Monthly Archives: May 2010

#104 – Brugge Tripel

#104 - Brugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.2 %

Beer two of the night, and another Palm Tripel style beer to follow straight after the Steenbrugge (#103). Andrew my trusty beer companion swore this was an absolute classic and had been long looking forward to introducing me to it, but for me it didn’t taste much different to the Steenbrugge. In that respect it was a nice solid beer, but whether I could tell them apart again – gruit or no gruit – is questionable. Maybe I should have tried them alongside each other but then that would have been far too geeky. We were drinking for pleasure after all. The packaging is similar, the name is missing a ‘steen’ and even the public seem to agree though. The Good Belgian Beer Guide rates both at an unremarkable 3/5, and if you go by the popular ‘RateBeer’ website, the Steenbrugge attracted 3.19 as a rating, as opposed to 3.16 for the Brugge Tripel. If it wasn’t for the drop in 0.3% ABV for the latter, I might be less guarded in restraining my cynicism. There is a bit of history to the beer as well though which is worth telling.

Brugge Tripel is the beer of Bruges,and allegedly the taste of a city, although it hasn’t always been this way. In 1491 Bruges was a dry city, after the Sheriff decided no citizen was allowed to buy beer in Bruges any longer. This lasted for five long years before eventually the citizens rightly rebelled. Prohibition of a kind was lifted, and Brugge Tripel was born – the people were so excited they decided to name it after their great city.

Ironically of course, Brugge Tripel is now brewed by Palm, but it wasn’t always this way – there was a time when it was brewed within the city walls of Bruges. It all began at the T’Hamerken tavern in around the 1580s, which became a de facto brewery for almost four hundred years until the financial demise in 1976, whence it became the Gouden Boom brewery (Golden Tree). From 1902 the current premises in the centre of Bruges were home to a range of local beers, including both the Brugge Tripel and Steenbrugge beers, however the rot set in once the beers were moved out to Palm, and only recently the whole brewery was completely demolished – just the large copper kettle surviving the holocaust. It is worth taking a peek at the photos on the Belgian Beer Board website.

So my final thoughts before memories of the evening become too cloudy. A nice enjoyable Tripel, although having recently enjoyed a weekend in Bruges I am not wholly sure I can totally agree with the brewers view that Brugge Tripel “truly evokes the very best of Bruges”.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

#103 – Steenbrugge Tripel

#103 - Steenbrugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Having already told the story of St. Arnoldus and his waffle-stick (#26), its time to talk about another thing Steenbrugge beers are associated with – gruit, and the best way to do that is to take a little journey back in time.

Gruit, or grut as it is sometimes spelt is a medieval mixture of various herbs which were used for bittering and flavouring beer. It was clearly the precursor to hops and could include almost anything that would give flavour and conserve the life of the brew. Again, its worth reiterating that beer was often preferred to water in these days as it was a lot safer to drink! The composition of the gruit could be almost anything, but often included gale, mugwort, yarrow, heather, juniper, ginger, caraway, aniseed – you get the picture.

It was around the 15th Century that hops became the preferred agent used to make beer, and there are a number of reasons that have been cited – some of which are more likely that others.

Firstly, is the association with the Reformation in Europe. At this time the churches were monopolising the beer production, and Protestant princes in Europe saw the advent of hops as a way of cutting down the revenue of the Roman Catholic church. It has also been posited that it may have been a social measure taken by the more austere Protestants to calm down the more stimulating Catholic beers, by ensuring the sedative effects of hops. Although a touch spurious, certainly around this time the Bavarian Purity Laws were in abundance in Europe which as we know (#35) limited the brewing of beer to only key ingredients like malt or barley, water and hops.

Two much more likely reasons remain though. Firstly, there were often ‘incidents’. Accounts abound of beer being spiced with deadly nightshade or henbane. Local governments and lords needed their workers alive and while hops were suddenly in abundance this was much more satisfactory. Another much more likely reason is that hops tend to work much better and more consistently than gruit. This was evidenced in the late 19th Century when India Pale Ale was made with higher concentrations of hops to keep better on long sea journeys.

Either way certain brewers, especially those of the craft variety in Belgium and the USA, have recently experimented with re-substituting hops with gruit mixtures. Steenbrugge beers are one such example. Hops are still used but the Palm brewery has been keen to remarket these beers as containing the famous mixture. To be fair you can hardly say the effect was overly noticeable. I suspect this is a nice little marketing ploy to discern it from the beer I drunk next. It was a pleasant tasting strong tripel which went down extremely well, and it would end up being the first of six new beers I would try tonight, not to mention those home bankers I had already tried. It was to be quite a hangover !

1 Comment

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

#102 – Echt Kriekenbier

#102 - Echt Kriekenbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Echt Kriekenbier is a famous traditional Flemish cherry ale made by Verhaeghe, and is based on the brew Vichtenaar (#146). After being matured in oak casks for about eight months, in a similar style to the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), a batch of the Vichtenaar is not taken for sale, but is left to mature in the oak casks and filled with very local and very sour cherries. A selection of different aged casks of this fine concoction are then blended together (usually between one and three years) and then bottled for our delectation.

It is worth making the point here and now that this is a kriekenbier and not a kriek! There is a subtle difference as all aficionados will tell you, in that one is not officially allowed to call a kriek a kriek unless it contains lambic beer. Kriekenbier refers to any other possible fusion – which I suppose could include steeping in sour ales, stout or even wheat beer. Like the Bacchus Frambozenbier (#38) the Echt Kriekenbier is mixed with an Oud Bruin. It is worth making the distinction as other sour ales exist which are known as red ales, such as the Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105), also from Verhaeghe.

The Echt Kriekenbier is an impressive brew, actually not unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru, although there is slightly less of it in the 250 ml bottles. The Echt in the title refers to the adjective in the German and Dutch languages meaning ‘genuine’ or ‘authentic’. My mum will vouch for this through her screwed up face on having a sip of what I cheekily told her was a cherry beer. At least I didn’t have to waste any more, and it’s a good sign as if my mum likes a beer you know its probably bad !

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Brewers, Lion, Sour Ale, Verhaeghe

#101 – Urthel Samaranth

#101 - Urthel Samaranth

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.5 %

Two very special people are behind the range of Urthel beers – Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden. Hildegard is the brewmaster and Bas manages the affairs and illustrates the beers, including the impressive website. Proving that even I can be a sexist male at times, I was surprised to find that Hildegard was the lady of the house.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Hildegard actually began studying industrial engineering in Leuven, specialising in all things ‘brewery’. After about four years teaching young engineers and leading them around various breweries, she let her entrepreneurial nature lead her to create a range of high quality Flemish beers with her partner Bas. Since the spring of 2000 the Urthel beers have been going strong, surprising people with their quality, and introducing the world to a myriad of strange stories and characters. These are predominantly the domain of artist, illustrator and storyteller Bas, who still romanticizes over a world of miniature gnomes.

The Urthel beers were originally brewed for Hildegard and Bas by the Van Steenberge brewery, however they have since moved these north of the border into the Netherlands at the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven, where our intrepid couple both worked and met. The spiritual home of the beers though is in Ruiselede in Belgium under the company name de Leyerth. Certainly by the time I had started my adventure these beers were brewed in Belgium, and if anyone cares to argue I will just drink extra at the end!

Hildegard and Bas, though based in Ruiselede, can often be found showcasing their beers in North America where the Urthel range is extremely popular. There are also plenty more Urthel beers to come and thus I will eventually get round to detailing the adventures of the Erthels from the Valley of the Ley, behind the mountains of Rooverth.

As for the Urthel Samaranth, this was actually a beer created and brewed specifically to celebrate the wedding of Hildegard and Bas in September 2002, and is because of its strength known as a Quadrium in the folklore of the Erthels. Whatever possesses anyone to drink beer this strong at a wedding certainly defies belief as my tasting will testify one quiet night indoors, miles away from the land of the Erthels.

Samaranth clearly is an Erthel with a reputation; an elder, just like the mate of your dad who can stand at the bar and drink eight pints in the last two hours like its water. He is most definitely somebody to look up to. I had already supped the St. Bernardus Wit (#100), and uncapped the Samaranth as I reclined on the sofa, eyes fixated on a Frank Capra movie. It was to be a critical error of judgment as twenty minutes later I was still on my hands and knees scrubbing Vanish into the sofa and carpet. This truly was a badboy!

Once I finally got down to drinking it, I can honestly say it blew me away. In no word of an exaggeration for every mouthful (or should I say sipful) a plume of fumes would emanate from my nose. I am not a big fan of brandy which this reminded me of, and while tasting a little medicinal and lacking the finer qualities of say the St. Bernardus Abt (#46), it certainly outshone the similar strength Bush Ambree (#3). I would definitely get this again, as any beer that has the temerity to bully me in my own house is something to be treasured.

(Post-Script) – the fumes that emanated from my nose was an interesting was of semi-interest, as I later discovered that the character Samaranth was a dragon in a fantasy novel by James A Owen.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Brewers, de Koningshoeven