Monthly Archives: September 2010

#134 – Keizer Karel Rouge

#134 - Keizer Karel Rouge

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

We first met Charles Quint (Keizer Karel Blonde #39) 95 beers ago. That seems an age ago now, and many historical figures have come and gone since, but good old Charles always liked a beer, and this is partly why he is so revered by the Belgian beer community.

We already know that Charles spent most of his time in Spain, but he also liked to get out and travel across his Empire, especially finding time to get home. Legend has it on one such night in a little village called Olen near Antwerp, he found an inn serving his favourite tipple. The innkeeper brought a mug of beer to his table and held it by its handle as he handed it across. Charles felt it was inappropriate to handle it in this way, and so asked the innkeeper to return with the beer in a mug with two handles. The patient landlord duly returned carrying the heavy cup with both hands, still leaving Charles with no free handle to take the glass from him. Charles is said to have then paid the innkeeper handsomely in gold to go away and have a cup made with three handles – especially for him to be able to accept the drink like a gentleman.

If you go to Olen, there is a statue of this famous beer glass, and it is possible in the right places to drink Keizer Karel/Charles Quint beers out of this three-eared style tankard. The locals have also, rightly or wrongly, garnered quite a reputation for their lack of intellectual prowess. All this because of a 16th Century innkeeper!

The beer itself wasn’t unlike the last one I had drunk (#133), in that it was dark, malty and of an aniseed persuasion, which to be honest I certainly wasn’t expecting. It was eminently more fizzy though and once through the thickset head, it ended up being a perfect supper time tipple.

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1 Comment

Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Haacht

#133 – Vicaris Generaal

#133 - Vicaris Generaal

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.8 %

The beers of the ‘vicar’ brand have been lovingly created and commissioned by Vincent Dilewyns since 1999 although de Proef have been brewing them on their behalf since then. So popular though have these beers become that by the end of the year, the Dilewyns family will have taken over the brewing themselves in a converted facility in Dendermonde.

Beer runs through the veins of this family, but that’s probably another story. What is intriguing me though is what inspired Mr Dilewyns to pursue a range of ecclesiastically titled beverages?

Vicaris Generaal, actually translates into ‘vicar general’, and refers to the deputy of a bishop. The vicar general wields the baton on all administrative duties in his diocese, and holds considerable executive power. He is appointed by the bishop himself, and should the bishop die or vacate his role, the vicar general is then immediately terminated. The next incumbent bishop is then expected to appoint his own vicar general. The only real stipulations on a candidate is that they must have a minimum of thirty years knowledge of, or a degree in, theology or canon law. Nothing to do with beer as far as I can see.

Forgetting the religious connotations for a moment, I am beginning to notice that if a beer is made at de Proef, it is normally of a high standard. I get the impression they don’t just brew any old rubbish. The Vicaris Generaal certainly is no exception. Settling back on the sofa with a black and white movie, this was a decent accompaniment. It was dark, mysterious and very strong, with definite licorice and malt that seeped deep into your bones. It remained fairly bitter till the end, and at one stage I faintly hoped that it might sweeten but it never really did. Certainly a well-made brew and full of character but perhaps just a bit too stoutish for me to command my more generous grading.

3 Comments

Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Proef, Horse

#132 – Yersekes Mosselbier

#132 - Yersekes Mosselbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

I first saw this beer right at the beginning of my pilgrimage sitting on a deserted dusty shelf in the great beer warehouse that is Beers of Europe. A beer made with mussels, now that needed trying! It was only on a latter trip to Dinant that I began to fully appreciate the Belgian fetish for bivalve molluscs.

Whether the locals truly love mussels, or that they just remain an iconic tourist catch, you will rarely travel anywhere in the winter months and not find them on the menu. Moules frites, or Mussels and Chips to us is something everyone needs to try at least once. The common denominator is a huge pot of steamed black mussels, sitting in a moat of wholesome broth, all served with a side of chips. The classic moules mariniere remains the staple dish, served in a sumptuous broth made with white wine, shallots and parsley, but many mussel houses offer great alternatives, in particular those cooked in traditional local Belgian beer.

It’s important to remember that mussels are seasonal (September to February usually). Outside these months they become harder to find, and certainly the standard usually diminishes. Waiters can get snobby about these things and may look incredulously at you should you try and order in April!

Either way, mussels are incredibly good for you, being an excellent source of selenium, B12, zinc and folate, in addition to being fun to eat, and usually delicious. In Belgium, you are always guaranteed a healthy portion and there is almost always a fantastic selection of beers to wash them down with. My only recommendation is to drink anything other than the Yersekes Mosselbier, unless weak lagery pils float your boat. This beer certainly wasn’t the worst I would ever drink and at least it didn’t taste of shellfish.

Trivia: Yerseke is a small Dutch village situated on the Southern shore of the Oosterschelde which is well known for its fishing industry, and in particular mussels, oysters and clams.

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Filed under 5, Mussel, Pale Lager, Seagull, Van Steenberge

#131 – XX Bitter

#131 - XX Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

By now propped at the bar, I had decided that I must have overdone it on the lambic. My gut was making extreme noises, and I had begun to look a little off colour. I spotted a XX Bitter in the fridge and having heard very good things about this beer, decided to finish off my night with a bit of good old fashioned hoppy goodness.

I was attracted to the XX Bitter due to its association with one of my favourite beers. The commercial description suggests this is reminiscent of Orval (#37) in its heyday, and this is true to some extent – Orval certainly used to add more hops to its mash in bygone days. The gentlemen at De Ranke, big fans of Orval, noted this and decided to try and reverse the trend by adding more and more hops. The result is now possibly Belgium’s hoppiest beer!

The process of making a beer this hoppy requires some care and attention from its owners, and this is why Guido and Nino at De Ranke use only hop flowers to make their beers. Almost every brewer in the country has moved towards using hop extracts now, but our protagonists argue that you cannot match the texture and complexity of a beer which uses the flower as opposed to the pellet.

There are a number of reasons why brewers have opted away from the flowers themselves. Firstly, because the flowers are so fresh they have a massive impact on the flavour of the beer. This is great if you have a high quality hop, but very bad if you don’t! It can often be hit and miss, and expensive to get the best hops. Hops are also seasonal and so you have to buy the optimal amount at the start of the year, and then it is also very expensive to continue to keep them fresh. This requires refrigeration which is expensive on a grand scale. Finally, hop flowers require a lot of cleaning due to their propensity to stick to anything after being cooked. If you opt for hop flowers, then you can pretty much kiss goodbye to automatic production.

De Ranke remain committed to making beers this way, and only tend to use the highest quality hop flowers from Poperinge. If the XX bitter is an example of a beer made this way, then I only wish I was born in the pre-pellet era. The bitterness of the XX was staggering, yet it was full of flavour and attitude. I nursed it like the last beer I was ever going to drink and eventually the bar staff had to kick us out.

4 Comments

Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, De Ranke

#130 – Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

#130 - Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The striking feature of the Oud Beersel Oude Kriek label is the elegantly designed illustration of a castle. This Kasteel van Beersel is the most striking tourist attraction of the town of Beersel from which the beer/brewery derives its name. It was built approximately 700 years ago by Jan II, the Duke of Brabant as part of the defensive base for Brussels – the capital sits just 12km to the north east of Beersel.

The castle has been a key part of the towns history, being damaged in the War of Succession of Brabant (1356-57), during the rebellion against Maximilian in 1489, and then finally being left to the ravages of desolation during the 18th Century when it was left unoccupied. A cotton factory was initiated in the building in 1818, and eventually passed through a series of local families until it was donated to the League of Friends of Beersel in 1928, whereupon it was beautifully restored to its present glory.

Beersel is also the home to two famous breweries. Drie Fonteinen, and of course Oud Beersel. Both are renowned for the quality of their lambic beer in a region which is famous for it. Once you have climbed the castle and taken in the stunning views across town, you can wander off to any bar and have the pick of some of Belgiums finest beers. Be sure to make sure the service includes ‘boterham met plattekaas en radijzen’ (bread with white cheese and radishes) and ‘mandjeskaas’ (white cheese in small baskets) – both are tasty traditional snacks of Beersel and which accompany lambic beers perfectly apparently.

This was to be my third lambic of the night in the Rake. It was extremely sour still, but after the abomination of the Cassisframbozenlambic (#129) I wasn’t complaining. It was more subtle than other Krieks I had tried, which I put down to being from a professional brewer/blender. There was definitely a cherryness deep in the brew but you had to work hard to get there while the acidic dryness rebounded all round your lips. It was perfect to sip while pulling up a bar stool and catching up on old chat, and peering into the well stocked fridges to see what to choose next.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Oud Beersel

#129 – Cassisframbozenlambic

#129 - Hanssens Cassisframbozenlambic

Size: Cask

ABV: 4 %

There was a damn fine reason to be in The Rake pub this evening, which was the highly vaunted and much anticipated Lambic beer festival. I had started the evening on a high with the bottled Oudbeitje (#128) strawberry lambic, and my confidence had risen. I thought it was about time I tried the real stuff on cask. Being still somewhat of a novice on all things lambic I decided that the Hanssens Cassisframbozenlambic which was brooding in their cellar would be the perfect choice. ‘How can you possibly go wrong with a fruit beer?’ were the fateful words uttered by my other half.

It was with these words ringing in my ears, that I strode purposefully back to the bar and ordered two halves of the Cassisframbozenlambic. Priced at £9.90 a pint, it certainly failed to qualify as a bargain, but then how often do you get a lambic beer festival in London? After a short wait, two glasses of a rich red torpid liquid were placed in front of me, while a gentleman to my left nodded manfully with approval. It would be probably the only time in my life where the purchase of a fruit beer would be so professionally acknowledged. Having sorted out the Vedett drinkers in our round, we both dived into the extremely pungent brew.

This was to be no ordinary fruit beer. Never since accidentally drinking rancid milk as a child I had been so offended by a drink. While my face told the story, and I tried gainfully to get through it, Tash had surrendered the most expensive drink I had ever bought her to the bar, demanding something, anything to wash away the flavour. I returned to the couple of locals who had been so impressed with my purchase, who reassured me that the ¾ of a glass I had managed to drink was quite an achievement and that this stuff is normally only used for blending, not for drinking.

Incredibly though when I searched the ratebeer website to check others opinions, I found people rating this monstrosity at high 3s and in some cases over 4. I will leave you with two separate reviews from the evening, both which perfectly highlight how either people are able to develop their palates over time, or that some people simply think its cool to like having their throat burnt at £9.90 a time.

The Good – “Shockingly sour to a point of acidity, suggesting more raspberries and rhubarb rather than blackcurrants. Maybe this wrecked my palette but all the other lambics that I sampled subsequently, tasted rather tame! I kept returning to this little beauty and ended up finishing the evening off with a pint of it. It’s a very difficult drink to rate: certainly not a great deal of finesse but heaps of attitude. I would be intrigued to experiment with this beer in the kitchen, perhaps even using it to make a sorbet. My rating reflects how keen I would be to obtain it again rather than the beer’s technical merits. Many thanks to Tom for assembling and hosting what was probably the finest exhibition of lambic beers ever held outside Belgium

The Bad – “God that is horrible, stale and one of the worst beers I’ve tasted. Total doubling over of the body vile. Weird aftertaste. Clearly one of the most acidic beers I’ve drunk. Like drinking mould. Aroma is a 6 but every thing else is awful

6 Comments

Filed under 1, Hanssens, Lambic - Fruit

#128 – Oudbeitje

#128 - Oudbeitje

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6 %

Oudbeitje gets your mouth into a twist in more ways than one. At the bar at The Rake pub in South London I attempted to pronounce it, but after the third miserable failure coupled with exponentiating quizzical looks from the barmaid, I opted to point and mouth ‘strawberry beer’ over the din of the evening punters. I needn’t have been so ashamed as there is no Fruli (#24) to be found in this cracking little pub, and I was eventually served with a beer I had wanted to try for ages.

Oudbeitje can be rather easily translated from the Flemish for ‘old berry’ – in this case old, rich pungent strawberries, which are added to lambic beer during the summer months. During the winter the whole lot sits and matures, waiting for the bottling which will take place in Spring. Unlike a Gueuze or a Kriek, there is no need for blending of old and young lambics, as the typical characteristics of the strawberries cause the lambic to react as Gueuze would. This has an impact on the secondary fermentation which is far less spirited and therefore contains far less carbon dioxide. It is this reason that the Oudbeitje is so flat.

There were a number of surprises about this beer. Firstly the price – Although I know good lambic beer does not come cheap even in Belgium, I was a little unprepared for the savage looks I was getting from the friend of a friend who had offered to buy the first round. I just nodded and pretended to look like the beer geek I was starting to become. The second surprise was the colour. Anybody who has drunk Fruli will know that it almost certainly turns your stomach scarlet – the Oudbeitje however was a pale golden colour which was so innocuous it could almost have been a Gueuze. The taste though was as pongy as one might expect from real lambic, but it was imbued with the faint taste of bygone British summers in front of the tennis. Despite the tart flatness, and the fact that the next round cost me even more, I will still remember this beer fondly.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Hanssens, Lambic - Fruit