Daily Archives: January 29, 2010

#76 – Sloeber

#76 - Sloeber

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

You could at the end of a long evening on the Belgians easily mistakenly pick up a Sloeber, thinking you were going for a Duvel (#34). The colours of the labels are fairly similar, and with the slurred bottle design probably looking fairly normal under these circumstances, it is just possible you could be mistaken. It is probably likely that the marketing men at the Roman brewery had devised a cunning plan in order to jump on the successful Duvel bandwagon.

The name in Flemish kind of means ‘bad boy’. Any dictionary search throws up a hatful of possible translations, but perhaps the most likely is that of an epicure – somebody who tends to like the good things in life in a slightly hedonistic, yet mischievous way. It might perhaps represent well the man who likes to drink the finest beers in the world but that just maybe does not know when to stop !

It has become clear that this Belgian Beer Odyssey isn’t just teaching me about beer and about Belgian history, but also about the art of drinking. As age begins to wither me in my mid-thirties, I now have half my mind on the waistline, and the recollection of how bad the last early morning meeting was on a Thursday after one too many Abbey tripels. It hasn’t however always been that way. Please permit me the licence to stray a little off track and use my own personal example of how beer can sometimes make a Sloeber of us all.

I once played for a football team in Devon, and that football team went for end of season drinks as football teams tend to do. Fifteen or so fellows together normally spells mischief but I can sadly and unremittingly point to myself as the main Sloeber of the evening. After the night had ended down in Teignmouth harbour, there were a number of us who wanted more. There was a party across the estuary at Shaldon and we could hear the music, and the laughter resonating across the quiet April night. As luck would have it we were walking past a boatyard and an idea sprung to mind. Boat… water… party.. ‘With no means of propulsion’ aptly reported on the front pages of most of the local media the next day, six grown men sailed into the night, into one of South Englands most strongest currents, and then in a matter of minutes found ourselves many miles out to sea. I can rarely recall ever seeing as much fear etched on drunken faces as I did that night.

Clearly I am here to the tell the story, but only thanks to the Royal National Lifeboats, the Devon Coastguard and one solitary man by the harbour side who had the good sense to raise the alarms. It is worth remembering that mobile phones had not been invented, and we were all wearing t-shirts. Had we not have been picked up we would have frozen to death, even if the weather hadn’t turned the boat over before. I always remember the 26th of April with a great deal of humility.

Had Sloeber been the beer of choice on that fateful night we would have all had passed out long before we passed the boatyard, as this is a pretty powerful beer – full of Belgian guts! It looked like the Duvel on the pour, and yet had the reminiscent lemony taste of the St Feuillien Blonde (#29), although somehow less distinctive. This was certainly not a beer to dislike, but unlike the Dirty Duvel, the Sloeber ran out of energy in the final third. Bad boy indeed.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#75 – Hercule Stout

#75 - Hercule Stout

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Stout. It doesn’t sound quintessentially Belgian, although the Brasserie Ellezelloise actually define the beer as ‘Belgian Stout’, and there certainly aren’t many of them. I’ll save these discussions for later as there are plenty of stouts around in the low countries these days, but clearly I can’t leave this beer without talking about its namesake – Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie was not much of a beer lover by all accounts, but Philippe Gerard, the Master Brewer at Ellezelloise has cleverly picked up on the fact that Monsieur Poirot was most likely born just down the road. There isn’t a great deal of evidence in the actual books themselves as to the heritage of Hercule, and it has been left to fans to pick up and solve the case. In 33 novels and 51 short stories between 1920 and 1975 only one book, the watery ‘Taken in the Flood’ pays reference to his family, suggesting he was born as an orphan and raised by nuns. How very Belgian. ‘The Big Four’ goes on to refer to the town of Spa in the Ardennes as a setting for his life, and Christie has since revealed that nearby Ellezelloise was the small village she imagined her famous character living and working.

The ageless detective is one of Belgium’s most well known individuals, which is slightly damning when you consider that both TinTin and Poirot aren’t even real, however what the Belgians may lack in superstars, they clearly make up for in their beer and beer culture. Here a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere has not only created a beer based on a legend, but nurtured a stout that many conclude to be one of the best in the world. It is this which makes Belgium special, and unless you begin to get out there and find out for yourself you can easily miss the pulse which throbs beneath this wonderful country.

The Hercule Stout is not my ideal drink, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the experience. From the swing-top bottle with the porcelain stopper, to the taste of spruce (well according to the brewers it does. Our long deceased family dog was the only living thing I knew who devoured Christmas trees!). My clothes and soft furnishings have had some bad experiences with swing-top bottles (#28, #54) and I was prepared for this one over the kitchen sink. It merely popped and just a wisp of smoky vapour escaped. It could almost have contained a genie. The smell was genuinely mysterious just like its benefactor, and the flavour dark, sweet, bitter and very malty. I had always known stout as Guinness, and it’s fair to say this was nothing like it really. Drink this and grow your little grey cells !

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Filed under 7, Ellezelloise, Imperial Stout

#74 – Agrumbocq

#74 - Agrumbocq

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3.1 %

DuBocq announced their newest beer with the following – “After the Applebocq and the Redbocq, the Brasserie du Bocq is pleased to announce the birth of the Agrumbocq”. I wonder if the Director of the movie ‘Air Bud 4: Seventh Inning Fetch’ followed a similar marketing strategy? For anybody who hasn’t seen the movie franchise of the sporting golden retriever – don’t! Where Air Bud is clearly catering for the inane and the immature, I am still no nearer working out what market Agrumbocq is trying to serve. DuBocq recommend on their website that it is ideal after sport. Perhaps this may be why the Belgian national football team have so shamefully failed to qualify for any major tournaments in recent years. I could have sworn something Isotonic would be much more useful, or even a Schweppes soft drink which DuBocq seem to have shamelessly lifted their ideas from.

Agrumbocq is essentially a mix of their Blanche de Namur witbier, and mandarin juice with a hint of grapefruit and lime. Agrum generally refers to ‘the fields’, or ‘the soil’ – not something that springs to mind when considering citrus fruit, but it seemed to work for Schweppes.

On my travels I came across a particular spiritual latin phrase which when translated seemed to perfectly sum up the relationship between Agrumbocq and my 1000 Belgian Beer Odyssey. Per Agrum Ad Sacrum – the Per Agrum (literally through the fields) being the rough unchartered terrain that life entails, and Ad Sacrum (literally out of this world) being the ultimate reward at the end of the pilgrimage. The path to nirvana is often littered with obstacles, and just as my journey to 1000 Belgian beers is going to be rewarded by exceptional tastes and flavours, there are clearly going to be ones that make you wonder why you bothered. It is a common saying in the world, that to meet your prince you have to kiss a few frogs.

The Agrumbocq wasn’t what you might call unpleasant, but then neither is an ice cold glass of Pepsi. The bigger question is can this really be called a beer? I know Tim Webb would be shaking his head at me (#24) but then I took on this journey and I reason you can’t know what’s the best unless you really have tried the worst. I don’t have anything more to say other than it tasted of exactly what it said on the bottle. I only wish I had done some sport before hand and it might have gone down a little quicker.

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Filed under 4, Du Bocq, Fruit Beer