Daily Archives: December 27, 2009

#56 – Super des Fagnes Blonde

#56 - Super des Fagnes Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Beer #52 in Belgium, beers #53 and #54 in Luxembourg, beer #55 in Germany, and now beer #56 in Italy. We were clearly covering a fair bit of ground (or maybe I was drinking too slowly). We had been aiming for Lake Garda by evening but the driving was beginning to do me in, and so after we saw the beautiful view of Lake d’Iseo from the hill, something drew us down. Within an hour we had secured a modern cabin on the edge of the lake. The views were fantastic, the weather was stunning, and I had a fridge! Happiness is clearly putting ones feet up by the lake as the sun begins to set with one gorgeous brunette and three chilled-out blondes. Although the blondes in question turned out to be all surface no feeling. So often the way.

The first was another from the Fagnes school, that I had picked up in the Couvin warehouse. I had recently learnt that the warehouse has a close association with the Brasserie des Fagnes, and I feel I must briefly talk about this place as for anyone on their first real Belgian beer stock-up, there really is no finer feeling. OK, I had wandered around Beers of Europe up in Norfolk which makes you feel like a kid in a candy shop, but its like you are too young to be able to afford everything you want. Being in the ‘Comptoir des Fagnes’ with all the time in the world, was like being like a kid in the candy store you loved as a kid, but with a pocket full of cash. Most beers were about a Euro each on average, and my only limitation seemed to be the amount of room in the car. I was reliably informed that this store had over 600 Belgian beers, and so choosing a hundred or so proved particularly difficult for me. I grabbed a trolley, got my Belgian Beer Guide out and spent the next hour in an orgasmic trance.

These warehouses are often known as Drankencentrales, or Drankenhandels in Flemish speaking areas, or negociants or depositaires in the more French areas. They exist primarily for local cafes and stores, although thanks to the world opening up, its not unusual to see other people like me wandering through, and contributing to the store-keepers nightmare – 100+ singly purchased bottles – each to be hand entered on to the till,  and each with a ten cent deposit to be rung through. I’d even managed to get into the wrong queue and so had irritated a number of rushed locals behind me looking for a quick few crates on the way home. They didn’t seem to care though, and even helped me carry the boxes to the car. I had decided to stock up on a few rarer beers and it became evident that to get to a thousand beers I was clearly going to have to kiss a few frogs.

The Super des Fagnes Blonde was clearly not as refined as her darker sister (#50). She certainly wasn’t unpleasant and certainly didn’t taste sticky or cloying as some stronger beers can. She gave me a good head, with a grapefruity aroma but it just went nowhere after that. She promised me so much and delivered so little. I was just thankful I had another blonde lined up straight after (#57).

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Brewers, Deer, Duck, Fagnes

#55 – Saint-Monon Brune

#55 - Saint-Monon Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Our travels took us further today, deep into the heart of rural Germany. I still had a car full of Belgian beers so I was happy, although the only worry I had was keeping them cool. I reverted to buying bags of peas in the supermarket to wrap around those selected but it really was only a temporary measure, and of course I ended up leaving a Hansel and Gretel style trail of peas around the European hinterlands. It had been another long day on the road, and after throwing our tent up and knocking up some dinner I settled down with a Saint-Monon Brune.

St. Monon, believe it or not, was Scottish. Like us, he found himself travelling across Europe albeit it was probably a little more taxing in the 7th Century – I found it hard enough finding the campsite with my sat-nav! He had been visited by an angel (allegedly of course) and instructed to find the village of Nassogne so that he could evangelise the pagans living there. In true tradition of a Saint, he came, he saw and he evangelised, although not without a little help from one of the pigs of the flock he adopted. The pig dug up an old Roman bell called a tintinnabulum, which St. Monon used to call the people to prayer. Over time our Scottish monk worked hard to recruit locals and to destroy the pagan idols, although not without upsetting those less willing to submit to the saintly ways. In 636 St.Monon was ambushed in his oratory by unrepentant sinners who murdered him with a wooden spear. I am beginning to learn that it’s not all rosy being a Saint. They always seem to get offed in the most alarming of ways (#18, #29). Of course he wasn’t a Saint up until this point, but the people of the local area who so appreciated the work he did with the animals made him the Patron Saint of Livestock, of which he still remains to this day.

The beer probably was a bit warm still as the peas had defrosted, but then browns tend to prefer the warmer climate. It was a particularly muddy pour, with a real milk chocolate colour to it – almost to the point of looking quite unappetising. The experience on the tongue was quite spicy, and almost certainly coriander, thus quite unique to date. I wouldn’t say I would go buy it again in a hurry but it was worth the taste, even if it didn’t have the legs to be a stayer – a bit like poor St. Monon.

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Dubbel, Horse, Pig, Saint-Monon

#54 – Bon Secours Myrtille

#54 - Bon Secours Myrtille

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

While shopping for groceries in a small supermarket in Diekirch in Luxembourg, I spotted the Bon Secours Myrtille at a reassuringly tempting price. This looked interesting I thought, and so added it to the trolley. If anyone else is similarly tempted to do the same, then please read further and ensure you leave this aberration on the shelf.

I was convinced that the Myrtille I was drinking was made of blueberries but in actual fact it is a bilberry beer, with a dash of raspberries. Bilberries are similar to blueberries but there are a number of sizeable differences. Firstly, although similar in taste, bilberries are actually smaller than blueberries, and are generally darker in colour – appearing more black than blue. The pulp of the bilberry is also a reddy purple hue, as opposed to the light green interior of the blueberry. They also grow in single or paired berries on bushes as opposed to the clusters of blueberries. Should you be interested in creating your own bilberry myrtille beer, you will no doubt now be at a distinct advantage, although finding them will not be easy. They are particularly difficult to grow and are therefore rarely cultivated. Also, they are much softer than the blueberry and therefore tend not to travel well. Good gourmet stores on the continent might well stock bilberries, but you will likely be charged up to 25 Euros per pound. It is a mystery to me that a) somebody therefore decided to brew a bilberry beer, and that b) they managed to make such a horses arse of it.

There may be something working in its favour however, in that the world of science has tended to find that bilberries may aid certain eye disorders. It was a common myth during World War II, that RAF pilots would consume bilberry jam in an attempt to sharpen their visual acuity before flying missions. Perhaps we should be thankful that pilots chose to digest jam rather than 7% fruit beers, or the course of European history may have chartered a completely different and more unsavoury path.

Talking of unsavoury, back to my tasting. Yet again, I fell foul of a Bon Secours swing-top bottle (#28) – the last one killed my Orval glass, this one soiled my ‘Good Beer Guide to Belgium’ a grotty shade of blue. I had already knocked a point off! The colour, when I eventually decanted the remaining two-thirds into my glass, was impressive with a deep bluey purple staring back at me. It smelt reasonable as well with deep summer fruits hitting my nose, but then I tried it. Certainly I have had more impressive alcopops. This tasted neither of beer or blueberries (as I expected it to), moreover it was just a glass full of foul tasting crap. How this can be described as a beer is remarkable, and contrary to the belief that bilberries can cure eye disorders, is that almost certainly when brewed like this, the side effects will be acute stomach disorders !

3 Comments

Filed under 3, Caulier, Fruit Beer

#53 – Villers Tripel

#53 - Villers Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5%

This is my 53rd beer on this trip so far, and if I am not mistaken this is the 17th individual account of an Abbey. I feel like a bloody historian with a fetish for medieval churches. This has almost inspired me to set up a map section on the website and start up a tourist section for monastery hoppers. My stats on the website have been improving rapidly over the past few weeks, and I was becoming fairly overwhelmed with the like-minded souls searching the world wide web for Belgiums finest ales. A recent trawl through the majority of my hits however seem to suggest there is an equivalent number of National Trusties looking for sedentary days out at cloisters and priories and leaving disappointedly on finding an inane historical account of a rarely drunk beer. Oh well – there is still hope I may turn a few to the dark side.

Abbey number 17 is that of Villers Abbey – now a brooding ruin south of Brussels of a once great Cistercian Abbey. The small village of Villers-la-Ville has been the home of this Abbey in three incarnations since its founding in 1146 by twelve Cistercian monks and three lay brothers from Clairvaux. Through the ages, the Abbey grew in importance to the point where at one stage over a hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers lived and worked, brewing and quaffing large measures of strong ale as was customary. Of course, the fortunes of the Abbey were to fluctuate under Spanish repression, where the monks were reported to have fled on nine separate occasions, and then of course during the French Revolution, when the Abbey was sold off for Gallic gains.

Considerable restoration has since been carried out at Villers, leaving the venue as a popular one for day visitors from Brussels, and much of the majestic remains of the Abbey can still be seen. Therefore it was a natural transition to tie a beer to the Abbey, and of course who else but Huyghe to jump on the bandwagon.

We had left Belgium for the time being, and were heading on the long road down to Italy. We decided to tarry a while in Luxembourg, and found a great cabin with cooking facilities, where at the end of a long day travelling we rustled up an immensely spicy red Thai curry. The Villers Tripel was a perfect accompaniment as it contained its own spices. It was crisp and blond and smelt and tasted of rustic orchards. It certainly had a kick at 8.5% and I was prepared to score highly, although after the food the beer failed to live up to its early hype. Like the light outside it soon faded. Shame really.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Huyghe

#52 – Petit-Orval

#52 - Petit-Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

Petit-Orval can only supposedly be bought in the L’Auberge de L’Ange Gardien (The Guardian Angel Inn) – the tavern owned by the Orval Monastery, and so that was where I headed while I drove myself and the missus across the rural splendour of Luxembourg province. The beer is only 3.5% so it was probably perfect strength as I was the designated driver. We settled down on the cramped verandah by the rural roadside and peered in the dusty windows as a table of bloated locals set about some coronary-inducing cheese dishes. After our table had been Windowlened clean, and the grime from a previous dish crow-barred off, we were served.

Petit-Orval comes in a green embossed glass, and is served from a plain Orval bottle – the same skittle shape but with no label. I tried to buy one to take away but our grumpy hostess was having none of it. We sat back in the sunshine and took in the views down the lane to the picturesque monastery. The beer was as bitter as the original, and looked almost identical. There seemed to be a slight reduction in strength but it wasn’t massively noticeable until the final third. In fact, the Petit-Orval is essentially a watered down version of the queen beer (#37) at the stage of bottle-fermenting, with caramel added for the identical colouring.

I took a wander in to the tavern to check out the souvenirs and was soon given the evil eye and so shiftily purloined a small leaflet and wandered back out to the table. I had no intention of stealing the glass, although perhaps a guilty conscience from my student days made me sure there were eyes upon me. I flicked through the pamphlet and was surprised to learn that no monks now actually brew the beer, although they are under the supervision of a monastic gentleman which ensures the Trappist status is retained (#7). The locals inside ordered a platter piled high with trappist cheese, and I knew it was time to go. I was beginning to get hungry and the day was still long.

2 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Orval, Trappist Beer

#51 – Abbaye de Forest

#51 - Abbaye de Forest

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The light had begun to fade at the campsite after our late start, and it had started to get a little chilly. I dug around for my army jumper, pulled myself up to the barbecue and decided to have one last beer for the night. I closed my eyes and randomly stuck my hand into one of the boxes I had filled from our Couvin stop. Abbaye de Forest from the Brasserie Silly, and I just assumed from the uninspiring label that it was one of those tawdry beers made by a supermarket with a made-up Abbey name to sell a few extra brews. I was wrong, not that I am going to apologise to anyone.

There is actually an Abbaye de Forest, and there is actually a place called Forest. Remarkable what a little research can do. Instead of contemplating the two strange campers with the worlds smallest tent who had set up a late night butterfly watching vigil in the woods, I might have sat there pondering the decline of yet another Benedictine Abbey.

The Abbaye de Forest was founded in 1106, and it grew in splendour and importance due to its location near Brussels on the main road from Paris. Often key dignitaries in olden times heading to Brussels, would stop here for food, shelter and entertainment. The community was thus able to grow in size as craftsmen, brewers, wine growers and farmers moved to be near the opportunities provided by the Abbey. The inevitable decline came however in 1764 when a massive fire razed the place, and it wasn’t until 1964 that the local commune were able to begin the restoration of this once majestic complex. The Abbaye is available for visitors now, and is apparently well worth the effort – sadly unlike the beer.

I didn’t expect much, and to be fair the Abbaye de Forest did its best not to disappoint. It looked pale and golden once the froth had decided to calm down, a little like a Duvel (#34), although clearly that is where all comparisons ended. It was watery and non-descript, and although clearly better than most premium lagers, it certainly won’t stay long in my memory. If I was throwing a barbecue in the summer, and this was on offer in the supermarket, I might consider it for the less discerning English drinkers, however I am not, and that’s what Stella Artois (#116) is for anyway.

(Post-Script) – having visited Brussels on my stag weekend, it is clear this is a staple beer of the city;  being freely available in many bars.

Leave a comment

Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Silly

#50 – Super des Fagnes Brune

#50 - Super des Fagnes Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I have reached a milestone. Just like the first beer (#1) when I started this pilgrimage, there is no great celebration to commemorate my 50th Belgian beer. Lets face it, Super des Fagnes Brune is not the Real Madrid of the Belgian beer world. The fact I am in rural Belgium and picking up local regional beers is more than enough for me.

Tash and I had stopped in a local campsite in the Namur countryside, and what spare gaps we had left in the car had been filled up with a bottle stop at a wonderful beer warehouse in Couvin. If we had had the time we would have called in to the Brasserie des Fagnes, but we didn’t. So much later, on a warm balmy evening we settled down, cooked an amazingly fragrant Ardennaise sausage dish on our Skottel brai and cracked open a few local Belgians – one of which just happened to be from Fagnes.

The brewery, opened in 1998, is actually named for its geographical location. The Hautes-Fagnes is a highland situated in both Belgium and Germany, between the famous Ardennes and Eifel highlands, of which the highest point is Signal de Botrange near Eupen. It is a fairly wet area, and thus often very swampy and several rivers begin here – notably the Vesdre, Ambleve and Rur. The Hautes-Fagnes translates into English as the ‘High Fens’, and is probably well represented on the label – and to be honest, that’s about as exciting as it gets. The evening was perfect and the beer wasn’t at all bad but I would remember the evening more for the location and the cuisine, and of course the celebration of the half century.

The Super des Fagne Brune looked great as it bubbled away after the initial pour, with a deep burgundy appearance with hints of russet and orange when held up to the light. It smelt great, and was surprisingly malty and treacly on first taste, and as it continued there were some great aftertastes – particularly of liquorice. A good holiday feeling from a less than famous brewery.

(Post-Script) – Less impressive however is the Super des Fagnes Blonde (#56). One to Avoid.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, Deer, Duck, Fagnes