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

#112 – Hellekapelle

#112 - Hellekapelle

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Hellekapelle translates into English as Hells Chapel, and the theme is well illustrated on the label – the design showing a witch on a broomstrick with her cat, flying over a graveyard and the aforementioned Chapel of Hell. Most beers from the De Bie brewery have this kind of Halloween theme, but also Hellekapelle is the name of a bar that belongs to the De Bie brewery.

One has to go back a few years though to recall the original Hellekapelle café run by De Bie which had a remarkable reputation for the macabre. The café got its name from the old phrase ‘Where God builds a church, the Devil builds a chapel’, whereby in olden times the church seriously saw cafes serving alcohol as deplorable covens of wickedness. Rather aptly, De Bie constructed a ramshackle chapel into a homely place to serve beer and good local food, and it became something of a haunt (excuse the pun) for locals and travellers alike. The interior décor was tacklessly festooned with any Halloween themed paraphernalia however the atmosphere remained. Sadly the café in Watou was closed in October in 2006, however De Bie have tried to keep the tradition alive with the new bar in Waregem.

Sadly I would never make it to the famous Hellekapelle but of course I did get an opportunity to dip my hand into the cauldron and try the beer. You would expect a beer of this name to be dark and menacing, but it was ironically a refreshing flowery blonde, which was great on its own, but did not really complement the meal I drunk it with. It was extremely pale in colour and even thinner on the tongue but somehow remained flavoursome to the end. I reckon this would make a nice session beer on a summers afternoon. I was ready try the next satanic offering from De Bie right up next (#113).

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Cat, De Bie

#111 – Maredsous 8

#111 - Maredsous 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

A fair way back on my Odyssey I got to try the Maredsous Tripel 10 (#44), and touched a little upon the history of the wonderful Abbey hidden away in the Namur countryside. I was able to pay a visit while wandering around Belgium looking for more beers for the cellar, so I thought I might as well bring the history bang up to date, as I failed to mention before that the Abbey at Maredsous has more to its history than just religion, beer and cheese!

In 1903 the St. Joseph School of Applied Arts and Crafts was officially opened. It seemed originally intent on serving as a repository for poor local children to hone their skills in a number of vocational trades, such as carpentry, cobbling or plumbing, but it ended up being purely a centre for fine arts and crafts. High quality works were produced and displayed here at first, leading on to the commissioning of pieces of art for paying customers. Although the 1914-1918 war had a profound effect on the business it did continue on, though changing its focus more to the training of artists rather than skilled craftsmen. The international reputation started to flourish and eventually the eclectic school merged to form the IATA (Technical Institute of Arts and Crafts).

This daily activity still lives on now in the buildings of the Abbey, and anybody passing by is well advised to pop into the St. Joseph visitors centre and have a quick nose around. It certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it’s a welcome diversion from the oh-so-expensive gift sets of Maredsous on sale in the predictably tacky beer shop. I would recommend the cheese though – but that’s probably another story I will save for the final Maredsous beer.

This little Saturday evening tipple was a very pleasant surprise for me after my original disappointment with the Maredsous Tripel. She was rich and dark and full of good old fashioned spicy twang. I would go as far as calling it delicious. It was strong in all the right places and stuck there right to the end. I thought that with the hangover I had today that I would be making a mistake drinking this, but if ever a beer qualified as ‘hair of the dog’ this one certainly was going for first prize.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Duvel Moortgat

#110 – Sara Brune

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

Silenrieux is a rare breed among breweries in Belgium, promoting a range of traditional beers that are made from the most natural of ingredients. The brewery formed in 1995 in the Ardennes countryside after the locals had spent a fair amount of time in the local library and had begun to discover that the area in which he lived was once rife with two rarer types of grain – namely buckwheat and spelt. They also discovered a history of local brewers long since out of business who had used these grains to produce beer. The mission was now to recreate them; firstly by growing the grains, and then turning the harvest into a range of drinks.

With the help of a number of local authorities including the Director of Agriculture the brewers were able to glean the farming know-how, and through liaising closely with the professors at the University of Louvain was able to rework ancient recipes into a modern day solution. They then set about the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of getting a loan to fund the whole enterprise.

The money soon began to trickle in though, as the quality of the beer became known, and the switch started to trigger in customers that here was a very natural beer. The story reached even greater success with the Sara and Joseph (#115) launching as truly organic beers in 2000. This meant following stricter guidance on the production of the ingredients, but this move towards producing ‘superbeers’ has really paid off. What used to be a rustic farmyard is now a modern brewery which is reeling off 70,000 gallons of excellent beer each year, and exporting as far and wide as much of Western Europe and the United States. You can even drive by and drink the beers on the premises at the bar-restaurant should you wish.

This Sara Brune was picked up in a local beer store in Couvin and drunk in the safety of my own home. I was very interested to discover what a buckwheat beer tastes like, but like most 25cl beers it was all over so soon. It was though pleasantly crisp and light for a dark beer, and fairly spicy on the tongue. I wouldn’t be in a rush to drink another but felt strangely liberated to be drinking an organic beer !

(Post-Script) – Silenrieux also make a Sara Blonde (#114), and this report highlights how the beer got its name.

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#109 – Pecheresse

#109 - Pecheresse

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 2.5 %

Some people after a severe night on the tiles (of the Scrabble variety of course) take a glass of water to bed with them to cure the inevitable hangover. Belgian beer connoisseurs of course, of which I was now surely worthy of calling myself, pick up their nearest fruit beer and down that with a paracetamol or two. The Pecheresse by Lindemans weighed in at a meagre 2.5%, which would be a perfect nightcap.

Pecheresse is a beer created by adding peach juice to the typical Lindemans lambic base. It’s a formula which has tended to work well for Lindemans over the years. The name is an interesting take on the the French term ‘peche’ for peach, and ‘pecheresse’ which translates as a female sinner; who we see draped exotically across the typically attractive Lindemans label. The message is clearly one of seduction, although at this late stage of the night it was certainly more about sedation for me.

The idea for Pecheresse may well have come from the medieval French play of the same name, which tells the story of a young girl who after enduring watching her parents die under the weight of extreme poverty, becomes tempted by Satan to prostitute herself to a life of vice in order to give her mother and father a better life. Good of course prevails over evil, just as it does in the Joan Crawford and Clark Gable film of the same name (The Laughing Sinners) which was released in 1931, where the title character finally chooses strength of moral character over that of fleeting erotic desire.

A label depicting a semi-naked woman would normally have to work a lot harder to tempt me to drink this kind of rubbish, but it was late, I was away from the wife, and I’d had about the equivalent of ten pints. I have since confessed my sins,  and to be fair I quite enjoyed it at the time. Fortunately when I woke in the morning with a pulsing head, and a mouth like a bear’s armpit, the hazy recollection of a brief dalliance with this harlot of the night had been consigned to the recycling. Nothing more needs to be said.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans

#108 – Het Kapittel Dubbel

#108 - Het Kapittel Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I started to outline the Het Kapittel beers right at the beginning of this journey when I tried the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). That seems like an age ago now, but I would like to revisit the history of the Van Eecke brewery.

Although the Van Eecke family only started to brew in Watou from 1862, the actual premises date back as far as 1629 where the small farm brewery sat adjacent to a local castle owned by the Earls of Watou. This flourished in the local community until the French Revolution, when of course the buildings were first plundered, looted and then burnt to the ground. The Earls of Watou escaped by fleeing to England, and thus it was left to a local farmer to revive not the castle, but the brewery. The motto at the time in the village was “Revolt all you want, but we still need beer here!” – wise words indeed.

The brewery became the ‘Gouden Leeuw’ (the Golden Lion), and despite the proximity of Watou to the French border, the locals were very keen to keep the Flemish name. In France, as in England, the Golden Lion was a very popular inn name, translating as ‘Au Lion d’Or’, which is pronounced exactly the same as ‘au lit on dort’ –which means ‘in the bed one sleeps’. This would have been a much more apt title if they had kept the French translation as the local farmer turned the brewery into a proper inn with rooms for travellers. The inn stayed true to the village motto and continued to quench the thirst of its locals until 1862 when the Van Eecke family took over the brewing and began to push the boundaries on improving the stock of top fermenting ales. The range of beers, especially the Het Kapittel beers remain amongst Belgium’s finest.

The Het Kapittel Dubbel however was about the seventh beer of the evening and therefore I couldn’t tell you in great detail exactly what made this beer so nice. It was about 4am, and we were on somthing like our fifth game of Scrabble, which was naturally held up while we talked utter rubbish and fawned over this beer. I recall it was dark, delicious and definitely one I would try again sober – definitely much better than the Pater.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Van Eecke