Monthly Archives: July 2010

#119 – St. Feuillien Brune

#118 - St. Feuillien Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I was having a rough day and I needed to get out of the office. I don’t tend to take lunchbreaks that often but if I ever do, then it has to be somewhere special. That place is more often than not the Dovetail. I have already told the story of St. Feuillien (#29), and there are plenty more varieties from this brewery sitting waiting, so please permit me the chance to talk about the Dovetail – almost certainly the best Belgian beer bar in central London.

It’s a hard place to find, wedged into a small alley hidden away in atmospheric Clerkenwell. There are many good pubs around here, including the Gunmakers and the Crown, but none of these come close to offering the breadth of choice that the Dovetail can. The website claims to offer over a hundred different Belgian beers, although experience tells me that what they offer, they don’t always have in stock. Even so, any bar outside Belgium where you can sit and be waited on and choose your beer from a menu is a treasure for me. The food is pretty good also!

Timeout magazine labelled the Dovetail in 2007 as ‘The kind of place everyone wishes they had as their local’, which in a sense it is to me. I have been popping in here on and off for the last eight years; and in terms of appearance the place has barely changed. The décor is a mix between an Abbey refectory and beer museum, with the walls adorned with the kitsch tin beer plates which never cease to fascinate me. If you can wedge yourself in early, whether it’s a lunch-time or an evening, you can normally escape the feeling of the growing crowds and get carried away with the feeling you might just be outside of the UK.

As I sat and drank my St. Feuillien Brune though, the conversation soon revolved around to the place, and perhaps it isn’t just me nowadays that thinks the place is losing some of its charm. While it hasn’t sold itself out completely like the Lowlander in Covent Garden, the overall feel-good factor has certainly dissipated. I may have been spoilt in Belgium, but I do still expect the right glass, believe I have the right to be served with a smile, and not to have to pay a deposit for my glass on a Friday night. There also was a time when the bar staff were knowledgeable about the beers on offer but I guess those days have long gone with the preference for cheap labour. Nostalgia though just isn’t what it once was, and I should be grateful for what I have on my doorstep – which is still excellent beer.

The St. Feuillien Brune was no exception to this. It poured a majestic muddy chocolate colour, lighter than most brown beers, but finished with an exceptionally creamy fluffy head. If I hadn’t known where I was, I might have just assumed I had been brought a glass of cocoa. There was something somewhat comforting in the taste, hints of chocolate and malt, but as you finished her off she tended to lose her way a little. That said a very pleasant beer to spend on your lunch break, and as per usual I was dribbling and nodding off at my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

(Post-Script) – For a bit of family history from St. Feuillien see the review on the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, St. Feuillien

#118 – Kerelsbier Blond

#118 - Kerelsbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.4 %

The Kerelsbier Blond label doesn’t give much away, but if you dig a little deeper there is a bit of a story behind this fairly non-descript beer. If you know your Flemish, then the clue is in the title.

Kerelsbier essentially translates into English as ‘a beer for guys’, especially your tougher kind of guy! The hard nut that brewers Leroy were so inspired by was Nicolaas Zannekin; a Flemish peasant leader famous for struggling against the French in the Peasant revolts in Flanders during the mid 1300s. Zannekin had a number of early successes against the oppressive Count of Flanders, by taking Veurne, Ypres and Kortrijk, although King Charles IV of France eventually intervened, freeing the Count. What followed was the vicious Battle of Cassel in an area that is now just south of the Belgian border, where the incumbent French King, Philip VI quashed the revolt and brought Flanders under strict French control. Zannekin fought bravely and cleverly but was let down by his compatriots. He and over three thousand other men died valiantly in this battle.

The old brewery of Nevejan; local to the story above used to brew this beer, but sadly the brewery was demolished during the 1990s. Some small relics remain, but at least the Nevejan premises are now an impressive beer shop who still have a number of beers made for them by Leroy, including the popular Poperings Nunnebir and of course Kerelsbier.

The Kerelsbier Blond label may not highlight the true inspiration for the beer, but you clearly know you are in for a hoppy experience, and it doesn’t let you down on that front. At first taste I thought this was heading down the Orval (#37) road, albeit a little sweeter, and perhaps hints of honey and fruit. The longer it went on though the more insipid it became until it petered out into dismal mediocrity. This was no tough beer I’m afraid.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Leroy

#117 – Pave de L’Ours

#117 - Pave de L'Ours

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 8 %

Pave de L’Ours – a remarkably splendid name for a beer, and one which loses much of its meaning in translation. The ‘pave of the bear’ means very little in English, but in French tends to mean ‘to do more harm than good’. Its origin comes from a famous proverb by the renowned fabulist and poet Jean de La Fontaine entitled ‘The Bear and the Lover of Gardens’.

In a nutshell, two unlikely characters; a man and a bear, become friends and agree to look after each other following prolonged periods of loneliness and unhappiness. The man agrees to do the gardening while the bear does all the hunting. Perfect, what could possibly go wrong?

One day, when both the man and bear have finished their chores, they both relax in the garden, and while the man sleeps a fly begins to buzz infuriatingly above his head. Remembering his promise to look after the man, the bear decides to rid his friend of this nuisance thus allowing him to catch up on some uninterrupted sleep. He reaches out for the nearest item to him, a rather large paving stone, and in one unwieldy movement, throws it at the buzzing fly. The fly managed to avert itself from the hurtling piece of pavement, however the sleeping man was less lucky, his skull being crushed on the spot. A tragic tale of how harm can come even from the best of intentions.

This fable is a well known tale in France, and has even been the inspiration for a novel by Toshiyuki Horie, who brings the tragic story to a conclusion in Normandy. Bears are rare in Normandy, so Horie uses two friends, one a Frenchman, the other a Japanese translator.

I had been looking forward to drinking this strong honey beer for some time. What a complete disappointment to discover that the beer so romantically named, ended up as tragic as the tale on which it was based. I have never drunk the urine of a bear before (strangely) however if somebody had told me they had mixed bear piss with honey I wouldn’t have disbelieved them. It was foul. The one saving grace I suppose was that at least it did taste somewhat of honey. I couldn’t even finish it, which is just as well as I probably saved the bear from another deeply distressing manslaughter trial !

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Filed under 3, Bear, Belgian Strong Ale, Silenrieux

#116 – Stella Artois

#116 - Stella Artois

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Despite Belgium’s reputation for craft beer, bottom-fermented lagers like Stella Artois still make up about 75% of Belgian beer production, although Stella Artois is only the second most popular beer – Jupiler still tops the list. It is in the International market however that Stella Artois has excelled, and if you ask your average Englishmen to name a Belgian beer, then sadly most will probably say Stella Artois. It is actually so popular abroad that AB/InBev have launched a 4% version in the UK and Canada, but not in Belgium. This trend has become fairly common in recent years, particularly in the UK, where there seems a definite goal to lower the alcohol content in beer. Stella Artois is not known as Wife-beater for nothing you know!

A short history of Stella Artois can be easily gleaned from all the information on the label. Brewing started in the city of Leuven in 1366 (Anno 1366), in a local brewpub called Den Hoorn (look for the horn on the logo). The heritage of the beer is very Flemish, with the traditional architecture of the region incorporated into the cartouche on the label. The name may sound very French, but that’s largely because of the change in brewmaster in 1708, when Sebastian Artois joined the ranks. His name was added to the brewery in 1717.

The brewery may have existed for a long long time, but Stella Artois in its current style was only first introduced in 1926, and only in Canada. It was launched as a Christmas beer and the name Stella was chosen to represent the latin term for ‘star’, which of course also prevalently adorns the label. By 1930, the beer was introduced successfully into the UK market, and by the 1960s a million hectolitres were being annually produced. The beer has won numerous awards over the years (again look for the medals of excellence on the label), and grown in its reputation, so much so that in 2006 the brewery were churning out well over ten million hectolitres per year.

The success of Stella Artois clearly isn’t based on its flavour, but moreover clever marketing from a succession of global beer giants. I was pleasantly surprised however on drinking a bottle that I picked up very cheaply in a Belgian drankencentrale. It was smooth, honeyed and much better than the draught guff we get in the UK. That said I have a cellar full of interesting and delicious craft beers so not sure why I would want to drink this again?

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Filed under 6, InBev (Belgium), Pale Lager

#115 – Joseph

#115 - Joseph

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

Straight after Sara (#114) came Joseph – a kind of younger brother beer from Silenrieux. Where Sara is unusual in that it is made from buckwheat, the Joseph is made from spelt.

Spelt is often known as the ‘poor mans’ wheat’, and is an ancient form of the modern day crop. It does differ in its make-up, but probably only because over the years wheat has been so genetically modified whereas spelt remains fairly true to its heritage. Spelt was the common crop across Europe as far back as the Bronze Age, and survived in abundance right through to medieval times. Only then did farmers began to fiddle with it to ensure a higher level of grain per ear, and therefore better returns. This evolutionary journey is well reflected by the latin term for wheat – ‘spelta’.

Spelt was very easy to grow, in that it did not require particularly fertile land, and inevitably required very little attention to keep it flourishing. Its flavour is often described as nuttier and sweeter, so you wonder what led to the desire to modify it. It may have been much rougher than wheat, and the husks much tougher, but spelt has also been found to contain much more protein, which is one reason for modern day farmers to begin to re-introduce spelt. It is healthier in that it contains more nutrients caused by being genetically unmodified and being grown organically. It is however a popular misconception that spelt is gluten free. It isn’t – although Silenrieux produce two buckwheat beers for this purpose (#110, #114).

The end result is to all intents and purposes a wheat beer – it’s just of course made with spelt. The specimen is pale and fairly cloudy, although the brewers do lightly filter the end product and additionally referment within the bottle. The taste was surprisingly fruity, yet more fizzy and refreshing than your average wheat beer. I really enjoyed this and yet again wished it was a 33cl bottle as it was over so quick. A nice end to a long days driving.

(Post-Script) – I assume the name Joseph is derived from spelt being especially prevalent in biblical times – unless anyone else knows otherwise?

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#114 – Sara Blonde

#114 - Sara Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

I have only just drunk the Sara Brune (#110), and so quickly onto the Sara Blonde, and a rare foray into the world of farming. It would be extremely churlish to drink another buckwheat beer and not know anything about its key ingredient.

The most important point to make is that buckwheat is not actually a cereal or a grass, and therefore not a member of the wheat family, although it does share many similar properties. It is for this reason it is said to belong to the Pseudocereal family, and is much rarer than wheat or barley. Other examples of Pseudocereals include amaranth and quinoa.

These pseudocereals are mostly used nowadays as they still produce a malt that can produce the mash in brewing, but it does not contain gliadin or hordein, which combine to form gluten. People who are sensitve to glycoproteins or who might be coeliacs are able to drink this beer and avoid the common symptoms which wheat, barley and rye can bring about.

It is important to mention that not all Silenrieux beers are made with buckwheat, and therefore not all will be suitable for gluten-free diets, although the Sara beers do hit that spot. Sarasin is the french word for buckwheat, which is how Silenrieux came up with the name, although the name in English originally derives from the word ‘beech wheat’ as the triangular seeds closely resemble those of the beech nut.

Disappointingly I had picked this beer up out of date again, and unlike the darker Belgian beers you need to be a bit more vigilant with lighter beers as they don’t keep as well. The Sara Blonde was extremely pale, petite and very crisp which was welcome after the disaster that was the last beer! (#113). She was very wheaty and ended up just like the farmers girl I had expected to her be – plenty of substance, but otherwise plain. This is though a pretty decent beer for anyone who needs to control or avoid gluten in their diet.

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Filed under 6, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#113 – Helleketelbier

#113 - Helleketelbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I had just tried my first beer from De Bie, and as another one of their beers looked remarkably past its best before date, I thought it might be wise to try another. Where I was reasonably satisfied with the Hellekapelle (#112), I was much less impressed with the Helleketelbier or as it translates into English, the Hell’s Kettle Beer – clearly the cauldron wonderfully depicted on the label.

On first glance you might begin to associate beers from De Bie with witches, broomsticks, fire and brimstone, however many of their other beers seem more closely associated with bees, which is exactly what the name of the brewery translates as. Stef Orbie, (there is a clue in the name somewhere) the chief brewmaster started to brew beer at his farmhouse in Watou in 1992, and eventually converted his property into a fully functioning, yet wholly rustic, brewery. You will have heard of the town of Watou before as this neat little brewery lived just down the road from Van Eecke (#108) and St. Bernardus (#46). Things have moved on since then however, and De Bie moved out of Watou and to nearby Waregem where they have upped the stakes in terms of the quality of the beer produced.

It may have been I had tried one of the older batch as I was not at all impressed with this brew. The pour was my first concern in that the sediment that sunk eerily to the bottom of the glass was definitely green and not unlike mucus. It was so bad in fact that I decided to strain it back into another glass which served only to dilute the gunk into further grimness which in turn diluted into the beer. I let it settle for a while, although am sure this did the beer no favours whatsoever. Once I got round to tasting it I had quite lost the desire. It was largely flat and uninspiring, tasting as if it might have been diluted with water. It was akin to a weak English summer ale, which at 7% I was not expecting. The sediment had caused the beer to cloud, and I struggled gainfully to finish it. Not good at all; although if I see it again, I am prepared to give the newer batch another go.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Cat, De Bie