Monthly Archives: February 2010

#87 – Rubbel Sexy Lager

#87 - Rubbel Sexy Lager

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Rubbel Sexy Lager is ashamedly Belgian. When you close your eyes and think of why Belgian beer culture is so revered, you don’t immediately think about Rubbel Sexy Lager, but for now, for this moment in time, it would be great to share the story, and to enjoy some gentle irony at the expense of the alcohol regulators in the UK.

In February 2008, all bottles of Rubbel Sexy Lager were stripped from UK shelves. It would be best to use the exact words of Portman Group manager David Poley to explain why – of course also remembering to keep referring back to the label pictured above. And yes, that is a scratch and remove bikini !

“Drinking excessively can affect people’s judgement and behaviour leading to them engaging in sexual activity which they later regret…Our Code disallows drinks marketing being linked to sexual success…The industry has set itself strict marketing rules and this drink has fallen short of those high standards.”

Rightly or wrongly, and forgetting the quality of the beer for a moment, is it worth considering the amount of products that exist on our TV screens today, and on bill-boards across the country that don’t use sex to sell products? Cars sell on the premise of sex. It wasn’t long ago that almost all car and motorcycle advertisements used scantily clad females draped across the paintwork. Advertising has become more subtle but the message remains. Just ask all those men who as teenagers were besotted by Nicole. The marketeers behind Lynx deodorant would make you believe that even the most undesirable male can pick up hot girls with a couple of deft applications of cheap bodyspray. Even such obscure products as burgers (Paris Hilton, 2005) and Brylcreem have linked sexual success to their products.

I guess however there is a moral line somewhere in this which is important to note. Any male, or female for that matter, could pick up a can of bodyspray or hair product, or drive a fancy car to impress the opposite sex, but all is seen as fair game. Portman may of course argue that it might not be quite as fair to use drugs such as alcohol to gain an advantage in this area. Sexy Rubbel Lager is far removed from something sinister like Rohipnol, but the marketeers perhaps need to realise the position of alcohol in the market, and the potential dangers. After all there is statistically far more chance of picking up a partner in a bar than there is in a burger bar, and it is almost certainly exponentially related to the amount one or both has drunk.

That aside, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this beer to anyone, even if there was the faintest chance it might entice Kylie Minogue round for a peek in my cellar. Even if you consider the thirty seconds of fun I had revealing one unidentifiable breast and a glimpse of pubic hair, there is no way I would return and drink this beast of a drink again. It was a foul weak tasteless lager with no redeeming features whatsoever. Caveat Emptor !

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Filed under 3, Huyghe, Pilsener

#86 – Watou Tripel

#86 - Watou Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Watou is a bit of a haven when it comes to beer. If you start to plot breweries on a map of Belgium – which lets face it is a perfect thing to do on a quiet Sunday 😉  – you start to notice a batch of them all concentrated in a quiet area of countryside just north of the French border. Westvleteren, Van Eecke, Struise Brouwers and St. Bernardus are within a stones throw of each other, and each are renowned for the quality of their beers. The latter is based in the small village of Watou for which this beer is named.

The brewery claim that this beer was made for the French, maybe as a compromise for the fact that in 1793 this area was designated to fall within Flanders, as opposed to France. It’s odd because the beer sounds French, although there are villages that ended up in France at the carve-up that sound nailed on Flemish such as Steenvoorde and Winne Zele. It just happened that the geographical location of two rivers meant that it ended up in Belgian hands.

Watou generally translates as “watery area”, a direct reference to the rivers that dominate the locality. It only has a population of around 2000 people, but often the streets are bursting with visitors to the Flanders fields, or to a number of annual festivals that take place in the village and surrounding areas. One of these is a choir festival that takes place in St. Bavo church, the one so beautifully recreated on the label of this beer. The church has been a preserved monument since 1939 and contains the tombs of two of the first counts of Watou. Other visitors come to visit the brewery of St. Bernardus and the famous hop farms of Poperinge.

Local hops are used to make this extremely pleasant medium strength blonde. The bitterness of the hops is played off expertly against the zesty fruity tang which accompanies every sip. To be honest it didn’t start off as a great beer, but it grew with every inch downed. Where it began mellow and indistinctive, it ended alive and buzzing with energy. Rarely does a beer start as a six and end as an eight – though you would expect nothing less from a St. Bernardus.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, St. Bernardus

#85 – Arabier

 

#85 - Arabier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The second beer in a week from De Dolle Brouwers, and this time one of the two staple brews on which much of their regular sales rely. Oerbier (#208) started it all off when the eccentric Herteleer family won their beer competition, but Arabier was to follow shortly after. This is a much drier beer, brewed with pure malt and spiced by dry-hopping using the typical Poperinge Nugget-hops. It is almost the complete opposite of Boskeun (#82) in that sense – the only other De Dolle beer I had tried to date.

Some have claimed that the title Arabier was given to the beer due to its dryness, pointing to the fact that Arabier translates into ‘an inhabitant of Arabia’ and after all, Arabia is a pretty arid place. Without the exact reason given by the brewery, one may wish to follow this line of thought, although a further clue seems to point more in the direction of the small colourful parrot who sits on the label with a glass of beer in its hand. It is surely not a coincidence that Ara is a genus of colourful macaw parrot that inhabits the South American continent. We have already established a link between brother Jo and South America (#82), and we can probably safely assume this is a much more likely, although no less logical, reason for the name of the beer.

Quite what the Ara has to do with beer is debatable, although they are renowned for their colourful plumage and distinctive exuberance. If you get to meet any of the Herteleers or visit the brewery/art exhibitions in Esen, it is not hard to find a subtle relationship between the two. The main diet of the Ara is also seeds, which funnily enough is essentially the main ingredient in beer.

Arabier itself is impressive, and it certainly justified its entry in the top 100 Belgian Beers book I had recently bought. Very hoppy and full of flavours, although certainly not an Orval (#37), but perhaps a more mellow and fruity deputy. I sat back and watched Ukraine end Englands’ 100% record in the World Cup Qualifying group – a sadly indistinguished occasion for a beer this good.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Parrot

#84 – Lindemans Framboise

#84 - Lindemans Framboise

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 2.5 %

Lindemans have always been a well known lambic brewer following their decision to export to the United States in 1979 – the first Lambic producer to do so.  The US remains a large part of their market, although in 2007 they began to export to Asia, in particular large amounts to China, and now have added Russia to their fanbase. Lindemans have remained an interesting brewery in that they have stayed loyal to the lambic concept, but yet have adapted well to the modern market in creating tasty and attractive beers for different markets.

It is a far cry though from 1809, when the Lindemans family owned a small farm in Vlezenbeek on the outskirts of Brussels. They found during the winter months that there was less farming to do, and thus more time to make the lambic beer they were dabbling with, and could easily make with the left over wheat and barley that grew on their land. The lambic eventually became so popular, that in 1930 all farming ceased at Vlezenbeek, and all attention turned to brewing a Kriek (#78) and a Gueuze. Faro (#59) followed in 1978, followed by a succession of Fruit lambics in the early eighties, which of course included the highly popular Lindemans Framboise. These are particularly low strength beers, just 2.5% for the Framboise, and yet they remain extremely tasty and certainly do not taste that weak.

That said, I was disappointed with this Framboise. Although it is made with lambic beer, I have to hold my hands up and say I preferred the Bacchus Frambozenbier (#38) which is made with syrups mixed with sour brown ale. I did enjoy the Kriek much more and would chose this one from the plentiful supplies in your typical UK supermarket. The end result was certainly something that felt more potent than 2.5% but it was overpoweringly rich and sweet and I was surprised my teeth were still intact come the end. Sorry, Lindemans but I blow a raspberry in your direction on this one !

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Filed under 6, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans

#83 – Bush de Noel

#83 - Bush de Noel

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 12 %

Bush de Noel represents the first Christmas beer on my journey. If you are going to stock up on rare winter beers for your cellar, then the winter months are the ideal time to do so, as there are many rare specials made by breweries which normally suit the cold winter months. There tends to be a good number of reasons why the seasonal winter beers are brewed, and I will run through these below.

Firstly, and probably the original reason, is that of practicality. The late summer harvest usually ends up leaving plentiful supplies of grain, and the old stocks simply need to be used. Coupled with the need to provide enough beer through the winter months, this additional brew is just common sense really.

The second reason really stems from the first, in that it gives the brewery the opportunity to make a beer that is well suited to the winter conditions. In the cold weather, there is nothing more warming on a bleak night than to be tucked up by the fire with a strong dark beer full of spices and fruit. Not all Christmas beers fit this description, but many do. The spices vary and often include cinnamon, allspice, ginger or nutmeg and variations of dried fruit. Often breweries try to replicate Christmas treats such as mince pies in the liquid form.

This also gives the brewery a third reason – that of marketing. Customers like to try new beers, and the winter months tend to give the good craft brewer a great reason to experiment. Winter beers can often vary every year as the creative brewer tries to find great new recipes that might end up becoming a popular year-round brew. These Christmas beers are then often showcased at a winter beer festival, like the one in Essen.

Brewers see these as a Christmas present to their customers. Most tend to use more ingredients in these Christmas beers, and as the beers tend to be stronger, there is a higher levy of duty to be paid to the taxman. Brewers, particularly in Germany, argue that there is not so much money to be made on Christmas beers, and therefore this is their gift for their customers loyalty. Whatever way you look at it, if you are planning a raid on the Belgian countryside to stock up, this is the time to do it !

The Bush de Noel may be small but it is potent at a steaming 12%. It has a dark red-amber colour which is attained by adding caramel malt in large quantities. The beer is also quite bitter which is achieved by dry-hopping while the beer rests. It is one of the more recognised Christmas beers and can often be found in the UK and in many Belgian drankencentrums. It has been doing the rounds since 1991 believe it or not. It was fairly pleasant, but like most beers from Dubuisson it was over just too soon, which considering its flat appearance wasn’t a major worry. It reminded me rather oddly of the colour of water that is left to rot in a car radiator for years – dark and coppery. It is strong this beer, and ideal for a winter night in, but I’m sure there are so many christmas beers better than this !

(Post-Script) – interestingly the little house on the label covered in snow is the main Dubuisson brewery on the main Pipaix road.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dubuisson

#82 – Boskeun

#82 - Boskeun

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

De Dolle Brouwers literally means ‘the mad brothers’, and if you have ever called in on the brewery premises and looked about you will probably understand why. There were originally three Herteleer brothers, Kris, Jo and Ward, who purchased the brewery premises in 1980 after they won a local beer brewing competition. Kris is the master brewer and can normally be spotted in a mad company jacket serving at the ramshackle bar. Ward is almost the silent partner, but has become more involved in recent years, and Jo is the brother for whom Boskeun is named. Boskeun literally translates as the Hare of the Wood, which is the image that can be seen on the label and all over my website for that matter. When the brothers were younger, Jo was injured in some kind of play fight, ending up with a scar above his lip. The other boys teased him about this ‘hare-lip’ (keun) and thus the name stuck.

Jo Herteleer was fairly active in the brewery, and tended to prefer brewing the blonder beers. Wanderlust eventually got the better of him however, and he found himself heading off to South America where again he continued to brew the odd beer. Boskeun would be the last beer however that he would brew in Belgium. Jo still lives and works in South America undertaking a variation of useful roles in governmental and non-governmental co-operations, and most recently working on a number of health projects in Quito, Ecuador.

The beer itself simply blew me away. It certainly wasn’t the most attractive 330 ml I would ever drink, with about an inch deep of rich meaty sediment – I almost had to repour it through a strainer but that would probably have ended up detracting from the experience. It was a pale brown colour, but rich in legs, and smelling remarkably like a warm caramel covered apple pie. This beer was a dessert in itself. As an Easter brew (the clue is the rabbit), it is brewed with Mauritian cane sugar, and Mexican honey in the mash, and you definitely knew it. It was extremely sweet, but also remarkably delicious. I have since tried to get hold of other bottles but with not much luck. As an Easter beer it is only really available the two months before Easter, and even then can be removed up to two weeks before. The brewery recommend calling them before to reserve it. Other distributors do stock it, but like I say nothing is guaranteed. If you see it BUY IT !

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Hare

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)