Monthly Archives: December 2009

#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.

8 Comments

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

#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 !

6 Comments

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).



2 Comments

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?

1 Comment

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.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#41 – Leffe Blonde

#41 - Leffe Blonde

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 6.6 %

I already started the story of Leffe (#25), and predictably it didn’t take too long to be able to continue the tale of how she ended up as part of the world’s largest brewery, although I may (dependent on space) leave the rest for the next Leffe beer. Lets see how far we get. Ok, on with the tedious global bullshit.

We left the story on the Artois takeover of 1977. Artois themselves were the second largest brewer in Belgium at the time, and also had a rich history – having been set up in 1366 as Den Horen of Leuven. Sebastien Artois purchased the brewery in 1717 and decided to name it after himself. Meanwhile, back in 1977, and now run by the Spoelberch family, Artois were in direct competition with the largest Belgian brewer Piedboeuf, and the Van Damme family. Piedboeuf themselves had a rich history, having brewed since 1853, and neither wanted to give up the power. The end result was that to avoid the detrimental effects of intense competition, the two families merged in 1987 to form Interbrew, who eventually went on to acquire almost three quarters of the Belgian beer market. Interbrew used the brands of Stella Artois, Leffe, Hoegaarden and Jupiler to spearhead this assault, and went on to acquire numerous other brands and brewers across Europe, including Belle-Vue in 1991.

Interbrew were by now the 4th largest brewer in Europe, although real global ambition soon took hold of them, and they sought to break into the North American market. This was always going to be a tough ask, as Anheuser-Busch and Miller dominated two thirds of the market, but craft beers from Europe were becoming more popular, and Interbrew were in a position to buy out Labatts in 1995 which really put them on the North American map. This was soon followed up by takeovers of Bass and Whitbread in the UK, Becks in Germany, Oranjeboom in the Netherlands, and Peroni in Italy among many many others. Interbrew were suddenly a major force in the world, and the company then set its sights on the very top. But surely that’s another story.

Anyway, Leffe Blonde had begun to grow on me. I was always previously a bigger fan of the brown, but was beginning to appreciate the blonde. I decided to try the 750 ml bottle. The colour was pure golden, with a lacy thin head that sat on a fizzy soup of bubbles. The taste was striking and typical of many abbey blondes but still with that recognisable Leffe taste that despite its availability is annoyingly good. I ended up finishing the whole bottle without sharing, unlike some breweries we have recently mentioned.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, InBev (Belgium)

#40 – Floreffe Double

#40 - Floreffe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Floreffe is a reasonably sized town in Namur, which is renowned probably only for its monastery, and then its range of colourful beers, now brewed by Lefebvre. As with most Abbey beers, these were once brewed on the premises, but of course the ravages of history took care of that.

Our old friend Norbert of Xanten (#8), the founder of the Premonstratensian order of monks was responsible for the founding of the Abbey – the second such one after Grimbergen. The Abbey was named Flos Mariae – The Flower of Mary, and soon became known for the legend of the altar stone. The Abbey chronicles reveal that while celebrating mass, St Norbert saw a drop of blood issuing from the sacred host (bread) onto the paten (offering plate). This sight was confirmed also by the deacon, and further miracles were said to have happened in 1204 and 1254 on the occasion of the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, where blood leaked from the remnant of the True Cross kept at the Abbey. This has since been relocated but remains within the rich history of Floreffe.

Following the French Revolution, the Abbots were expelled and although they did eventually return, they were never able to muster the numbers to continue the order,  and so the Bishop of Namur turned the buildings into a seminary in the early 1800’s. It is still a training school for priests to this day and I ended up here in the summer driving through the town. It’s a fairly attractive place to wander around, and there is a bar that sells the Floreffe range of beers. The tourist shop sells them but stupidly you can’t buy a pack with all the different beers and the price was ridiculous anyhow.

The beer was drunk after its best before date, but that doesn’t normally affect good Belgians that have been stored well. The beer really looked the part throughout the whole experience – dark and rich with a solid creamy head that barely flinched as I quaffed it. The aroma promised profound flavours but it really never delivered even from the off. Maybe there were some darker flavours somewhere in there but like the beginning of the second half of the England game I was watching I soon began to lose interest.

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Lefebvre

#39 – Keizer Karel Blonde

#39 - Keizer Karel Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

If you studied 16th century history you may know Keizer Karel or Charles Quint by a different name – Emperor Charles V. His realm was so large at one point that it was popularly described as one in which the sun never sets – in actual fact it spanned almost four million square kilometres. He was notably the most powerful man in the world during the mid 1600s as both the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, and all her foreign lands. Why then was this leading figure of world history so associated with Belgian beer?

The answer lies in his heritage. He was born in 1500 in Ghent and was brought up in Mechelen, Brussels and Leuven – all fiercely proud Flemish cities, and at the age of just six, he inherited his father’s territories of the lowlands and Franche-Comte. His Aunt Margaret acted as regent until he was 15 years old, and Charles then took over in full force, adding a number of new territories to a new unified lowlands of which he was the ruler – this included his birthplace of Flanders, levered away from the French. Although he spent the majority of his time in Spain and her outlying lands, his heart was always in the place of his birth, and he ensured a unified nation for his heirs when he eventually abdicated in 1556 and then passed away in 1558.

The brewers Haacht have celebrated the reign of Charles Quint through two beers which symbolise the power of his Empire. This Keizer Karel Blonde symbolises the pure morning light of the rising of the sun on one side of his realm, while the Keizer Karel Rouge (#134) represents the ruby red of the warm evening shimmer as the sun sets on the other. There are other stories about good old Charles Quint, and I will save them for later as it isn’t just Haacht who celebrate this man on a beer label – some go much much further.

Good little beer this. Actually drunk a couple of months after the best before date but still tasted remarkably fresh. A great strong fruity aroma on opening, and a very clear pale golden pour with barely any head. What looked slightly insipid initially was eventually very pleasant on the tastebuds with the 8.5% clearly evident. Fruity and sweet with undertones of vanilla ice-cream, this went down far too well. I Just wish I’d had another waiting in the fridge.

3 Comments

Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Haacht

#38 – Bacchus Frambozenbier

#38 - Bacchus Frambozenbier

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5%

Raspberry beer – it might sound odd but historically raspberries have often been added to beers after initial fermentation. Lambic beers in particular, where the term ‘steeping’ is used to describe the process of adding bucketfuls of fruit into beer and then leaving to further ferment for about six months. Bacchus Frambozenbier isn’t really a traditional lambic fruit beer, but the lauded quality of these has led to many different brewery experiments over the years. Bacchus (#42) is actually a sour brown ale, and the raspberries have been added for a secondary fermentation. It tends to work pretty well, and Van Honsebrouck and Verhaeghe are good exponents of the fruity sour ale style, with the Echt Kriekenbier (#102) being a perfect example.

The popularity of raspberries in the history of fruit beer is that they are a particularly pungent and aromatic fruit, and it doesn’t take too many to make an impact on the flavour, even in a sour ale. Raspberries and cherries have for this reason been largely used, however in recent times a number of other different fruits such as peaches, apricots and blueberries have been utilised. Largely they aren’t as pungent, but sadly they are much cheaper. As we have already mentioned in other posts (notably #24) syrups and cordials have largely replaced the real fruit to the detriment of the fruit beer, but real fruit lambics and sour ales are a treasure, and often only found in Belgium of course.

I wasnt expecting great things but was happily surprised by this. Where Fruli is bright and radioactive, the Bacchus Frambozenbier was dark and brooding in colour. The smell and flavour was clearly aromatic raspberries but it really didnt overpower me. I could still taste beer in the aftertaste and although it faded and tasted a bit artificial in the end, I really did enjoy drinking this. The stock of fruit beers has risen; albeit a sour ale. Arise the raspberry!

3 Comments

Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#37 – Orval

#37 - Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Orval is the fourth of the six Trappist breweries we have come across thus far in Belgium, and it is almost certainly the most attractive, set in the grounds of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the deep south east of Belgium near the Luxembourg border.

There is definitely not enough space to document the rich history of the Abbey, however since around the 11th Century when the Benedictine monks of Calabria of Italy first settled, beer has been brewed here. Over time, other sets of monks have moved in, and fires and the French Revolution have put pay to the original buildings. The newest incarnation was constructed between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey, four years after the first Orval beer was brewed.

None of these stories however are quite as interesting as the legend behind the name and beer label of the ‘Queen of Trappists’. Apparently, the recently widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was convalescing after the death of her husband and child in the area when tragically she lost her wedding ring in a spring that ran through the beautiful site. When she sat and prayed to the Virgin Mary for its return, a trout appeared from the depths of the spring, bearing the ring in its mouth. She immediately retook it and exclaimed that this place truly was ‘Val d’Or’ – the Valley of Gold, from which the name Orval is derived. Her immense gratitude was to fund the foundation of the original monastery, and the rest as they say is history, albeit a slightly fanciful one. Does nobody else agree this all sounds just a little bit fishy?

I have been drinking Orval as one of my favourite beers for quite some time, and it was a pleasure to officially record my thoughts on here. Served at the designated temperature as opposed to the chilled examples I have been enjoying over the last few months. At a warmer temperature the pour was still electric amber, carbonating and pffing with a yeasty head. The smell is stupefying and almost alive. The taste is sharp, and sour right to the end, with some orange citrus and a dryness that makes you beg for another. These beers are readily available in large Tesco supermarkets. Stock up, or head to Belgium !

(Post-Script) – the story of the Petit-Orval (#52) recollects a brief visit to the Abbey

6 Comments

Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Fish, Orval, Trappist Beer

#36 – Brugse Zot

#36 - Brugse Zot

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

The beer Brugse Zot is actually a slight against the people of Bruges. The jester or fool on the label is meant to represent the people of this elegant, quaint tourist haven. This isn’t just a wild accusation of widespread idiocy by the brewers, but actually a legend that stems from the colourful history of the town.

The modern day country of Belgium was once part of the wider Netherlands, which was also a part of the enormous realm of the Holy Roman Empire. For sixty years from 1459, Maximilian ruled the Empire, and did much to protect the lowlands from French rule as a way of defending his first wifes inheritance (Duchesse de Bourgogne, #105). Many Belgians were extremely fond of the emperor for his attempts to stabilise the area, and none more so than the people of Bruges who welcomed him on a visit to the town with a colourful parade of merrymakers. At the end of the visit, local dignitaries asked the emperor if he would be so kind as to provide hard cash for a new lunatic asylum in the town. Maximilian responded with the immortal lines ‘Madmen? Lunatics? Since I got here I’ve seen nothing but lunatics – Bruges is a madhouse!”. The nickname for the people ‘Brugse Zotten’ stemmed from this day.

It is unclear in what context Maximilian made his reference, although it should be pointed out that the burghers of Bruges once held Maximilian hostage for several months in an attempt to raise a ransom. Whether this was before or after Maximilians remarks would largely go someway to defining just how foolish the people of Bruges actually were.

The beer itself is the flagship beer of the town of Bruges, brewed by the De Halve Maan brewery. It had a nice pale colour on pouring with a frothy white head. It looked a bit lagery on first glimpse yet the aroma was polished with a really fruity bouquet. The first swig was though quite mild in comparison, with a pale flavour that threatened to explode at times but remained firmly in the anonymous camp. The odd hint of daring citrus just wasn’t enough to turn this beer into anything but an average Belgian blonde. I’d certainly be a fool to buy a crate of this !

3 Comments

Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, de Halve Maan

#35 – Corsendonk Pater

#35 - Corsendonk Pater

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I have already been impressed with the Corsendonk Agnus Tripel (#4), and now it was time for the dark Pater. We already know from the earlier drink about the history of the Priory in Turnhout, but Corsendonk beers are also something of a rarity in the Belgian pantheon in that they are brewed to comply with the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ – the strict German beer code which allows only barley, hops, water and yeast to be used in the construction of the beer. The original ‘Reinheitsgebot’ – meaning ‘law of purity’ originated in Ingolstadt in Bavaria in 1516, although had been applied previously in the late 1400s. The law has since been repealed, although only in 1987 but many brewers in Germany still claim to adhere strictly to it.

The original ruling only allowed barley, hops and water, but following the introduction of yeast in the 1800s, this was added. There were three main reasons for the ruling. Firstly to prevent inferior methods of preserving a beer, as hops were much more effective than stinging nettles, henbane and in some cases, soot! The second was that by restricting brewers to barley, it would prevent price wars with bakers over wheat and rye and thus ensure a higher quality of affordable bread for the populace. The final reason was largely financial with part of the rule decreeing that the beer could never be sold above a set price – originally 1 to 2 Pfennigs.

Considering the proliferation of high quality wheat beers now in Bavarian Germany, it is likely that the law perhaps raised the stakes eventually for beer in the region. Corsendonk of course only follow ‘Reinheitsgebot’ for marketing purposes, but in a world that is becoming more eager to pollute with sugars and syrups this is something of a healthy diversion.

Struggling back from illness this beer had been sitting waiting. The appearance was solid and dark, and the smell malty and quite potent. Although the head thinned rapidly, the effervescent brown brew was malty and hoppy with some treacle – a little like the Het Kapittel Pater (#2) but slightly more distinguished and effervescent. Wanted perhaps just a little more mystery – although not bad with the limited ingredients.

2 Comments

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Du Bocq

#34 – Duvel

#34 - Duvel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I have been drinking Duvel fairly steadily for the past 6 or 7 years. Fed up with weak tasteless lagers that permeate the world these days, I have always sought out something with a darker streak of menace. Many a night has gone woefully astray after a couple of Duvels, and I probably have the devil to thank for my passion for all things wet and Belgian.

It could have been oh so different however, as when Moortgat launched the beer in the 1920s, it was to celebrate the end of World War I. Moortgat Victory Ale found its way onto the streets, and half of Belgium probably drunk a few and forgot what on earth they went to war for. One of these Belgians, a shoemaker, and friend of Albert Moortgat sat in a bar one night, and commented that the beer was ‘nen echten Duvel’ – a real devil. Even then it was 8.5%, and a new name was born for the Moortgat Flagship beer.

You may also notice, when you drink Duvel that it seems more lively when served in its own glass – well, there is some logic in this. Not only is the traditional tulip glass designed to release flavour, but also as it narrows towards the top, it helps preserve the carbon-dioxide and therefore the head. Not content with that however, a couple of years ago, the manufacturers of the glass also engraved a ‘D’ into the inner circle of the bottom of the glass which also scientifically enables further levels of carbonation.

So it was time to put Duvel to the test. Was it as good as it always was, and did the glass really have these magical properties? It didn’t disappoint. The appearance was as golden and heady as ever, and the smell evoked some form of inebriated nostalgia. The taste is warm and definitely gets stronger as the beer gets downed. It’s fairly complex and behind the fruitiness is a sourish taste that encourages you sensibly to drink slowly, which when messing about with the devil is probably good advice.

(Post-Script) – Did you know that there is also a Duvel Groen (#162)….?

10 Comments

Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Duvel Moortgat

#33 – Ciney Brune

#33 - Ciney Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7 %

Ciney is a monastery from the 16th Century .. no I am joking. Believe it or not I have trawled through the history of Ciney from the beginnings of beer drinking, and there seems no mention of any monks, nuns or other religious orders, which is kind of refreshing after the consecutive Bon Secours (#28), St Feuillien (#29), Tongerlo (#30) and Trappistes Rochefort (#31). I am sure there probably was, but this town isn’t famous for it. No this town is famous for cows. There was even a war about these cows. Now that’s worth reading about .. surely.

Ciney isn’t big. In fact it only has about 15,000 inhabitants, and is rather overshadowed by Dinant and Namur as major tourist towns in the region. People might wish to come and see the beautiful church which adorns the beer’s label, and from where the beer was first drawn in the middle ages, and some do, but most people come for the cows.

Ciney has the largest cattle market in Belgium, and the second largest in Europe. If you are driving into the town from the countryside, you cant help but see cows everywhere, and beef from here is highly recommended for its quality and flavour. In fact these cows were so highly prized, that in 1272 a peasant from one village decided to steal one from another village. Not content with getting it home and eating the evidence, the naïve fellow tried to sell it on at another fair in another village, from where the previous incumbent of the cow was looking for a new cow, and caught eyes on his old one – cue the Guerre de la Vache (War of the Cow). It lasted three years, killed 15,000 people, and destroyed over 60 villages. Utter madness.

This was drunk outside on a beautiful day, and holding the glass up in the sun shone deep brown with fantastic cherry red flowing through. The aroma was quite smoky and appley, and although the taste was hard to discern it was fairly strong and treacly. A nice beer but far too small and thin to be one to hanker after again.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Alken-Maes

#32 – Boerinneken

#32 - Boerinneken

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

Boerinneken is brewed by de Proef brewery for the Den Ouden Advocaat cooperative, who own the actual recipe for this and its brother beer, Boerken. Danny Pieters, the director at Den Ouden Advocaat since its inception in 1995, explained that the ethos behind the company is the link to the past. Their range of artisanal products such as advocaat (egg-nog type liquer), pralines and honey bring to the customer tastes of vintage Belgium. The beers are produced in a swing-top bottle, again to echo the sentiments that this is how it would have been done in the good old days.

The concept of ‘in the past’ sits very much in the titling and labelling of the beer. Boerinneken in Flemish, means ‘the farmers wife’, and the print on the label-less bottle clearly shows an old lady at work on the farm. Similarly the brother beer, Boerken, shows a ‘farmer’ on the label. Pieters was keen to stress that the tradition of farmers in Belgium is a distant one these days, and the co-operative is proud to continue to produce beers and produce that truly reflect the past. The beers also reflect well the relationship between Danny and his wife Marianne who both run the project together.

The Boerinneken is a hoppy blonde with plenty of punch although much less than the Bon Secours Brune (#28) from the swing-top. The head was an immense froth, with a fine smelling cloudy amber nectar underneath. The flavour had real bite which stayed until the final swig. It’s hard to put your finger on the exact flavour but certainly some citrus there somewhere. I’d have the farmers wife round for dinner again.

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, de Proef

#31 – Trappistes Rochefort 8

#31 - Trappistes Rochefort 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.2 %

I have already outlined the history of the Trappistes Rochefort Abbey in my coverage of the Rochefort 10 (#13). Perhaps what I didn’t mention was that the success of the Trappistes Rochefort beers of today is mainly due to two of the other Trappist breweries of the modern age.

In 1887 with the monastery closed for nigh on 80 years, monks from the Trappist Abbey of Achel came to Rochefort and bought the ruined buildings. Over the next 10 years the Abbey was restored, and a new brewery founded which began to produce a reasonable range of beers over the next 40 years. The fact that they weren’t world beating beers caused a lull in sales in the late 1940’s after Chimay had signed a distribution agreement which authorised the national sale of their tasty beers, even in the town of Rochefort. The abbot of Rochefort complained bitterly to the fellow monks at Chimay who unable to undo the agreement, did agree to help to manufacture a much better beer for Rochefort, which was launched in 1953 as a stronger and more popular brew. Rochefort is probably now considered the pick of the trappist breweries and it is clearly thanks to Achel and Chimay for making this happen.

The Rochefort 8 – this time with the green cap – is for me the better of the Rochefort beers. I don’t think there is a great deal in it, but the 8 is just that bit more refined than the more complex 10. The beer is still dark, thick, malty and chocolatey, even with distant hits of coffee and Christmas fruit. It really is the perfect late night drink, or alternative to dessert after a heavy meal. It is fairly ironic, that Chimay helped to create this masterpiece and yet it is far superior to any of the Chimay beers I have tried over the years. As near to a 10 rating as I have come yet.

(Post-Script) – For a bit more detail on why the Trappistes beers are called 6, 8 and 10, check out the review of the Trappistes Rochefort 6 (#107).

13 Comments

Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Rochefort, Trappist Beer

#30 – Tongerlo Tripel Blond

#30 - Tongerlo Tripel Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The date on the label of the Tongerlo beer says 1133. If I’m not mistaken that’s – er – 876 years of brewing beers? Apparently true.

The monastic community of the Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo was founded in the same year, and like all good monks, they didn’t mess around in getting the beers brewed. We have Abbot Waltman and Bishop Burchard of Kamerijk to thank for this, and the subsequent rise of Tongerlo abbey as a powerful centre of religion and culture.

The usual history affected the abbey throughout the middle ages with secular powers and Calvinism haranguing the occupants, but it was only eventually World War I that put a final nail in the coffin of the brewing at the abbey, when the German occupying forces looted the abbey of the copper stills to make armaments. It was only in 1989 that the beer was re-launched by Haacht, and the Norbertine traditions (#137) were once more reignited in this beautiful area.

With a seriously blocked nose it probably wasn’t wise to waste a beer as I was unlikely to taste much, but I doubted it would be a classic. The beer poured golden with an initially thick head, with not much of a smell and to be honest not much of a taste (who knows?). This seemed a fairly routine blonde which definitely tastes of 8% but remains fairly anonymous. Pretty average fare in all with bit of a kick to it. I blame the Germans ;)

(Post-Script) – I have since learnt that this beer is now retired, to be replaced by the stronger and yet untested Tongerlo Prior Tripel.

3 Comments

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Haacht

#29 – St Feuillien Blonde

#29 - St Feuillien Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another famous Saint? Yep. Another martyr? Yep. Another range of beers in honour of? But of course. Did he come from Ireland originally? How on earth did you know that? .. yawn

It’s a familiar story, Feuillien (or as often referred to in Ireland as Foillan) decided in the 7th Century to quit the Emerald Isle and chance his arm in Britain. He settled in East Anglia until viciously attacked and in one last fling at peace, he boarded a boat to the continent of Gaul, where he spread the word of God, setting up a monastery in Fosses-la-Ville in Namur. One night while on his way back from preaching in local Nivelles, he was set upon by bandits and brutally murdered, having his head cut off and thrown into a pigsty. Again rumour had it that the head continued to preach as it lay in the hay (reminiscent of St Livinus #18).

As a martyr he attracted many disciples who eventually in 1125 set up the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. The abbey of course flourished until the decimation of the French Revolution, but the legend and name of St Feuillien live on in Belgium, especially with the self-named range of beers being fairly popular in present day Belgium.

I have to say however, that I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. This may be more personal taste than anything as everything else seemed to fit the bill. It smelt extremely fruity, had a big puffy head on a barley coloured beer. I couldn’t clear the taste of lemons, and it ended being very distinctive – just too distinctive in the end. I like beers that challenge me, and remain unique, but this just wasn’t my cup of tea.

(Post-Script) – Much better beers are the velvety St. Feuillien Brune (#119), and the sumptuous St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

10 Comments

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, St. Feuillien

#28 – Bon Secours Brune

 

#28 - Bon Secours Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This website is beginning to feel like a trainspotters’ guide to monasteries. For that I must apologise, but I must admit my previous views of the behabited ones was that life can’t really have been much fun, but then on reflection – offer good beer and silence to any man, and it’s likely they will bite your arm off.

Bon Secours is another example of a brewery taking the name of a local monastic establishment and playing on its status to sell brews – although with one vital difference – this time its all about nuns !*

Peruwelz is both the home of Caulier the brewery, and a side-arm of the Bernadine Bon Secours monastery which was formed in 1904. This may seem rather late in the day given recent accounts, however the story of the nuns travel here shows how determined and passionate they were to find a home again. Typically during the French Revolution they found themselves leading a nomadic life – desperate to continue to live in the Cistercian tradition. Eventually, they made home at the monastery in the village of Esquermes near Lille, before dispersing further afield. There are actually orders of the nuns in England, Japan, and even the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso. Quite what association the nuns have with the beer is another question, but it serves once again as an excellent example of the selling power of the church when it comes to alcohol in Belgium.

I would surely hope that the Grolsch-style bottles were not around in the monastic days, as I would imagine there would be a few vows of silence ruined by a rogue bottle of brown beer exploding all over a monks freshly cleaned habit. This certainly happened to me, with once again, the sofa cover needing a thoroughly good dry clean. I am now banished to the kitchen to open my beers! In fact, the whole product was deeply malevolent – complex, herbal and extremely spicy, not unlike a beer equivalent of mulled wine. Possibly a little similar to the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), although essentially thinner. Totally enjoyed this beer, once I had learnt to get it in my mouth, and would definitely be perfect for a Christmas tipple.

* (Post-Script) – The nunnery is now sadly closed.

4 Comments

Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Caulier

#27 – du Boucanier Red Ale

#27 - Boucanier Red Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

Only 27 beers into the journey and another sea-faring beer already. Buccaneers are often mistaken for pirates, but there is a subtle difference – in that buccaneers were generally located in the Caribbean during the 17th Century, whereas pirates (#15) tended to roam much further afield.

The term comes from the French word ‘boucanier’ which referred to a person on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga who would hunt for meat and then smoke it on a barbecued frame called a ‘boucan’. These French locals were soon driven from their lands by the Spanish, and they reacted with acts of piracy, which fairly often were backed by the British Government with letters of marque, which essentially legalised the act. This was useful for the British as it entitled them to shares of the collected spoils and the subsequent weakening of the Spanish with whom they were at war.

The letters of marque were however of little concern to the Spanish who made examples of every captured buccaneer by hanging and garrotting them. The age of buccaneering however was soon to die out once the French and British grew tired of their presence, seeing their activities begin to hinder their attempts at commerce and trade in the area.

Buccaneers, just like pirates were famed for their drinking and there remain plenty of stories to be told in later beers like the du Boucanier Dark Ale (#174). The du Boucanier Red though was actually a rose pink colour with excellent carbonation, and a real bouquet of vanilla ice-cream. The taste was crisp, with overtures of orange and other citrus whiffs. It held up well for the entire half hour it took me to negotiate it, and was ultimately really quite pleasant.

(Post-Script) – another type of seadog was a corsaire (#80)

2 Comments

Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge