Monthly Archives: April 2011

#190 – Arend Tripel

#190 - Arend Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Arend Tripel is a beer made by the de Ryck brewery, and is just one of a range of Arend beers that is made in homage to the previous incarnation of this brewery.

It all started back in 1886, when the eponymous Gustaaf de Ryck bought a small landholding in the village of Herzele for the princely sum of 5000 Belgian Francs (the equivalent now of just 124 Euros). He collected some ramshackle equipment and built a functioning brewery more for a hobby than anything. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing though, and locals were desperate for some decent beer, so he packed his bags for Bremen in Germany. There were no brewing schools in Belgium at the time, and thus he needed to travel to learn the art of brewing. He soon returned with imported tubs and kettles and launched his new venture – De Gouden Arend (The Golden Eagle), named in honour of his brewing mentor in Germany.

Things went very well until World War I, when ironically the German forces took over the village and seized the brewery’s horses and kettles, forcing it to close. There was another brewery in the village by now called Dooreman’s and de Ryck continued to soldier on brewing using their equipment. Once the war was over and the Germans had been vanquished, Gustaaf was determined to reinvent the brewery, and did so immediately ridding himself of the link to the German’s who had almost ruined his dream. He chose to rename the brewery after himself, and from this day on this small family brewery has been known as de Ryck.

The Arend beers are hence a recent incarnation, but still bear the logo of the Golden Eagle. I first got my hands on the Arend Tripel which was a fairly enjoyable standard clean and crisp blond tripel, and certainly not in my opinion worthy of the best Belgian tripel which it won in the European Beer Star competition in 2008. According to de Ryck, this was a prestigious international prize although I guess they would say that. I am never clear how these awards are considered, but I challenge anybody to compare this to the Westmalle Tripel (#149).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, de Ryck, Eagle

#189 – Super des Fagnes Griottes

#189 - Super des Fagnes Griottes

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.8 %

Griotte is a French term which defines the genus of sour cherries known scientifically as Prunus cerasus. The crop is largely cultivated in Europe and southwestAsia, and is similar to the regular wild cherry, but for the acidity of the fruit that is borne. The trees tend to be much smaller, and the fruit a lot darker.

One of the most well known sour cherries is that of the Morello. These are distinguished by their dark skin, flesh and juice, and are extremely useful for making pies and jams, and of course beer. The griotte on its own isn’t really ideal for eating as it is quite bitter, but these are perfect for use in beer, in that the strong complex flavour is brought out as a result of melding with large amounts of sugar. The griotte is also a very hardy fruit, being exceptionally resistant to pests and diseases, and is therefore often able to survive the hardest conditions. Its fertility is also renowned amongst sweeter varieties of cherries, and farmers often have little problems keeping cherry production stable. Sour cherries are often labelled self-fertile, or self-pollenizing.

So it’s fairly easy to see why sour cherries have been used so much in Belgiumto make beer. Not only are they easy to grow and store, they give good colour to the brew, but also due to their flavour they are able to hide what might normally be a pretty average beer. I am pretty sure having drunk the Super des Fagnes Griottes, that this is particularly the case here. This was a fairly sour, but largely uninspiring fruit beer. I had previously drunk the average Super des Fagnes Blonde (#56), and the excellent Super des Fagnes Brune (#50), however the Griottes left something of a sour taste in my mouth.

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Filed under 5, Deer, Duck, Fagnes, Fruit Beer

#188 – Gaspar

#188 - Gaspar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Gaspar is one of the three Christmas beers produced by Alvinne to celebrate the Epiphany. See my review on Balthazar (#163) for the background. Whereas the previous report concentrated on the swarthy King of Sheba, this one looks more closely at he who was claimed to be the King Of Tarsus.

As with all the three wise men though, there is actually very little evidence to support exactly who they were or where they came from. Even the gifts they purportedly brought to the crib of Jesus are stuff of legend. Stories throughout history have called them Kings, wise-men or Magi – the truth is nobody really knows anything other than at the birth of Jesus there was a visitation of men from the East who bore gifts. Nobody can say for sure there were three or that all three brought a different gift other than that gold, frankincense and myrrh were presented.

With regards to Gaspar, Jaspar or Caspar as I knew him at school, legend has it that he was a white-bearded king from the land of Tarsus (now in modern day Turkey). Others say he was the Indo-Parthian king called Gondophares, whom interestingly the name of the Afghan city of Kandahar is said to be derived from. Bible historian Chuck Missler also refers to an Armenian tradition which locates Gaspar from India. Whoever he was, or wherever he came from, tradition has dictated that he brought gold as his gift. Some have said this was to represent the spirit of the new born baby, others have suggested the gold was testimony that Jesus was born a king.

Whoever he was, or wherever he came from, at least he brought gold and not this beer. The whole course of history could have been changed in an instant had the Alvinne Gaspar exploded all over the son of God, as it did over me. Sometimes you forget that beers have a life of their own, and I never seem to learn my lesson. Twenty minutes later in a new set of clothes and with little more than two-thirds of a beer left I started again and to be honest wished I hadn’t. This was foul. I’m largely a big fan of the Alvinne picobrewery, and do not wish to cast aspersions so for now I will just suggest this was a one-off bad brew. Lots of likeminded souls rate the Gaspar and its 115 IBUS, so perhaps whatever it was that caused the nuclear reaction in the bottle was probably the same thing that made this beer taste of stale camel urine.

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Filed under 1, Alvinne, Belgian Strong Ale, Camel, Christmas Beer

#187 – Blanche des Honnelles

#187 - Blanche des Honnelles

Size: 330ml

ABV: 6 %

Blanche des Honnelles is a uniquely flavoured beer made at the Abbaye des Rocs brewery very close to the French border. It is so named after the rivers that flow at their most powerfully through the home village of Montignies-sur-Rocs.

The surrounding municipality is also called Honnelles, with a population of around 5000 inhabitants, and is so named for the rivers which define the region – the Grande Honnelle, and the Petite Honnelle. Some historians trace the name back to the ‘huns’ who would have at one stage been prevalent in the area.

The beers at Abbaye des Rocs; a few of which I have already guzzled (#67, #155, #167), are long revered for their purity, and the link from the Blanche des Honnelles to the rivers is a pertinent one. Every beer at this village brewery is made with the water drawn from the well that permeates the rocky subsoil. There are no added sugars and absolutely no chemical additions to any of the beers. A sobering thought were it not for the strength of many of these beers!

The Blanche des Honnelles is actually predominantly a wheat beer, although the colour of the pour might suggest otherwise. This cloudy amber appearance is more likely due to the mix of oats and barley to the wheat, and most probably the lack of any chemical additives. The flavour is certainly unique and I would urge anybody to at least give this one a go. It wasn’t my cup of tea in any way, with a sharp musty tang that stayed with me after every mouthful, and I ended up not enjoying it particularly. This might have been a result of the often hit and miss nature of artisanal breweries, or more likely just not something my palate was interested in. My overriding impression though was that actually perhaps somebody had just pissed in the Honnelles before brewing.

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Filed under 4, Abbaye des Rocs, Belgian White (Witbier)

#186 – Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

#186 - Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

There are two beers which make up the Bourgogne des Flandres range. Most punters would likely have first tasted the brune, which is a famous sour ale from this area of West Flanders. I however first managed to get my hands on the golden Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde, the stronger but less auspicious sister beer.

The most striking quality about these beers is perhaps the bottles. Both come packaged without traditional labels but with beautifully crafted and embossed images of the Bruges skyline, complete with the famous Belfry, or Belfort. It was here about seven generations ago that the artisanal brewers of the Van Houtryve family first got their hands dirty with the fine sour brown ale. A further clue to this strong family tradition is the shield of the Van Houtryve family which bedecks the neck of the bottle itself.

The family stopped brewing the beer themselves in the 1950’s, whereupon distant relatives at Verhaeghe took over the production; themselves well renowned for their sour ales of Vichtenaar (#146) and Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105). Time ran out on this partnership however in 1985 when Timmermans offered to become chief custodians. The 25 year relationship has been successful for the Bourgogne des Flandres beers, which have been marketed under the Anthony Martin’s “Finest Beer selection since 1993.

To be fair most of the marketing around the beers is about the famous sour ale which continues to gather dust in my cellar, however the blonde accompaniment is no trite addition. It is a lively little beer which mixes a spicy bitterness with a dry hoppy nature. It doesn’t exactly blow you away, but I’d recommend anybody buying at least one and keeping the bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere for friends and family to admire at their leisure.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Timmermans

#185 – N’Ice Chouffe

#185 - N'Ice Chouffe

Size: cask

ABV: 10 %

If you still believe in Father Christmas, as well as little elves, goblins and gnomes then please look away now. In fact I would suggest immersing yourself in the fairy tale of La Chouffe (#168) rather than reading on any further. I had previously written that La Chouffe beer was once made by gnomes from golden nectar that flowed from a sacred spring, however I wish to make it clear that this is categorically not the case.

I realise this may come as something of a shock to many regular readers and beer aficionados, but the story of the gnomes is just a cruel marketing ploy by the brewers at Achouffe to lure small bearded men in bright clothing to drink their beers. Not long after the brothers-in-law Chris Bauweraerts and Pierre Gobron had set up their hobby-cum-brewery, Chris had spotted the logo of a dwarf on a painting used by a local charity to raise money for victims of a storm. The image had such an effect on him that the very next day the brothers were conducting a business meeting to discuss using a similar design for their beer label. The fact that Chouffe is Wallonian dialect for a gnome or dwarf, and is almost identical to the spelling of the place where the beer was brewed, was in fact just a brilliant coincidence.

Pierre commissioned a work colleagues daughter to knock up a drawing for them, and the rest just fell into place, with the brothers then able to conduct a fantastical fairy tale, set amongst the idyllic Ardennes countryside. The whole thing was a perfect marketeers dream – even the valley where the brewery sits is known locally as the Vallee des Fees, (the Valley of the Fairies).

Nobody would surely though deny these gentlemen this slight twisting of the truth. What started as a hobby when Gobron quit his day job in 1982 was big enough in cash and potential to lure Duvel Moortgat to invest heavily in the venture in 2006, therefore continuing to safeguard the very future of the brewery. It is a massive success story

I finished my night in the Rake with the breweries winter offering – the unfiltered N’Ice Chouffe on cask, which turned out to be another fine brew. A malty thick soup of spicy cheer, that bulged in your mouth with every swill. The flavours are imparted through the addition of thyme and curacao, although by this stage of the evening I was far too busy lamenting the fact that the elves of Achouffe do not exist to bother with the finer details of the beer.

(Thanks to http://www.beerobsessed.com for the picture)

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Filed under 8, Achouffe, Belgian Strong Ale