Monthly Archives: December 2009

#59 – Lindemans Faro

#59 - Lindemans Faro

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.8 %

This is the first Faro of the Odyssey, and the Lindemans is probably the most well-known Faro with its black Art-Nouveau label. This particular one was first brewed by Lindemans in 1978, however it is quite different from the original Faro recipe, which was a much lower-alcohol beer, blended from lambic and a lighter fresh beer known as a meertsbier. Brown sugar, or sometimes caramel or molasses were then added to sweeten it. Because the lambic was weakened with the lesser beer or in some cases water, it was often the cheapest beer on the market in olden days, and seen as the drink of the working man. In those days the sugar was normally added at the end, shortly before serving and therefore had little effect on the strength or carbonation of the final product.

Nowadays brewers tend not to use meertsbier, but still blend old lambics with younger lambics and then use brown sugar or brown sugar substitutes to add to the bottle, which is then pasteurised to prevent the re-fermentation while it sits. A modern day Faro never really hits the high strengths of other beers, but at 4.8% is still a dangerous one to drink chilled in the warm sunshine as its sweetness ensure it glides down far too easily. I hadn’t been feeling particularly well on this afternoon, and so this was a perfect beer to try and pick me up.

I didn’t expect the reddish colour of this beer, but of course this is a result of the brown candied sugar added to the bottle. It smelt quite sour, although not quite of the potency of a Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), and the initial head and fizz subsumed quickly. Ice cold from the fridge this was very enjoyable though, and was a great mix of sweet and sour. It held up well to the last drop, but the odd hints of strawberry and Vimto put me off somewhat in giving it a more generous score. As I have a sweet tooth this I found more amenable than the only gueuze (#12) I had tried so far.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Lambic - Faro, Lindemans

#58 – Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

#58 - Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

My final blonde of the night was Cuvee li Crochon Blonde – a little beer with a funky label, and another one from Couvin. The website which gives some information on the heritage of the beers identifies the Couvin warehouse as one of only a few in the area that actually stock this beer, thus this and its sister brown beer may be one of the rarer ones tried so far.

It is worth starting with the regionality mentioned above and the Onhaye municipality which has a population of only about 5000 inhabitants. It may be a tiny place, but it is proud of its beautiful Ardennes location (only 5km west of Dinant); so much so that in 1982 the ‘La Confrerie Li Crochon’ was founded. This Brotherhood of Li Crochon, as it translates, was set up to promote tourism in this area mainly based around local cuisine. Li Crochon is not the heron on the label, which I immediately assumed on drinking, but actually a symbolic dish of the region, which refers to the end slices of a loaf of bread, which are spread with local cheese and then roasted over a wood fire. By god that sounds delicious!

A modernised version of this dish tends to refer to a hollowed out bun, which is topped with cheese, ham and cream and baked in the oven. It must be good if they set up a brotherhood to look after it and then brewed a beer to accompany it. The brewing is now carried out by Du Bocq, but previously a couple of local brasseries began the tradition of finding a perfect beer for the dish. I must confess I am not sure they did a particularly good job. I found this blonde easily the most disappointing of the night. It neither fizzed or popped on opening, and once poured looked almost green in the light, and anaemic. It smelt of nothing in particular and tasted watery and weak. I had only reserved scores of below 5 for poor fruit beers and the truly disgusting but this moribund effort sadly didn’t make the grade. I just hope the dish Li Crochon is better or they may as well sack the Brotherhood.

(Post-Script) – At least the Cuvee li Crochon Brune was a lot better (#136).

1 Comment

Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Du Bocq, Heron

#57 – Hopduvel Blondine

#57 - Hopduvel Blondine

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 9 %

While we are on the subject of blondes, it seems almost the perfect time to introduce the ‘blond/e beer’. When you have a beer called Blondine and a label with a beautiful blonde on it, I doubt there will be a better time to talk about it. I decided to find a translation of Blondine, and discovered it seems to mean the preparation used to bleach ones hair blond. It sounded synthetic and to be honest, I feared the worst.

I have always felt that brown or amber beers are my personal favourites. Just like I prefer red wine to white. My rationale was that average brown or amber beers, and red wines can be well hidden, but an average blond beer or white wine gets shown up. I still think this is true. A good blonde is a real treat, but its much harder to get right. Whether this is true for the female species I shall leave up to everyone else, although again my personal preference has always been the brunette.

Blonde ales tend to be offered by most breweries. You get the feeling that many brewers secretly share my thoughts above, but feel that there is a definite market out there for blonde beers. Again it is this stereotypical view that most beer drinkers would prefer to drink unimaginative blonde lagers. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate this view, as I thought the Piraat 9 (#15) for example was immense, but there appears to be some degree of truth in there somewhere.

That said, there is much more to ‘blonde beers’ than lagers and pils. There are good basic Belgian ales with medium strength but plenty of flavour. Abdij van Roosenberg (#11) a fair example so far, and then there are the hoppier blondes which have much more bite. Tripel beers don’t scientifically have to be blonde, but most tend to be, and are almost always strong and stylish although most I have tried on this trip so far have been a bit of a let down. Then there are the strong Belgian ales or Golden blondes, such as Duvel (#37) which remain classics in their field, or the more experimental with flavours, such as the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29). The latter seem to represent well the craft brewers of Belgium, who seek to give their drinker more value for their money by either trying new techniques or adding new ingredients.

The Hopduvel Blondine on offer tonight was trying to be the latter, but ultimately failed. It was 9% but it certainly didn’t taste it. She tried to explode on opening (probably a by-product of hurtling down the Alps this afternoon), and I caught the cloudy remnants well in the glass. This was definitely more solid and beguiling than the previous blonde, but there was almost something quite unsavoury in there. Her personality was orangey and bitter, and I really felt that with 9% on the label she would be able to offer a little more. Clearly the gentleman is not preferring this blonde.

1 Comment

Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#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