Monthly Archives: April 2010

#100 – St. Bernardus Wit

#100 - St. Bernardus Wit

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

Beer experts tend to say that if you want to try a beer that tastes like Hoegaarden (#81) used to then there is no better exponent than the St. Bernardus Wit. This comes as no surprise as the beer was actually developed in co-operation with Pierre Celis, who of course was the mastermind behind the success of Hoegaarden. The main difference is that the St. Bernardus gets the traditional Belgian secondary fermentation in the bottle which just adds to the steely quality.

The term wheat beer is something of a misnomer, as these beers are not made 100% from wheat – in fact probably only about 30-40% of the mash. The rest is more likely to contain forms of pilsener malt. It is this 30-40% though which gives the wheat beers their hazy milky glow, which in turn has tended to coin the appellation ‘white beer’. Hops are generally used less frequently as they tend to impair flavour, and brewers such as Celis have traditionally been more subtle with spices such as coriander, or fruit – most commonly the peel of an orange.

It is surprising that white beers are not more common in Belgium as wheat tends to be in greater abundance than barley and is therefore cheaper to produce. Wheat beers tend though to be somewhat lower in strength than dubbels, tripels and typical Belgian ales, which may go some way to explain why these beers are more popular in Germany or the USA. Others argue that wheat tends to clog up the brewers equipment and is therefore more painful to brew due to the rigours of keeping the kit clean and free from infection.

Either way I’m not really a wheat beer man, or I wasn’t until I tried the St. Bernardus Wit. It was altogether more robust, with extra colour and fizz, and it was both crisp and sharp with a flavour that actually challenged your taste-buds. I could actually taste the hints of orange peel and coriander which is saying something. I think this is best suited to a warm summers day in Flanders, but all in all a pretty impressive way to bring up the hundredth beer!

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, St. Bernardus

#99 – Oeral

#99 - Oeral

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

De Dolle Oeral is still seemingly available in shops these days but appears to have been recently cast off by the brewery. A once proud beer that acted as a mother beer for the breweries experiments doesn’t even get a mention on the website these days, yet brews such as Museum Beer, De Kavijaks, Matrassebier and van de Abdij Ter Doest were all created from the original beer. I would be surprised if many of the above still exist but I am keeping my eyes open on my regular jaunts to the fatherland.

The Oeral has been created in a few label styles;  one of a yellow Oeral aeroplane flying in from space is a newer incarnation, although the version I picked up in Norfolk was one sporting a painting of shoes by the eccentric brewmaster Kris Herteleer. The Mad Brothers premises doubles up not only as a brewery and beer room, but also as a museum for the family art. Kris would label himself as both an architect and an artist, and that it is these talents which have led him to create such wonderful beers. When asked what makes a craft beer, Kris responded that it was ‘a beer which reflects the sense of beer brewing of the person who makes it, and that means that the brewer has his own opinion about how beer should be and he does it his way’. You certainly can’t argue with this after visiting the Madhouse, and tasting their range of beers – not bad considering it all started with a home brewing kit from Boots !

Sadly last month a fuel tank exploded in the brewery premises which caused extensive damage to some of the artwork and the equipment, injuring one of the employees. The production of both Oerbier and Arabier (#85) has had to be delayed.

Despite the recent rarity of the Oeral, it remains a great beer. It was a pale coloured fizzer which took at least four pours and ten minutes to finally get into my glass – but then it was definitely worth the wait. It was predominantly bitter with plenty of bite that endured to the final drop. Because the beer looked a little insipid I was perhaps expecting something a little less feisty, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will add a few to the cellar the next time I see it.

(Post-Script) – Oeral roughly translates as ‘Ural’ in Flemish – although had yet to see the mountainous connection to the beer until I spotted this label which looks like it was shipped to Russian speaking locations.

Oeral - for the Russian market

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Brewers, De Dolle Brouwers

#98 – Caracole Ambree

#98 - Caracole Ambree

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Caracole is a proper brewery. You need to consider that the water is uniquely warmed with a wood-fired oven, that the bottling and labelling is done by hand, and even more amazingly that the malt is milled on a grinder dating back to 1913 – a process that takes about eight hours. The fact that the final output is so damned good is a testimony to concentrating on quality rather than quantity.

The brewery in Falmignoul, not far from Dinant, is owned by Francois Tonglet and Jean-Pierre Debras in what used to be the old Moussoux brewery premises constructed in 1766. The brewery may have changed hands a few times, but the atmosphere hasn’t really changed. The lighting flickers, spiders guard the alcoves in thick cotton-wool havens, and the equipment has been begged, stolen and borrowed from halcyon days.

Caracole took over here in 1992 and now manage to run off about 39,000 gallons of beer each year which is no mean feat when you consider that the labour is intensive. Often a days brewing can spill into the next, and the brewers tend to brew one week on and one week off, thus if you want to get out here and visit the place, then you need to time it well – something I plan to do this summer to kill time between World Cup matches.

The Caracole Ambree was chosen for selection in the ‘Top 100 Belgian beers to try before you die’ and for good reason. A rich golden amber with a real plethora of inner flavours which made for perfect late evening sipping. It was both complex and yet consistent – equally suitable I would imagine for a cold winters evening or dare I say a warm summers day (not sure they exist in the UK anymore). The satisfaction one can take drinking this, while considering the love that went into making it, only further enhances the experience.

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Caracole, Snail

#97 – Triverius

#97 - Triverius

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Believe it or not but Triverius was a beer first made in 2004 in homage to a famous man of medicine from the village of Nederbrakel. The occasion was to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth and to celebrate the impact he made on the emerging world of medicine.

Born Jeremie de Drijvere, he studied medicine at the University of Leuven where he eventually went on to become a renowned professor. He took it upon himself, somewhat like Brazilian footballers do, to assign himself a title, and was thenceforth to be known as Triverius. He was most famous for applying a scientific outlook to the study of medicine as opposed to basing it on customs, herbs and old wives tales, and continued to lead on medical practice until his premature death in 1554. He is particularly revered in the municipality of Brakel, and the de Graal brewery which is based in the area sponsored this homage to the great man. Not only does he have a beer named after him but also a complete fellowship; the logo of which can be seen adorning the label.

The beer itself is actually a double wheat beer; in that it is brewed in the style of a wheat beer, and then bottle-conditioned again to buck it up to a nice tidy premium strength. It didn’t look like a traditional white beer though, as it presented itself as a rich golden blonde, with perhaps the only clue of its wheat content being the cloudy nature of the liquid. It was beautifully refreshing as wheat beers often tend to be, but similarly it faded emphatically at the business end. Maybe a few more herbs and a little less science wouldnt have gone a miss !

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, de Graal

#96 – Kastaar

#96 - Kastaar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

The label of Kastaar is adorned by what looks like a king, but I was struggling to find out just who this fellow was. In the end after some poking around on the internet I contacted the right people, and I am mightily pleased that I did. Forget the Olympic Games in London in 2012. I’m off to Biervliet in the Netherlands to join a crowd of eccentric villagers recreating wars and stealing city monuments !

Biervliet (apparently) has always been an important place in history, mainly due to its strategic location on an island in the Westerschelde river between Ghent and Antwerp. It’s population have been historically recognised for their efforts in the Middle Ages during the Crusades, and more recently during the Eighty Years War for Dutch independence. In 1573 while under Spanish control, William of Orange and the ‘gueuzen’ (essentially the French peasantry), fought a terrific battle to win back the area and liberate Biervliet. This was no doubt consigned to the back of the history books until in 1973, exactly 400 years since the liberation, the people of Biervliet decided to celebrate this event with a festival.

The idea is to pick a story from the rich history and to recreate this in the form of a parade over a long, and more often than not, boozy weekend. In 2007 this recreation took the form of the story of Kastaar, the bastard son of Count Lamoral of Egmont (#22). There may be a certain amount of spin to this story, and many would argue that it is questionable as to whether he really ever existed, but the story goes that when Lamoral was imprisoned in the Gravensteen castle in Ghent, Kastaar was knee deep in resisting the Spanish in Biervliet. Learning of his fathers predicament he rallied his troops to Ghent and successfully stormed the Gravensteen. Stopping only to celebrate with a raucous party, he returned to Biervliet and routed the Spanish – a victory which was to largely determine the successful restoration of independence from the infidels.

Thus in 2007, the modern day revellers numbering around fifty descended on Ghent in full costume and armed with weapons, and plenty of Kastaar beer to storm the Gravensteen. These adventurous pilgrims – not content with a quiet few pints – also have a history of kleptomania, in the name of avenging the cities who once sullied the name of Biervliet. In this case they stole the twelve ton cannon which sits peacefully in the centre of Ghent. This cannon is called the Dulle Griet, which is also the name of another beer by the Schelde brewery, and thus is another tale altogether.

If I had to imagine a weekend of high octane drinking of Kastaar I can imagine myself being led to high jinks in this manner, assuming of course I didn’t fall over drunk first in the cobbled gutters. At 7% this is a powerful beer, and felt like a bit of a cross between a blond and a brune. I merely sipped mine from the safety of the sofa while the football was on, and imagined rampaging the streets of Ghent. A good beer and an even better story !

(Post-Script) – the people of Biervliet have had quite an impact on history; even during the Crusades they played a brave role (#145).

2 Comments

Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Brewers, De Block

#95 – Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic

#95 - Cantillon Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5 %

Cantillon has five entries in the ‘Top 100 Belgian beers to try before you die’ – it would have been more but the authors felt it might skew the book somewhat. As we have previously ascertained there were hundreds of lambic brewers and blenders in Brussels in yesteryear (#89), but now there is just this one.

The Cantillon Kriek is renowned for its quality, and having only drunk the Lindemans Kriek (#78) on this journey so far, I thought I would use this opportunity to share how Cantillon make theirs as an exemplar to all thriving replicants.

The lambic beer is already sitting waiting when the cherries arrive by lorry on what is hopefully a warm summers afternoon. Cantillon usually buy theirs from auction at St. Truiden, resulting in thousands of kilos of the Kellery variety. About 150kg of this rich fruit is put in each 650 litre capacity barrel, and then the appropriate one and half year old lambics are chosen to add to the barrels. It is essential that the lambics chosen are healthy as it would spoil the beer at this stage. The unhealthy ones will have to wait, but Cantillon are experts at knowing which lambics to use, and curing those that aren’t.

Once the barrels are filled, the hole is sealed with a sheet of paper to avoid impurities reaching the mix, but still leaving the barrels open to the natural yeasts. Within about five days the fermentation fires up, whereby the sugars from the lambic and cherries start to activate the yeasts that are sitting in the wood and in the skin of the cherries. It is here that the amazing rich red colours begin to form. As the brewers here tend to start at the same time each summer, they are prepared for the fermentation to wind down around the 10th August, whereupon the barrels are finally closed, and the acids in the lambic begin to leach all the flavour and remaining colour from the cherries. Spiders are a key part of the result at this stage as they prove to be better than any insecticide, protecting the environment from infection and encouraging the perfect natural equilibrium.

It doesn’t end here as the Kriek then gets a secondary fermentation in the bottle from the beginning of October. This is either done by mixing young lambics with the kriek, or by refilling the original barrel with lambic to mix with the left over pulp. All that remains then is to let the beer sit for about three to five months where it will saturate, and then it is ready for the discerning drinker. It can spoil if left too long and therefore drinkers are advised to imbibe within a year of bottling, although of course that is a matter of personal taste.

Speaking of which, I am probably still coming to terms with the whole lambic taste. I was expecting the rich sanguine flavours of the cherries to engulf me as the Lindemans had, but the overriding experience was still one of sourness and mustiness. Once you open the cork, and you get past the strong cidery nose, you just don’t expect something so flat. I enjoyed sipping it and rolling it around my oralities but yet again I am not sure whether it’s truly for me. I will keep working on it as there are plenty more to come.

5 Comments

Filed under 7, Cantillon, Lambic - Fruit

#94 – Witkap Pater Tripel

#94 - Witkap Pater Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I am a big fan of the gentleman who adorns the Witkap beers – after all it’s clear proof that beer-drinking hoodies have been around since medieval times ! The chap is in actual fact a Cistercian monk, and the Witkap name refers to the white hoods that the Cistercians chose to wear. Of course, Cistercians – no different to any monks – seriously enjoyed their beer.

Cistercian monks essentially were a splinter group from the Benedictine monks who felt that they needed to pay stricter homage to the rules of St. Benedict. The name comes from Cistercium, the Latin name for the village of Citeaux where the reformist monks founded their first abbey in 1098. The word spread quickly as by the end of the 12th Century the order had spread throughout France, and much of Western Europe. The result of the Cistercian reversion was the return to stricter austerity and a reproduction of the original days of Benedictism – with particular determination to revert to manual labour – including of course the production of great beer !

Just like the Benedictines though, the Cistercians over time began to sway in their following, and during the 19th century, the Trappists (who we of course know very well these days in Belgium) decided that they also needed a reform to the original teachings and observances of St. Benedict.

Either way, all nuances of the “contemplative orders” mentioned above are categorised by the adherence to silence while within the monastery walls. It is a common misplaced myth that monks make vows of silence, its just that quiet helps to increase the monks ability to communicate and to continue in prayer.

The brewers of this beer, Slagmuylder claim that the Witkap Pater Tripel was actually the first golden Tripel although I would imagine that the monks at Westmalle may seek redress over this point. I have been brought up on the Westmalle Tripel (#149) and the Witkap, despite being eminently drinkable is not in the same league. It poured well, had plenty of bubbles and went down extremely well before a heavy night out, but just lacked the class of the ‘real’ golden Tripel.

3 Comments

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Slagmuylder

#93 – Kasteel Donker

#93 - Kasteel Donker

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11 %

Kasteel means ‘castle’ in Flemish, and is a direct reference to the U-shaped building that sits proudly on the label. The present castle dates back to 1736, however there has been a castle on this site going all the way back to 1075 when Robert de Fries, the Count of Flanders, built a square fortress on the ruins of an old monastery in the town of Ingelmunster.

The luxurious residence has changed hands many times since it left the hands of the Counts of Flanders in the 14th Century. There followed 200 years of ownership between the Dukes of Burgundy and various other German and French families, until following the Battle of Ingelmunster in 1580, the German colonel Otto van Plotho, who was a mercenary fighting for the French, inherited the fiefdom. It was during this time that the various battles in the town ended up with the Castle completely destroyed and thus the most recent incarnation.

The castle ended up back in French hands in 1825 when the Count of Montblanc inherited the castle due to the 9th generation of van Plotho’s becoming heirless. The castle managed to survive both World Wars, including the first, when it was suddenly commandeered by German troops who stationed themselves there for the duration. The Montblancs managed to keep overall control, and this wealthy family stayed on until 1986 when Baroness Mathilde de Meaux, the widow of the last of the Montblancs decided she had outgrown it. A public sale was conducted and a couple of brothers – Luc and Marc Van Honsebrouck won the bidding rights to the castle. The same Van Honsebrouck family who are the current brewers of the Kasteel beer – a nice tidy end to how this beer got its name.

The Kasteel Donker itself is a bit of a beast of a beer at 11%. I had drunk this a few years ago in London when I first started work and always remember it being extremely sweet. The beer looked majestic on pouring – chestnut brown with a rigid head and the first taste was excruciatingly sweet, proving nothing had changed at all. It had to be the sweetest beer I had drunk yet, even more so than the Mongozo Banaan (#1) on the very first step of this journey. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant, but the cloying nature and the caramelised residue it left on your teeth certainly meant it was never going to attain the highest score of the brown beers.

(Post-Script) – To continue the story of the castle at Ingelmunster, including a recent fire, please read Kasteel Triple (#181).

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#92 – Abbaye de Malonne Brune

#92 - Abbaye de Malonne Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3 %

There isn’t much more to be said about the Abbaye de Malonne which I feel I amply covered when introducing the blonde (#14). There is going to come a time when I run out of things to talk about a beer that is as indistinguished as this, but rather than rush off it would be worth taking some time to look at the range of brown beers, and in particular those from Belgium.

It would be easy to look down any supermarket aisle these days and see brown ales as the minority; beer made for the discerning gentlemen only, however historically beer has almost always been brown. This was until the 20th Century when technology started to improve. In fact in Belgium in the 1930s, 80% of beer was brown. I would hazard a guess that these days the variety of brown beer in Belgium would be as low as 25%.

Belgium was world famous for its early brown beers, with varieties such as oak aged browns from Oudenaarde, and Trappist dubbels (#16). As we have already seen in other tales though, the rise of blonde beers and lagers began as these were cheap and simple to make, and the brown beer began to fall in popularity. In fact, one might even argue that was it not commonplace these days for breweries to make a range of beers to satisfy all their customers then there may have been even less around. The quality though of course can be up for question in many of these, where brewers have found simple ways to turn blonde beers to brown with the simple switch of a button.

The above issue does illustrate a pertinent point however; that of brown beers being generally made from similar ingredients. Darker forms of malt, or a higher concentration of caramelised sugars can turn any beer brown, and these are often used as a replacement for hops to attain the preferred degree of bitterness. I have always been a massive fan of the Belgian brown ale, although have been quickly learning on my Odyssey that just because it is brown it does not guarantee quality. I would advocate that the Abbaye de Malonne Brune is a decent example of this.

It was a particularly dark beer, almost stout-like in appearance, although my final impression was that of prune juice. It was silky and soft on the palate, but the flavour never really got going and was particularly limited. Compare this to something like the complexity of a St. Bernardus Abt (#46), and you can understand where this beer sits in the pantheon of brown beers in Belgium – inherently pleasant but distinctly average – although better than the blonde of course.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht