Monthly Archives: August 2010

#125 – Campus

#125 - Campus

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

Campus is an orphan beer. This is a term I tend to use for those beers who have survived on in the new world despite losing their parental home. The foster parents in this case are Huyghe who rescued a number of small local breweries through acquisition in the 1990’s.  Biertoren from the town of Kampenhout, were the unfortunate original mother and father.

Biertoren translates fairly easily into English as the Beer Tower, and was a title used when the Smedts family first began brewing in a property previously owned by the Duke of Arenburg around Rotselaar. The place was already loosely titled ‘the tower’ after the local castles main keep, and so it didn’t take much imagination to finally agree on ‘beer tower’. The Smedts at the time were very much leading a collective of locals in producing the beer, and eventually common ground was lost, with a number of other partners choosing to set up other breweries.

In the 1930’s the Smedts family were forced to move due to the high rents placed upon them, and they found the empty brewery buildings in Kampenhout which in 1939 would begin to serve as the home of Biertoren. These buildings already had a rich brewing history since around 1840, and a range of Campus beers were added to the menu. The beer gets its name from the town of Kampenhout, and the label bedecked with the university mortar board is an apt one, in that it reflects the student spirit which is centred around Leuven.

If I ever get the dubious honour of drinking another beer from this orphan stable then I will detail a little more of the recent history at Kampenhout, although to be fair it’s fairly uninteresting, just as was the Campus beer itself. It’s important to discern this amber brew from the Campus Premium (lager), and the Campus Gold (blonde) which by all accounts are even worse. This beer should have come with a sheet of muslin, to enable the pour – never have I seen so much crap in a beer! After three attempts at some strategic decanting, in which I lost about a quarter of the volume I was able to start drinking. Amber, fizzy and decidedly herbal were the best descriptors I could use. It did improve as I neared the canal sediment, but by that stage I had definitely decided to give this one up for adoption.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#124 – Winterkoninck

#124 - Winterkoninck

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

As we have already ascertained, the Antwerp beer scene is synonymous with De Koninck (#122), although it would be most useful to find out quite how this happened with another history lesson.

The De Koninck story begins as far back as 1827 when a certain Joseph Henricus De Koninck purchased an old coach house which straddled the border post between Antwerp and Berchem. The border was marked by a solitary stone boundary post, on which was sculpted an open hand. The coach house, known as the De Plaisante Hof, was a popular stopping point for travellers who would pull up at the sculptured hand and pay a toll to cross into Antwerp.

Joseph Henricus sadly though was not long for the world, and no sooner than 1833 his widow Elisabeth Cop had remarried a warehouse foreman named Johannes Verliet who decided to convert the coach house into a brewery. The inspiration was the stone boundary post on the roadside, and the new venture became known as the Brouwerij de Hand. Since that very day, the same hand has graced the labels of the beers that have come from this historic brewery.

The fact that the brewery is not known as Verliet may have something to do with the fact that in 1845, Carolus De Koninck, the eldest son of Joseph Henricus took over the business. The place has been in the family ever since, and since 1912 has been called the Brasserie Charles de Koninck. The story of the next hundred years I will happily retell on a later beer, but anybody keen on dropping by the brewery can still see the original stone post which after years gathering dust beneath the Vleeshuis is now proudly and rightfully on show in the brewery courtyard.

If the previous tipple, St Feuillien Noel (#123) was the epitomy of an idyllic white Christmas, then I am afraid the Winterkoninck was of the regular overcast Christmas variety, complete with grey skies and miserable relatives. It had a very dreary amber complexion, with a tacky synthetic aftertaste. While not being horrible in any way, I was just disappointed to follow the St. Feuillien with this. It really was the slushy mess that follows a white Christmas.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, De Koninck

#123 – St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

#123 - St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

We already know who St. Feuillien was (#29), and that beer was brewed in the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. Production did stop here in 1796 though when the French Revolution did its worst, but the story and beers of St. Feuillien continue to live on, and that is largely due to Stephanie Friart who resurrected the St. Feuillien brewing tradition in 1873 in a new set of premises on the edge of Roeulx. The Brasserie Friart was born.

The brewery held on to this title for well over a century until in 2000 the fourth generation of Friarts decided to revert back to the monastic title of Brasserie St. Feuillien, to match the name of their popular signature beers. It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, with the brewery being shut for production between 1980 and 1988 when all brewing was undertaken on their behalf at Du Bocq. I can verify there is still a working relationship taking place between these two, as on a visit to the Du Bocq brewery recently the main beer in production was the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29).

The recent success of the brewery since re-opening has been clearly evident in sales, especially at a time when the powerhouses of beer production in Belgium are putting pressure on the independent brewers. Much of this success sits with the industry and application of the founders great-grand niece, Dominique Friart who in her role as Managing Director for the business has kept the home fires burning while travelling the world and marketing the beers. If ever there was an example of a successful family run business – this is it.

Anyway, I was thirsty, and on my third or fourth beer of the evening when chance led to the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel cooling nicely in the fridge. I had for some reason expected this to be a run of the mill addition to the evening, but I was completely mistaken. This was easily the best Christmas beer I had drunk yet. Dark, thick and warmly satisfying – the perfect addition to a winter’s night. It wasn’t perhaps as complex as a Trappistes Rochefort, yet was equally as nourishing. I will be seeking this out by the crate-load on my next Christmas jaunt to the continent.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, St. Feuillien

#122 – De Koninck Tripel

#122 - De Koninck Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you asked me to describe what Antwerp means to me I would probably say three things. Diamonds – shouldn’t it have been Antwerp where James Bond had the infamous fight in the lift in Diamonds are Forever? Nausea – the worst whitey I have ever had in my life was after an errant Norwegian persuaded me one fateful night to stick a wad of snus on my gums (which I forgot about until the headspins began) . Finally, it has to be the Kulminator bar – the best ever Chimay Grand Reserve (#45) aged and served from the cellar. The hangover though was crippling.

Ask any Antwerpian however and you might get a different answer. The Schelde – the famous river which dissects the town is the lifeblood of the city. The Zoo – apparently so? The most likely answer though would be De Koninck beer. Probably no beer in Belgium is so intrinsically linked to a city than De Koninck. The beer started being brewed here as far back as 1933, and has been as popular with locals ever since.

The phenomenon may be more of a regional thing though. On my wanderings through Belgium I rarely see it out of Antwerp, which considering 114,000 hectolitres is produced annually is quite remarkable. The brewery reckons 35% leaves the country though, most to the Dutch, and you have probably as much chance of seeing it in Amsterdam as you will in Brussels. Go to Antwerp however and you have no chance of escaping the influence. In any bar, it really is a part of the furniture.

Recent events are worrying the locals though, with Duvel Moortgat only a few days ago acquiring 100% of the shares in De Koninck. It is fair to say that De Konick have had better days – there was a time when they would brew up to 140,000 hectolitres a year, but their beers now only equate to about half a percent of the overall Belgian beer market, and as the world recession hits us all, it is wielding its stick particularly on café culture in Belgium. Drinkers have less money, and as De Koninck is very much an Antwerp café beer (present in at least a hundred cafes in Antwerp alone), it is a worrying sign. La Chouffe is an example of a relationship with Duvel Moortgat that has worked well and we keep our fingers crossed that De Koninck is able to keep its head above the froth.

As for the De Koninck Tripel, which came highly recommended I might add, I would bestow a consistent 7. As the beer is made with biological South American cane sugar, as opposed to the typical Belgian white sugar, I had expected a sweet, thick glutenous beverage, but it was much lighter, and I just couldn’t recreate the head that dominates the advertising. If it meant buying a crate to keep De Koninck from selling up (and out) though, then I’d be happy keeping this as a safety beer.

(Post-Script) – Antwerp has never been renowned as the party capital of Europe, but I seem to have had my fair share of debauchery here. It was only after racking my brains further on what Antwerp means to me, that I recalled getting detained by the police on a long walk back to my hotel. I had rather unintelligently chosen the main police office wall to urinate against. I have made better decisions in my life.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, De Koninck

#121 – La Binchoise Brune

#121 - La Binchoise Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.2 %

The most striking thing about the standard beers from La Binchoise is the funny looking gentlemen on the labels. Yes, the ones that look like they have just finished a medieval game of water polo. There surely can’t be any better place to start.

These strange clown-like characters are called Gilles, and are the most definitive image of the festivities that take place at the annual Carnival of Binche. The town where the La Binchoise brewery is based is not a big place at all, yet this festival is famous throughout the world – so much so that recently it was proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Quite a mouthful to live up to!

The festivities can often last up to seven weeks, but the main focus of the carnival takes place during the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday leading up to Ash Wednesday. Sundays are generally marching and dancing, with Mondays often descending into a late night pub crawl. The real colour and fun though begins on Shrove Tuesday. While we in the UK blandly knock up a few pancakes after a long day at work, the Gilles of Binche are up at the crack of dawn slipping into their vibrant costumes, wax masks and clogs. They then wait for the legendary tambourine men to come and fetch them and lead them down to the main square for the real fun and games. Plenty more dancing and marching usually happens in the morning, to ward off the evil spirits of course, then in the afternoon the Gilles find their large decorative ostrich feather hats and proceed throughout the town pelting locals and revellers alike with oranges. You couldn’t script it if you tried. The pelting of fruit is a largely popular part of the fun, although in recent years the high spirits have been somewhat frowned upon with increased reports of damage to property and injuries to bystanders.

Either way, I have heard enough to make me check my calendar for the next one – I have always been game for a bit of a food fight. I’m not sure I would make the trek over for the beer alone though. It didn’t start well with me on my hands and knees once again scrubbing beer out of the lounge rug due to my inability to prepare for a gusher. Once I was back on the sofa, the head had dissipated and I had quite lost the moment. She was a thin beer, and seemed a little weak for the stated ABV. There are plenty better browns than this although it is unlikely to offend anybody, unless of course half of it ends up on your best rug.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Dubbel, La Binchoise

#120 – Cochonnette

#120 - Cochonnette

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

You need to be a bit careful when you try and find out information on this beer – the first website you come across might not be something you particularly want to let your kids stumble upon. I learnt French at school, badly, but haven’t had a lot of opportunity since to hone my skills. When I drank this beer I was safely and surely under the assumption that ‘cochon’ meant some kind of suckling pig, and that a cavorting half naked pig on the label was just a female version – a cochonnette. I didn’t really give it a second thought. The fact that innocent research in my lunch break led me to having to explain to my colleagues that I was not some kind of filth peddlar meant that there had to be more to this beer than first met the eye.

It turns out that the term ‘cochonnette’ is not a particularly flattering one. Vapeur Cochonnette essentially translates into ‘Steam Slut’. Now go back to the pig on the label and look in more detail and you start to get the picture. Although Vapeur started brewing in 1984, it was 1992 when the brewmaster commissioned a local artist to design a label for the Cochonne beer. The result was two different labels, each with a naked pig drying themselves, with just a towel covering their modesty. The ‘Steam bitch’ was born, and although it was risque the public loved it – so much so that all future incarnations of these beers still have the same theme. Over the years, the pigs have worn lingerie, cavorted on bar stools, worn see-through T-shirts and donned saucy uniforms but the sales have rolled in. The Cochonne beer has remained the same, yet reincarnated itself from label to label, picking up the Cochonnette term along the way, and various other marketable guises.

The beer I got hold of was the Cochonnette with the ‘slut’ on the label busting out of what looks like some kind of nurses uniform. It is universally the same beer as the other varieties – a strong spicy amber beer with plenty of herbs and plenty of punch. It didn’t really work for me though. It was trying to do too much and seemed to forget that beer is supposed to be enjoyable. It may just be that too much effort has gone into the marketing and not enough into the beer, although the same allegations could be made at probably 95% of the international beer market today.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Pig, Vapeur