Monthly Archives: March 2010

#91 – Cuvée des Trolls

#91 - Cuvée des Trolls

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7 %

The Cuvée des Trolls is a curious beer which has completely marketed itself around the legend of the troll. Quite what this infatuation with trolls and beer is remains a bit of a mystery, but it is interesting anyway to depart from monasteries and breweries for a short while.

The Cuvée des Trolls website goes into a fair amount of detail with regards to the legend of the troll, and you can make up your own mind whether the small hop-helmeted little bugger on the label fits your imagination or not. My view, having travelled in Scandinavia for a while is more aligned to a two to three metre lumbering beast with a big nose and plenty of hair. It is said that the Troll originated here from Norse mythology, although many in Sweden and Norway will argue that they really do exist. The discovery of rock formations known as Krägntrolls is regularly said to confirm their enigmatic presence.

I once spent a fairly atmospheric afternoon in the dimming sun on the island of Öland off the coast of Sweden, traipsing alone through the Troll’s Forest at the northern tip. The trees were gnarled, the canopies formed macabre illusions and almost every whorl on every tree seemed to portray a monstrous façade. To be honest I was pretty relieved to emerge the other side.

The troll has been a regular part of folklore and fiction. The Moomins remain perhaps the most famous representation of a bohemian family of trolls from Finland, but anybody who has read the Harry Potter books, or The Hobbit will recall the presence of trolls.

Many Scandinavians suggest that the average human being will never see a troll as they live underground and prefer to be in the dark. In that sense of course I am beginning to see why a troll might be compared to a good beer, of which the Cuvée des Trolls could be labelled. It was first brewed in September 2000 in the Brasserie ‘Le Brasse Temps’ in Louvain-la-Neuve where it is still brewed and served unfiltered. My first taste of the beer however was from the bottle where it is brewed at Dubuisson in Pipaix and is completely filtered. The rest remains common however, with a generous handful of orange peel added to the wort to give the beer its fresh scented taste.

I didn’t really pick up the citrus flavour and thought it tasted more of honey than anything else. It was however pretty impressive, sinking very silkily down my throat on a cold night. It is probably too small at 250 ml to warrant regular buying, but I am sure there is a two litre one somewhere lurking under a rock in the forest waiting to be found.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Dubuisson

#90 – Westvleteren Blonde

#90 - Westvleteren Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.8 %

Back on the last day of my summer jaunt around Belgium I stopped at the Westvleteren brewery in the heart of hop country for a last beer (#66). As I reported I was able to pick up a six pack of their blonde beer. Now was the time to try one of them.

I spent the last report discussing how the media had built up a frenzy over the quality of the beers here, but I didn’t really get a chance to dip into the history. The brewery was founded inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren back in 1838, just seven years after the monastery had been formed by Trappist monks from Catsberg in France. It is interesting to note that some of these same monks moved down to the Notre-Dame de Scourmont monastery where of course Chimay is brewed.

The beers at St. Sixtus were sold commercially until World War II, when Evarist Deconinck took over the mantle of many of the recipes at St. Bernardus down the road (#46). The brewery was the only Trappist monastery to continue to brew during both World Wars as it was the only one not plundered for copper by the German forces. It was in actual fact used as a sanitarium for caring for wounded allied forces. In 1989 the Abbey was able to open its newer brewery just off-site where it replaced all the old equipment, and then in 1992 the monks terminated their agreement with St. Bernardus with the sole intention of following the purist Trappist rules of brewing beers (#7). They have ever since maintained a strict policy of only monks doing all the brewing, although in recent years they have used one or two secular workers for much of the manual labour needed.

The green capped Westvleteren Blonde was added to the range of beers in 1999 and was designed to replace the 6.2% ABV dark beer and a lighter 4% table beer. Clearly the monks wanted a pater with a bit more bite, to support their stronger and world famous 8 and 12 (#66). It poured an impeccable cloudy blonde, thick and yet crisp, and was noticeably hoppy, with a fine head and some brown guts of sediment. It had been listed as a pale ale and I can probably imagine old men enjoying this beer. Of course from a brewery with as much international repute as Westvleteren you would expect to enjoy it, but I wasn’t expecting to immediately open another straight after! A very good beer.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Westvleteren

#89 – Boon Oude Gueuze

#89 - Boon Oude Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

This is my third Gueuze, but in a sense my first real Gueuze. With every disrespect to Timmermans (#12) and Belle-Vue (#62), this is what Gueuze is all about, and is brewed/blended by a man who is almost singly responsible for the revitalisation of lambic beer in Belgium. Frank Boon might sound like some kind of East End villain, but is actually the man behind this devastating contribution to lambic beer.

To begin the story we need to go back to just before the first World War, when in 1910 the Brussels region was responsible for over a million hectolitres of lambic beer – which lets face it is phenomenal. There were probably over 200 independent lambic breweries in Brussels alone at this time. In 1914 there were at least 800,000 barrels of lambic, yet by the end of the war, just four years later, there were only 40,000 empty ones. Copper was taken from breweries, farms were ravaged, and as we already know to make gueuze you need to blend old with new, and there was simply no oude lambic to blend – it had all been destroyed. The result was that with the recent introduction of easy and cheap to produce lagers and pilseners many breweries chose to abandon lambic.

Gueuze was still brewed in much smaller amounts, but in comparison to top fermented lagers and pilseners, it was much more expensive to make. Cheaper ingredients became the norm, and the standard of lambic fell away drastically. By 1965 there were only 27 lambic breweries left, and between 1968 and 1970 the Belle-Vue brewery bought all but one of those in Brussels, and the final recognised brewey of any size fell in 1976. Any gueuze now being made was filtered, and the final throes of death hovered over this unique drink.

This was when Frank Boon could watch no more, and decided to invest in the De Vits gueuze blenders in Lembeek, a beer he loved and who were almost certainly going out of business. It was this decision almost 35 years ago that means that the Boon Oude Gueuze was sitting on my lounge table tonight. Lots of water has passed under the bridge since, but I have got plenty of time to tell that tale (#147).

For now though I had a real gueuze to get my teeth into, although it took over ten minutes to pour it into my glass, so powerful was the carbonation and head. The smell was rich and pungent, almost cidery and yet ammonic. Some might call this ‘horse-blanket’ – well I will leave that to the experts, and I may come back to this as my palate expands. Anyway, the taste was definitely unique, and I wasn’t quite sure what my thoughts were as I tried to sum up it up. I may have to try a few more, but for now I will leave it that this maybe isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s not to say I won’t be back to try it again. I owe Frank Boon at least a conclusion to his story.

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Filed under 6, Boon, Lambic - Gueuze

#88 – Zwijntje

#88 - Zwijntje

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Everything I need to discuss about Zwijntje is covered on the label. There is a piglet holding a coat of arms, while sitting on a mound of flowers in front of an old windmill. So what exactly does this excerpt from some bizarre hallucination actually represent?

Firstly, we should explain the pig – Zwijntje is the diminutive version of Zwijn, which translated nicely into English means ‘swine’ or ‘pig’. Zwijntje being the diminutive suggests a piglet, or piggy. I wasn’t quite sure why Van Steenberge would create a beer named after a pig and so I did some digging and discovered that the beer was created for the people of Zwijnaarde, a village about 7km from the centre of Ghent. One can only assume that the pig reference is based on the towns name which essentially means “field of pigs”.

The town is identified clearly on the label, with the coat of arms of Zwijnaarde and the windmill in the background, which was built originally in the 18th Century and has been a protected monument in Zwijnaarde since 1945. The village being completely ruralised (although now intersected by the A10/E17 and A14/E40) tends to be illustrated by the flowers and the windmill. There is now a large industrial area on the edge of the town, and a number of scientific companies are based there, with connections to recent innovations in treating swine flu – no doubt something based around this beer.

The beer itself seems to be based on the stable Augustijn brew of the Van Steenberge farm brewery. It is likely according to the back label of the beer that Zwijntje is tweaked from the mother brew rather than directly lifted and copied, although this is common practice at Van Steenberge, with the Augustijn beer.

Whatever the origin though, this is a damn fine beer. It is a rich amber gold colour, which lets you know its strength from the off, and in between hits you with twangs of oranges and honey. In the background, the flavour is maintained with the dry faint sniff of hops. This very much reminded me of Piraat 9 (#15), and is one beer I will seek out again for the summer months, or of course if I desperately need a remedy for swine flu.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Pig, Van Steenberge