Daily Archives: April 16, 2010

#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.

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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).

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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.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht