew a beer to honour their fine (or not so fine for anyone that has actually pounded the promenade on a cold grey wet miserable November afternoon) town. Apologies Ostenders !

Once they had got the beer they needed the label, and so contacted Redgy van Troost, a renowned artist from of course the local town and he set about creating an illustration that reflected all that was fine about Ostend. I can only assume he did this in high summer as the label shows a fine atmospheric portrayal of a sprawling statue of a naked lady, against the backdrop of the regal Kursaal casino building. It isn’t exactly a true portrayal as the statue in the label has been doctored, and both landmarks are certainly not near each other – the casino sits by the sea, while the statue sits in the city park of Ostend. I once saw the statue several times in one day while painfully circling the city centre looking for a place to park.

This statue was sculpted by artist Georges Grard in 1954, which he named “The Sea” although almost all locals call it Dikke Mathile – or as it translates ‘Fat Matilda’. It was laid in the park in 1955 and has become one of the key icons of Ostend ever since. It was almost fitting then, that this should become the name of the beer of Ostend. I only wish it was fatter, as 250 ml just never seems enough !

Dikke Mathile is a hoppy amber with plenty of bite. Even half the hops are locally sourced in Poperinge, while the other half are of the German Hallertau variety. It looks the part served in its classic mini-tulip  (I couldn’t resist this purchase) but the final outcome was distinctly below par. Perhaps it, like the place, may seem better on a different day?

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Strubbe

#42 – Bacchus

#42 - Bacchus

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

We have already come across a Bacchus (#38) whereby raspberries were added to brown ale – well this is the brown ale in question – Bacchus Vlaams Oud Bruin. ‘Oud Bruin’ is Flemish for Old Brown, distinguishing the colour from other local sour ales like Rodenbach, which tend to be red, and ‘Vlaams’ is Flemish for … well ‘Flemish’ – Flemish Brown Ale.

When we drunk and purred over the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), we learnt that the sour ale is made by oak-aging the beers in order to mature them. It is this process which gives the beers of East and West Flanders their unique acidity. The oak-aged conditioning introduces a similar lactate fermentation to the lambic beers (#12) except that there are less natural yeasts around thus the product isn’t quite so extreme. The brewers also add a dab of acetic acid at this stage to get the flavour going – something taboo for lambics.

The best sour ales of this kind are made in oak-vats and usually kept for two years, although some breweries might resort to using steel casks, or even trying to get the oaky effect by suspending particles of wood in their brews. Van Honsebrouck are reliant on a ‘koelschip’, which is essentially a large vat in the roof where the wort is left to attract natural yeasts just as lambic beers do. It all adds to the breweries attempts to recreate the good old days – even the new paper label of the old bloke with the beer is a typical Flemish old-time image.

The label also reflects the aging process used with the quotation ‘met wijnsmaak’ – meaning ‘with wine taste’, and its fair to say this brew is a little similar. My over-riding impression was that this was like a fruit beer without the fruit – a frambozenbier without the frambozen. It’s certainly sour on opening, and it rightly pongs but it isn’t overpowering on drinking. It looks the part, is pleasant to drink, but it doesn’t really set any standards – unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru.

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Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck