Monthly Archives: November 2010

#164 – Bush Blonde

#164 - Bush Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

The Bush Blonde is a relatively new creation, being only first brewed in 1998 on the 65th anniversary of the launch of the Bush Ambree (#3). It was the first blonde beer produced by this very traditional brewery, who are proud of their roots and values. Dubuisson only have a small selection of beers considering their status and size, and steadfastly refuse to produce label beers for anybody else. In fact, prior to the launch of the blonde, the brewery only offered the Ambree and the Bush de Noel (#83).

The key to the traditional outlook may lie in the history of the brewery, which was first formed in 1769, by Joseph Leroy (a direct descendant of eight generations of the current manager Hughues Dubuisson). It is the oldest brewery in Wallonia, which is a source of some local pride, and is still situated on the very same spot it was first built. Even before then, Joseph Leroy was brewing beer across the road on the Ghissegnies land, which was a seigniorial estate – these breweries were then exempt from tax and particularly lucrative. The Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria who at the time ruled the region had picked up on this quite quickly and decided in 1769 to order their unconditional destruction. Joseph Leroy quietly packed up his kettles and tuns, crossed the road, and set up his own independent farm brewery. This quiet determination has been a strong family trend ever since.

It had been quite a while since I first drunk the Bush Ambree, and to be honest I certainly didn’t have great hopes for this one. My drinking pal Andrew had gleefully passed me his last bottle of this, with the view that it was one of the most revolting drinks he had ever tasted. I would add it to my 1000 and let myself be the judge of that. It was certainly very strong, with the ethanol very evident in the flavour, but with just 250ml of the stuff, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I actually preferred this to the Ambree, and certainly couldn’t see what was so dislikeable about it. The Blonde definitely wasn’t a classic, but neither was it worthy of a sub-average score. I will enter it into my pantheon of beers defined as a ‘workmanlike strong Belgian blonde – nothing else’.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Dubuisson

#163 – Balthazar

#163 - Balthazar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Balthazar is one of three Christmas beers produced by the Picobrouwerij Alvinne. They are labelled as the Epiphany beers, which toast the pre-Christmas holiday of Epiphany which is popular in Belgium. Epiphany is also known in the Christian calendar as Three Kings Day, which is customary to be the Sunday which falls between 2 and 8 January.

Anybody who was dressed up at primary school as a shepherd will probably remember they spent the whole Christmas play wishing they were one of the Three Kings or at least Joseph! The feast day of Epiphany, certainly in Belgium, commemorates the visitation of the Magi, or Three Kings to the birthplace of Baby Jesus. Balthazar was the dark swarthy third King of Sheba in the story, or at least in the modern accounts of the story which were first documented in about 9 A.D. The legend has it that Gaspar (#188), the white-bearded King of Tarsus brought gold for Jesus, that Melchior, the aging King of Arabia brought Frankincense, and Balthazar came with myrrh. Each of the three above are all Christmas beers from Alvinne.

Balthazar derives from the Phoenician language, and generally is thought to mean “Baal protects the King”, which is apt when considered in terms of the Nativity story. However Balthazar also has other meanings. Some more recent conspiracy theories have suggested the link between the demon Balthazar who was committed by the Demon King Seth to rot in the Fires of Hell for eternity. The thought that the King of Sheba may have also been an incarnation of Satan is a sobering one, but could explain the portent of his impending doom. The Myrrh after all according to legend was saved for the burial of Jesus.

More merrily, and back of course on to our favourite subject, any learned wine or beer scholar will know that a Balthazar is also 12 litre champagne or wine bottle. I’m not sure any beers have ever been packaged in a Balthazar, but if they have then that’s going straight on my Christmas list for Santa. The Balthazar I was drinking tonight however came rather disappointingly in just a third of a litre bottle. It was fairly interesting however, being unsurprisingly dark and full of eastern spice – Balthazar is brewed with four special malts, dark candies and coriander, cardamom and ginger. The result was a unique beer, that was fairly pleasant to drink, but which by the end was perhaps just a bit too quirky to be truly remarkable. This was certainly not an Epiphany for me !

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Filed under 7, Alvinne, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer

#162 – Duvel Groen

#162 - Duvel Groen

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Red devils are commonplace in myth and folklore (and Old Trafford), but very few people have heard of a green devil. The archetypal golden ale of Belgium – Duvel (#34) has been sold successfully around the world, resplendent in it’s red and white packaging. It does however have a more reclusive brother beer – the Duvel Groen (Green) which is much harder to track down.

Duvel Groen is essentially the same beer as the normal Duvel, in that it uses exactly the same ingredients. Same yeast, same Styrian and Golding hops, same pilsner malt. The big difference is the timing. After about thirty days of the first fermentation, the brewmaster at Duvel Moortgat usually brings in his taste panel, whom once satisfied, sign off the beer for its secondary fermentation in the bottle, with additional yeast and sugar. Not all the beer however has always been sent on for bottle conditioning. There are those, particularly staff within the brewery, who have enjoyed the flavour which results from cold-filtering the first batch of single-fermented Duvel. This has then been bottled and given the green label.

The bottled Duvel Groen is rarely seen outside of Belgium, and only in Belgium in selected locations. There has been however more recently a draft Duvel, again labelled in green, which made its way to export, but although it follows the same processes as above before being kegged, isn’t exactly the same beer, as it weighs in only at 6.8%, but is essentially the red Duvel sent to keg as opposed to a 250ml bottle.

Either way I was particularly excited to be trying this rarer beer. If the CEO of Duvel Moortgat can be believed, then this beer is essentially a lighter and crisper version of the red classic, with all the developing flavours of the brother beer, but one that is lower in alcohol and carbonation. My overall impression however was that it was further from the real Duvel than they imagined it to be. It did have hints of the wicked edge that we have come to enjoy from Duvel, but it lacked any kind of bite that you might expect from a 7.5% beer. It faded fast and by the end I was hankering for the original. Here is categoric proof that green devils are much less menacing than red ones.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Duvel Moortgat

#161 – Achilles Serafijn Tripel

#161 - Achilles Serafijn Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The Achilles brewery was once just a hobby for Achiel van de Moer, who spent seven long years trialling a number of different efforts before finally deciding to open this great little microbrewery in 1999.

Achiel, after whom the brewery is named, now sustains his full income from brewing beers, having retired from his previous job as a music teacher. Having said that though the operations are still tiny – just three truck loads of beer are brewed every year! Despite the professional look of the bottles on the range of Serafijn beers, it is even more remarkable that this microbrewery is wedged into a crowded garage in the placid and unremarkable town of Itegem. Even if you manage to locate the town, it’s even less likely you will find the brewery without the latest state-of-the-art GPS system – there are no signposts.

At home, Achiel has, like many microbrewers in Belgium, converted his living quarters into his office and factory. Squeezed into every nook and cranny lie the kettles and tuns, and even a bottling line just waiting for the next batch. Achiel has even made room for a small beer bar/café in what used to be the family’s front room. It is extremely popular with the neighbours and local populace, and the extra revenue generated helps to support this great venture.

I caught up with Achiel on his stand at the Bruges Beer festival, and was happy to oblige in taking almost the whole range of his beers away for future drinkage. It wasn’t long until the Achilles Serafijn Tripel passed my lips though, and what a fine beer to start off with. It is generally heralded as the pinnacle of the series – a typical golden honeyed tripel, complete with a hoppy backbite which leaves you desperate for more. I am very much looking forward to finishing off the collection, and perhaps a trip out to the Serafijn Cafe.

(Post-Script) – The brewery is sadly currently up for sale, although there don’t appear to be many takers !

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Achilles

#160 – La Trappe Dubbel

#160 - La Trappe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It has been mentioned before very early into the Odyssey that there are only seven Trappist breweries in the whole of the world (#7). Six of these are in Belgium, and the other one is in the Netherlands. I was too busy lamenting the strength of Quadrupels on the previous outing with La Trappe (#154), so it’s fortunate I can now spend some time on the Abbey at Koningshoeven. I won’t get time to finish the story, but can at least make a decent start.

It all goes back to the French monks from the Trappist monastery Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in Northern France. You may remember these from drinking the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). In 1880 many of the inhabiting monks had begun to fear the repercussions of the anti-church legislation, and so a few went on scouting missions to find safer ground. One of the monks, a certain Sebastianus Wyart, went over to the Netherlands which had a fairly liberal attitude to religion. There, near the town of Tilburg, he found fields awash with heather, surrounded by small farms and a sheeps cage. This village of Berkel-Enschot called these farms the ‘Koningshoeven’ (the Royal Farms), as they were once owned by King Willem II. Soon, Sebastianus had enticed a number of the community to this peaceful paradise.

Within just a year, the sheep cage was renovated into the first trappings of a monastery, with the first service being held on the 5 March 1881. It wasn’t all good news however; the soil and land they had chosen was far too arid, and with the numbers increasing at the monastery a solution was needed. This came in 1884 when the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart decided beer was the answer, and thus under the supervision of Friar Romaldus, the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven began its first foray as a brewery. It soon became the main source of income for the monastery, and still is to this day.

I don’t have any particular problem classing the La Trappe beers within my Belgian classification. If anyone chooses to argue with me, I will just continue on past 1000. The La Trappe Dubbel is a typical trappist Dubbel – strong, dark, extremely malty and full of spicy Christmas spirit. It wasn’t the best beer I would ever drink, in that it lost its legs a little in the final third, but was a great accompaniment to the football I was watching on the TV.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#159 – Bon Secours Blonde

#159 - Bon Secours Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Bon Secours translates into English as “good help”, and this message is reinforced on the new and improved Bon Secours labels, by the image of a St. Bernard dog – possibly the most symbolic of animals associated with the rescuing of people. It might not necessarily be truly beer related but it’s a nice little story, with references to monasteries and booze.

There was actually a monastery of St. Bernard, which was situated high in the Swiss Alps, and founded unsurprisingly by St. Bernard of Montjou in around 1050. In the valley below sat a majestic pass which was a popular route for travellers, traders and pilgrims for around the next 75 years, who often brought a variety of dogs to the monastery. It was then that the route became difficult to pass and for almost 400 years barely a soul came through. When the St. Bernard pass did once again open up for travel, the monastery was suddenly guarded by this new huge breed of dog.

Dogs were always so much smaller, and thus it was quite something to suddenly see beasts of this nature. It is thought that during the prolonged period of quiet at the monastery, a number of breeds of dog were mated, which including several larger breeds such as the Tibetan Mastiff. The St. Bernard dogs were an obvious choice for the monks to help lead travellers through the snow and dangerous conditions and were also used wisely as rescuers, with their keen sense of direction and strength and size. Quite whether the dogs really did carry barrels of alcohol on their collars is disputable, but there may have been a small chance they might have contained beer.

As for the Bon Secours Blonde, this was actually fairly reminiscent of a Duvel in flavour (#34). The pour was aggressive, and a hazy golden blonde threatened to burst over the sides over the glass. Once it had died down I was left with a very pleasant mildly hopped beer that perhaps slightly overdid the yeast, but countered it with a citrus twang that kept right till the end. I certainly didn’t need rescuing from this one.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Caulier, Dog

#158 – Vedett Extra White

#158 - Vedett Extra White

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Just one look at the Vedett website and you know exactly what you are up against. Here is a company which seemingly has recently employed a brand new marketing manager whose illustrious career history has probably been broken up by various stints in rehab from wild hallucinogenic narcotics. By the time I had worked out how to navigate the website, my eyes had begun to cross, and I was feeling somewhat disorientated. That this is the same brewery as the understated Duvel and Maredsous, I felt some serious trepidation for what might become of De Koninck since their recent arrival under the Duvel Moortgat umbrella.

I don’t intend to pull any punches on this one, in that I really didn’t think the Vedett Extra White was any good. I’ve drunk the Vedett regular blonde on various nights out in the UK prior to my Odyssey, and that is pretty average fare also. My point is that somebody smart in the company must have realised that this beer isn’t going to sell without a lot of fancy gimmickry. The fact that it is selling, I guess somewhat vindicates that decision, and maybe frees up capital to invest in better beers.

Once I had started to follow the cement mixer truck around the country on it’s Vedett tour, I went on to enter the competition to estimate the amount of miles that the cement mixer truck will travel. I wont share that with anybody at this stage as I am fairly confident that the Vedett Cement Mixer truck will be mine at the end of this, and I will be able to sell it at a novelty truck auction and thus fund my Belgian beer bar dream in the Ardennes.

It has also been a dream of mine since starting my Odyssey to commission my own beer. Why not make the 1000th beer my own creation? Vedett give you the opportunity to personalise your own case of Vedett beer at a not so unaffordable cost, which is a step in the right direction I suppose, and I decided to play ball and give my own label a go. Bearing in mind my overall view of the beer was a pungent, over-wheaty bottle of garbage, I thought we would go with this design. Let me know what you think? I wouldn’t mind betting I’ve ruined my chances with the cement mixer truck now. Oh well.

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Filed under 4, Belgian White (Witbier), Duvel Moortgat, Polar Bear

#157 – Lindemans Tea Beer

#157 - Lindemans Tea Beer

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

The rather adventurous Lindemans Tea Beer was first brewed in 1995; a lambic beer brewed with barley, malt, wheat and hops, albeit fermented and matured with tea leaves. The concept of a tea beer completely fascinated me when I spotted this beer on the shelf of an expensive beer shop in Bruges, even more so with its Japanese label – I had to have one.

The whole tea beer thing rather got me thinking, and being English it struck me that beer and tea are about the most popular drinks over here. Everybody knows the fascination of the English with tea, and we aren’t too shy when it comes to beer either. I wondered which one might be ultimately better for you. It might seem an obvious answer especially if not drunk in moderation, but then I discovered an article from an 1822 book called Cottage Economy. The author William Cobbett takes some time to spell out the virtues of both. Tea drinkers, and women – look away now!

The context behind the article was that this was a time when tea was largely taking the place of beer in society, taxes on beer were rising steeply and Mr William Cobbett was rather less than pleased about it. He starts his tirade by arguing that tea weakens the human body for labour as opposed to strengthening it as beer does. He likens the rush from tea to a quick fix you might get through opiates (laudanum), and that tea will inevitably enfeeble a human being. He goes as far as suggesting tea is ‘a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age’. This is based around the argument that in fifteen bushels of malt there are 570 pounds of pure nutrition, as opposed to just 84 pounds in tea. In fact he goes as far as saying that a lean pig will be able to provide all the bacon you need if you feed him beer, but die of hunger on tea.

He doesn’t stop at paralytic pigs. He also makes a fairly decent argument that the contemporary woman (because of course female emasculation is yet just a twinkle in the eye) spends the best part of her day brewing tea where she could be helping in the fields. Beer of course whence made just needs pouring. Womankind gets a further battering in his summing up, whereby he suggests that the ‘gossip of the tea-table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel’, and that ‘the everlasting dawdling about, with the slops of the tea-tackle, gives them a relish for nothing that requires strength and activity’.

So there you have it. The next time you hear somebody tell you beer is bad for you, point them in the direction of William Cobbett, although I can wholly verify that tea beer is bad for you – well at least it must be for your teeth. It was painfully sweet, and to be honest I couldn’t tell the difference between this and a can of cold iced tea. To be fair it would have been a refreshing drink in the warm sunshine, but as a beer to drink after a long day at work it was simply an aberration.

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Filed under 5, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans

#156 – Plokkersbier

#156 - Plokkersbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

Plokkersbier is a tribute beer specially brewed by de Bie in honour and appreciation of the hop-pickers of the Poperinge region. Plokkersbier means “Pickers beer” in the local language, and the label of the beer depicts one of these folk of old, relaxing on a barrow of hops and quenching his thirst with a well earned beer. There is the other possibility of course that while everyone else is working, this lazy bugger isn’t !

Poperinge is the hop-capital of Belgium, with hectare upon hectare of prime crop needing to be harvested. Much of this is now done mechanically, but in the olden days the fields of Poperinge would be awash with seasonal workers chipping in to bring the crop in. It wasn’t just local people from the country who were used – amazingly, many townspeople and city dwellers would flock to the country in holiday season to escape the soot and the bustle and pick hops. It may seem strange to us now, but it was such a tradition in Belgium, that everyone went hop-picking – a tradition that dates as far back as the Middle Ages.

Days would start as early as 7am, where families and friends would join a cavalcade of carts, bikes and charabancs put on by the farmers, laden with food and drinks to be consumed as they worked. Each individual or family was paid by weight, and thus the more each could collect in their baskets, the higher the wage at the end of the day. Camaraderie was very common between workers, although one always had to be alert to the gypsy children who would try and steal from the workers baskets. The foreman would get around all the workers with a vegetable broth or soup, while each took turns to shelter from the weather on their hessian sacks. I feel almost nostalgic just thinking about it, with vague recollections of Sundays spent fruit picking in Essex as a child flooding back.

With such pleasantries running through my mind, it was with some disappointment, that the beer didn’t quite live up to the mindplay. It was probably one of the better beers I had tried from de Bie, but up to now that wasn’t really saying much. Again, it may have been that the beer was a long time out of date, but that isn’t usually a major issue for Belgian beers if they have been stored well. It was an attractive misty blonde, bordering on amber, with a very fruity mouthfeel and aftertaste. It began to wane and fade midway through, just as I probably would if I was in the fields picking all day. I expected a bit more from a 7% beer to be honest.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, De Bie

#155 – Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noel

#155 - Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The last time I attacked a beer from the Brasserie des Rocs – the Brune (#67), I was bombarded with sediment. The Christmas beer from the same stable was again no exception – it was literally swimming in the stuff. To be honest I was slightly put off by it at first, but have now slowly begun to appreciate the compliment by the brewer.

The reason the brews from Brasserie des Rocs can look so unappealing is due to the fact that the brewery do not filter their beers at any stage of production. They refer to it as the “Methode Traditionelle des Annes 1900”, which is essentially how beers were commonly made in the early 1900’s. Their disclaimer is that the beer should be poured very slowly into the glass, making sure to leave about an inch in the bottle. They even suggest a strainer can be used as well (I did actually try this with the Brune, and it only made it worse).

The common question of course, is whether all this muck is good for you, and the general answer is that it certainly won’t harm you. All the sediment really is, is the remnants of the yeast, proteins and other natural ingredients which in time leave these harmless meaty chunks. Many beer drinkers, who tend to dislike the textured mouthfeel, opt to leave the gunk in the bottle, whereas others embrace the wholesome goodness by tipping the last bit onto the head and quaffing it down. Some even go so far as to eat the final bit. Either way you look at it, it is for me a great symbol of the traditionality of Belgian beer. It certainly hasn’t stopped the Brasserie des Rocs from selling their beers, which do especially well in the USA.

I had taken a couple of days off the beer since the Quadrupel induced hangover (#154), and even as I poured the dark Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noel, I was still slightly queasy. I completely forgot to pour with care, and I was faced with a thick dark soup full of yeasty morsels. If anything was going to act as hair of the dog, then this would be it. Again I wasn’t as impressed as the general beer drinking community are with these beers. It was strong and sweet which I enjoyed, but at the same time was more fizzy, and more artificial than I would have liked. There was a lingering taste of charcoal, and I ended up a bit disappointed. Again, it may have been a day too soon for a beer like this, but I will keep the faith. There are plenty more to try from this stable.

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Filed under 6, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer

#154 – La Trappe Quadrupel

#154 - La Trappe Quadrupel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

It was a fleeting visit to Bruges this weekend, and the drive back on the Sunday afternoon was made particularly difficult due to the debilitating hangover which surfaced as I did. As I grimacingly pulled the duvet back over my head I tried to recount our steps from last night. Everything was on track from the Staminee de Garre (#153), whereupon we found a small regional restaurant with a poor beer selection. It was only polite to polish off a few carafes of red wine, and we were then heading for a decent bar to finish off the nights proceedings. I vaguely recall a couple of St. Bernardus 12’s crossing my lips, but the final nail in the coffin came from the deadly La Trappe Quadrupel.

I started to try and sum the amount of ABV I had drunk the previous night, and there was a common thread emerging – every beer was over 10%. The Quadrupel that I finished with was almost symbolic of a night of super-strength Belgian beer. The term Quadrupel isn’t a definitive one, but follows in the footsteps of our introductions to the Dubbel (#16), and the Tripel (#149), in that it is conversely related to the strength of the beer. It is itself a much rarer proposition, and the Beer Advocate website only lists about 90 individual examples, including the Westvleteren 12 (#66), and the St. Bernardus Abt (#46). I must admit, I try not to get too caught up in the whole beer definition thing, but it does make life a little easier sometimes when talking beer. As may be apparent by now, I am not a big fan of recreating the beer sampling websites on here.

Many definitions of a Quadrupel, historically have centred on the link to Trappist style, or Abt (Abbot) style beers. This was kind of fine until the strict designations were made as to what could or couldn’t be officially called a Trappist beer (#7). The Quadrupel terminology now exists really to fit in nicely with the innate desire to pigeon hole beers into categories. Beer Advocate and Ratebeer will have their views, but for me a Quadrupel is simply over 10%, full bodied and of the darker variety. What else do you need to know?

My only recollection of this particular Quadrupel was that it was a deep reddy brown colour, very strong and as I recall particularly delicious. Well, apparently that’s what I kept saying. It turns out I may also have had more than one! I was led home before I could go clubbing (something I normally despise), stopping at random strategic intersections to release the pressure on my saturated bladder. I apologise to the people of Bruges now, and hope I can make it up to you on my next visit.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer