Daily Archives: December 16, 2009

#48 – Barbar Winter Bok

#48 - Barbar Winter Bok

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This was the last chance for a Barbar beer to redeem itself in my eyes – the darker version which is marketed as a brown ale that also contains 2.5% honey. The label suggests that the warrior needs to rest in winter as well, and that Lefebvre has produced a beer available in the dark months from October to February. How thoughtful of them!

At least this gives us an insight into the naming of the beer, and it is clear that Barbar refers to the warrior, or the barbarian. The general definition of a barbarian is that of an uncivilised person or a cruel savage person with a penchance for warmongering. Whatever the final definition it would seem the etymology originally came from the Greek for ‘not-Greek’, and the structure of ‘bar-bar’ as an onomatopoeic representation of a language not clearly understood ie ‘blah blah’, may hint at how the saying “well, its all Greek to me?” came about.

The label clearly defines Lefebvre’s view of what a barbarian warrior might look like, but it is fair to look back in the history of the Middle Ages and associate beer with what could loosely be termed as barbarians. Once wine became imported from the Mediterranean, beer took something of a back seat, as a cheap and readily available drink. This is no different probably now if one considers the comparison between a wine bar/bistro and a pub. I would argue that Belgian beers are definitely bridging the gap for those that want something just that little bit classier or tastier, although I would suggest that Barbar Winter Bok isn’t there yet.

This was the latter beer to celebrate the start of my prolonged period of annual leave . Relaxation of this nature however deserved a better beer. The final Barbar for me, and really can’t see what all the fuss is about. The pour promised much with an ebony gush and a thickset head that looked too good to be true. There were certainly deep and dark flavours in this beer, and it was better than the honey blonde (#19), but it just lacked authenticity – being largely synthetic in its genetics. I could have scored it higher but felt let down by Lefebvre on the brand. There are plenty of dark beers around with plenty more bite than this. More Librarian than Barbarian !

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Filed under 6, Dunkler Bock, Lefebvre

#47 – Dendermonde Tripel

#47 - Dendermonde Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you take a good look at the label of the Dendermonde Tripel, you can see the stunningly gothic cathedral, but if you look closer you will make out the silhouette of a monk, with musical notes fluttering further in the background. This is actually the silhouette of a woman – Hildegard von Bingen, and the representation of the music highlights just one of her many skills. In fact her association with Dendermonde Abbey is that 58 of her liturgical symphonies from the 12th Century are preserved here.

Many of her other roles in her 81 year life are listed as mystic, author, counsellor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeller, visionary, composer, polymath, and Benedictine Abbess. I would imagine from our experiences thus far, that it is the latter that associates her most with beer. After all what monk, male or female, didn’t enjoy a drink to help them cope with the solitude?

This medieval Carol Vorderman was born in 1098 in what is now modern day Germany. She had many visions as a child (although modern day scientists suggest these may have been migraines – but who am I to ruin a good story?), and was thus tithed to the church by her parents in the belief that this was some kind of portent. Regardless of the authenticity of these claims, Hildegard became so embroiled in the clergy that she was eventually founding monasteries in Rupertsberg in 1150, and Eibingen in 1165. Her preaching tours were legendary and coupled with her musical talent and penchance for a good vision, she ended up being extremely popular, although not seemingly as much in modern days due to so many of her medieval works being readily available for scrutiny – a rare indulgence for modern day students of ancient music.

I am surprised Hildegard would have found much time for drinking, especially given her feministic tendencies and non-liberal approach to sexuality, however she found her way onto a beer label, and for that we assume the marketers of Dendermonde Tripel saw some worth in her. The beer itself was the first of two enjoyed on my sofa the night before going back to Belgium. She smelt fairly average, but poured impressively with a solid robust head. There was a good all-round pale colour with hints of oranges deeper in, and definite grapefruit and other citrus that stirred on the tongue. The taste was excellent though, making this a good all-round strong tripel. In fact, some more of the over-rated tripels I doubt could live with this on a blind taste-test. Just don’t drink too many – like Hildegard, it might just give you a migraine !

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, De Block

#46 – St. Bernardus Abt 12

#46 - St. Bernardus Abt

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

St. Bernardus has a slightly different history to many others of the Trappist/Abbey ilk. For all intents and purposes you may pick up a bottle and consider this a Trappist beer, and if you open it and taste it you wouldn’t be far wrong – because it used to be.

The Refuge Notre-Dame de St. Bernard was established in Watou in the early 1900’s when the Catsberg Abbey Community from France fled anti-clerical policy into Belgium. They largely funded their existence through the production and sale of cheese. In 1934 they felt safer to move back across the border, and so sold the land and buildings to a gentleman named Everist Deconinck who expanded on, and improved the cheese making facilities.

Meanwhile, not far down the road, there sat the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus which shortly after World War II decided to stop the commericalisation of their beer and brew only for the monks. The head Abbot asked Mr Deconinck if he would continue to brew their Trappist beer,and Evarist was only too delighted, and thus until 1992 the St. Bernard facilities brewed and commercialised the St. Sixtus Trappist Ales under contract. Once this contract expired, the monks at St. Sixtus decided to end the relationship in order to preserve the true nature of the Trappist brand under the new definitions (#7).

The beers that had been made from the St. Sixtus yeast and recipes proved to be extremely popular, and the St. Bernard community did not want to give this up, and so changed their name, removed the Trappist identity and continued on under the name St. Bernardus. As far as we know though, it is still the same recipe, and of course the range of beers has increased beyond the usual capacity of a typical Trappist brewery. Meanwhile, St. Sixtus still brew their official Trappist beer, and you may know them better as the world-beating Westvleteren ales; ther Westvleteren 12 (#66) being often regarded as the best beer in the world !

So you can see how this beer has been confused over the years. I dare anyone to try it and say it doesn’t taste like one. It is immense. Dark and stoutlike in appearance with a frothy yeasty head typical of Trappist beers of this strength.  The aroma was possibly a little understated in comparison to the Trappistes Rochefort beers (#13, #31) yet the first taste equates to some of its more illustrious compatriots. Rolling the beer over the back of the throat evokes a multitude of spices; cloves, cinnamon and barbecue, and right to the end the flavour stays and when you finally put her down you feel like you have just been hit by a juggernaut. It’s not Trappist but who gives a shit. This was the perfect start to three weeks off work !

(Post-Script) – The St. Bernardus Tripel (#106) is also a stunner! Look out for the bright green bottle.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, St. Bernardus