Monthly Archives: October 2011

#205 – Grimbergen Cuvee de l’Ermitage

#205 - Grimbergen Cuvee de l'Ermitage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another beer from the surprisingly extensive Grimbergen range, and following the recent review of the Optimo Bruno (#194), here follows another with a bold claim of greatness. One would fully expect that with the appellation Cuvee de l’Ermitage this would be some kind of serious brew – Cuvee de l’Ermitage translates crudely as the monks best beer from the most select vats, or something along those lines.

This claim is more likely to have been true in the past, as Alken-Maes (who took over the old Union brewery in 1978) inherited this then highly regarded beer. The original beer was a full 1% stronger in ABV weighing in at 8.5%, and was brewed largely as a Christmas beer. At one time it even bore the name Cuvee de l’Ermitage Christmas. It was largely brewed as a kind of seasonal beer using a selection of three kinds of hops and a variation of special malts. After fermentation it was left to rest for three months in carefully designed tanks which would allow the beer to develop its characteristic flavour – often referred to as bitter, and not unlike Armagnac brandy.

The term ‘Cuvee’ as it is most often used these days in relation to wine seems to apply fairly reasonably to this old beer, in that it reflects a batch of beer blended in a distinctly different way to the rest. The term Hermitage refers most generically to a place where groups of people would live in seclusion in order to devote themselves fully to religious or monastic purposes. This was almost always ascetic in nature, and some of the finest beers known to humanity have been made in this way – the Trappist way.

I never tried the original beer, so I can only comment on the latest incarnation of the recipe, but this is certainly no Cuvee, and it certainly isn’t made in a Hermitage. For me the Cuvee de l’Ermitage is just another average beer that isn’t even as good as the two staple Grimbergen beers (#8, #9) on which it is trying to clearly discern itself from. It was firstly far too thin, with a weak insipid head, which ended up resembling a faded pale amber. It didn’t smell of a great deal but had a fairly unique flavour – quite hoppy with plenty of citrus. This was once a seemingly great beer, but is now little more than a marketable addition to an extremely average range of brews. What else would you expect though from Alken-Maes?

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Strong Ale, Phoenix

#204 – Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune

#204 - Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

I had planned on taking this opportunity to explore a little about the tiny Ecaussinnes brewery from Hainaut, but while pondering the relative qualities (or lack of qualities) of the Ultra Brune, I almost dropped my best glass in horror when I spotted something undigestable to a writer, and in particular to a writer about beer. I spotted a word that I had never seen before. I can only apologise to my loyal readership for this aberration and will hereforth seek to redress this within this blog entry.

The description on the Ecaussinnes website refers to a ‘light Scotch aftertaste, a nice body coming from the 4 different kinds of malt (one pale, two caramelised and one torrefied malt).’ Torrefied? What !?

torrefy (third-person singular simple present torrefies, present participle torrefying, simple past and past participle torrefied)

  1. To subject to intense heat; to roast

Thanks to some random on-line dictionary above for the clarification. Malts of course are a key ingredient in dark beers, and there are loads of them which brewers can use to spice up their recipes. One of the ways they can add nutty flavours to beers, and to eliminate volatile ingredients is through roasting the malts at a very high temperature, which is exactly what would have been done to the Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune. The brewer would have plucked out some pale and caramelised malts, and finally added malt which had been previously subjected to extreme burnage.

The malts are usually roasted in kilns, and the level of torrefication will vary greatly dependent on the desired result of the flavour. Pale ale malts as used in the Ultra Brune will normally be roasted at relatively low temperatures (could be between 70 and 100 degrees centigrade), however some malts can be torrefied at temperatures as high as 220 degrees centigrade – examples include chocolate, coffee and crystal malts. I find the statement of the ingredients above as somewhat misleading because in actual fact most malts are exposed to some degree of torrefication, including the caramelised malts.

I can only then assume that for the Ultra Brune, the instructions said ‘burn the shit out of it’, although it seems common knowledge that if you over roast malts it will lead to spoilage. This certainly might explain my impression of the Ultra Brune, which once decanted for the ridiculous amount of meaty sediment really was rather unimpressive. For a beer that is 10% ABV I expected a much more flavoursome and wholesome experience – but all I really got was an odd beef-jerky flavour amidst a gob full of brown plankton. It settled eventually and I was able to adjudge some redeemable merit in the taste but I would certainly give this a wide berth again.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Ecaussinnes

#203 – Silly Saison

#203 - Silly Saison

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Way back when I drank the impressive Saison Dupont (#71), I introduced what the ‘saison’ style was all about, and of course with beer it is almost impossible to truly define a style as you only need to change one or two ingredients and you can end up with a drastically different beer.

For reasons already clarified, the Saison is loosely determined as a beer that a) is brewed to last the summer months, and b) that is not too strong. With a definition like that you can begin to see the problem. The signature Silly Saison gives me a further opportunity to clarify the style via the production methodology, by which brewers attempt to produce medium strength beers which are well hopped, yet still have the famous thirst cutting acidity and quenching finish.

Some do it through using harder water, while others ensure the temperature at mashing is higher which allows more un-fermentable sugars to develop giving a harder edge to the final beer. Older techniques have relied upon the wort developing higher levels of lactic acid either before the boil or while it is cooling, and some have even exposed the wort to the air – a technique known as the Baudelot system. Other brewers have encouraged the beer to gain its acidity during maturation while in tanks made of steel. Another technique is to use dry-tasting spices or by adding dry hops to the brew – there simply is no golden rule, which makes trying new beers such fun.

The Silly Saison is one of the best known of the saison style, and the brewers at Silly have used a very different style to acquire the desired result. They take a batch of top fermented beer which has been stored for about twelve months, and blend this with a freshly brewed batch. From this they then store part of it for next year, and so the cycle continues. In the case of the Silly brewery it is all about balancing the sweet and sour enough each year to ensure the correct consistency in aroma and flavour.

I first tried the Silly Saison on a quiet night in, and the pour was uneventful leaving a thin brown ale, which was reliably more orangey when held up to the light. There was little head to talk about which meant I was able quickly to get my thirst quenched. I was under the impression that most ‘saisons’ tend to be highly carbonated, but the Silly Saison was quite flat – in fact if I had not known I might have thought this was a typical Flemish sour brown ale on first taste. The sweet hoppy flavour eventually came through as I guzzled the 25cl bottle, but I was left fairly underwhelmed in the end. This may now be a saison for the masses but I would be particularly silly to choose this over the classic Saison Dupont.

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Filed under 6, Saison, Silly

#202 – La Trappe Blond

#202 - La Trappe Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

When I tried the La Trappe Dubbel (#159) I introduced the history of the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven across the border in the Netherlands. I promised then that I would continue the story, and so the La Trappe Blond gives me that opportunity.

We left the story just where the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart in 1884 decided that the Abbey needed a brewery, and effectively its been there ever since. Many breweries suffered at the hands of the copper-hungry Germans in World War I, however the Netherlands remained neutral at this time and so the Abbey of Koningshoeven remained untouched. In fact in the 1920s the production at the brewery began to increase, and the brewery was modernised considerably in order that it could cope with the demand.

The brewery continued to brew lighter blonde beers, including a first prototype of the La Trappe Blond, and it continued to flourish until World War II when resources were scarce. The 1950s and 1960s saw further developments including a lemonade factory and laboratory being built, and more recipes were established including dark beers, Pilseners, Dortmunders and Bocks. A number of collaborations were made with other brewers to enable the monks to find time to pray, however by 1980 the monks regained full control and established the La Trappe brand, which has remained true to this day.

In 1987 a brand new brewery was reconstructed on the premises moving the production firmly into the 21st Century, and more La Trappe beers were to follow until another partnership was formed with the Bavaria brewery in Lieshout. A new bottling plant followed shortly after, and the Koningshoeven story ambles to a unremarkable conclusion – the brewery now living well off it’s claim as the 7th Trappist brewery, and attracting Belgian beer hunters the short distance across the border.

The La Trappe Blond recipe has altered a fair bit since the 1920s, and is now a solid golden blonde which was the perfect accompaniment to a spicy tandoori chicken curry. This was a really thick fruity brew which for its relatively low strength by Belgian standards was very impressive. It faded a little in the final death throes, which may have something to do with being completely stuffed with curry, but I’d definitely seek this beer out again; even though it isn’t strictly Belgian*

* I have argued my case for inclusion somewhere before – I think it was #101

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Koningshoeven

#201 – Artevelde Grand Cru

#201 - Artevelde Grand Cru

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.3 %

Jacob van Artevelde. He was so good the brewers at Huyghe named him twice. The original Artevelde (#144) was first marketed on the 5th July 1985, and then in 1987 the brewery decided to rightly improve things and had their first stab at bottle conditioning a beer.

Jacob van Artevelde is a natural choice really as a symbol of Ghent. The 14th Century statesman was of Ghent stock, and a successful Flemish statesman. He was also known widely as the ‘Master Brewer of Ghent’ such was his love for making beer. Until very recently and the opening of the Gentse brewery, Huyghe has largely dominated the brewing scene in Ghent, and despite my spurious views on Huyghe as a quality brewery, nobody can really argue that they aren’t the master brewers themselves of Ghent.

The Artevelde beers signalled what was a massive change for the brewers at Huyghe. I’m yet to delve into the earlier history at the brewery, but at this time there was a radical renovation and reformation of its purpose and structure. Away went the dull and listless pilsener recipes for which they were known, and in came the plans to develop high fermentation beers for both the Belgian and International markets. It was a statement of intent, and despite more famously now being known for beers such as the Floris range, or the Delirium Tremens, it was the Artevelde beers which kick-started this successful move into mainstream.

Despite my misgivings of the original Artevelde, the result of the attempts to improve it was the Artevelde Grand Cru. This special vintage beer was destined to be stronger, thicker and brewed using only natural sugars. For some reason I expected a more syrupy version of the original but on the pour I was surprised to see a sepia coloured beer, with a thin meek head. The murky depths provided an oddly herbal aroma, which failed to really materialise on tasting it. There were strains of malt and chocolate somewhere within, but the flavour never really went anywhere, and although this was a reasonable first attempt at bottle conditioning, I would be lying if I said this stood the test against comparable beers.

Jacob van Artevelde was murdered by a mob of his own townspeople and is in many ways a martyr to the city of Ghent. In a kind of symbolic way I get the feeling the beers of Artevelde remain on the market more out of nostalgia for their role in revolutionising Huyghe than for any aesthetic qualities they bring – which seems fair enough.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#200 – Achel Bruin 8

#200 - Achel Bruin 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It has taken me 200 beers to finally try a beer from all seven official Trappist breweries. The final piece in this monastic jigsaw turned out to be also the smallest of the lot – the Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse.

Achel, as it is more commonly know, is a small municipality hidden away in the north east of the country in the sparsely populated province of Limburg. As the official title of the monastery suggests, the brewery is situated in the Abbey of St-Benedict. The first beer, Patersvaatje was brewed on this site as far back as 1852 when the building was a priory, although it wasn’t until 1871 that the site became an Abbey with brewing capabilities.

Life at the brewery remained virtually unaltered for years until the German invasion of World War I. As was standard practice for those Abbeys affected, the monks were evicted and the Germans dismantled the entire brewery in order to recycle over 700kg of raw copper for their eventually unfruitful war effort. Life changed dramatically after the war when the monks who returned to the Abbey were forced to find other ways to gain a subsistence. Agriculture and farming were the obvious choices but these took their toll on the more elderly monks. Eventually, with a large injection of cash, and with help from the monks at the Trappist Abbeys of Westmalle and Rochefort, work was completed on the sixth and final Trappist brewery in Belgium.

The beers were not instantly made available for distribution, and existed only at the adjoining tavern, however word of mouth soon spread on the quality of the brews at the local Auberge, and the crowds began to flock on what was a popular hiking and cycling route. The monks soon cashed in on the popularity of the beers, and their smooth path to existence has remained ever since.

The first beer I managed to get my grubby paws on was the relatively common Achel Bruin 8 which weighed in unsurprisingly at a robust 8%. It was a bubbly dark brown pour; perhaps a little thinner than some equivalent Trappist beers I had tried. On the nose it was malty, dark and full of rich Christmas promise, and on the tongue it tasted like rich pulpy fruit mixed into burnt toffee with a tartness which didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. In the end it was a pretty delicious beer to bring up a significant milestone on my Odyssey, although I couldn’t quite help feeling that this Achel was still someway behind the comparable beers of Chimay (#45), Rochefort (#31) and Westvleteren (#198).

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Filed under 8, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#199 – Waase Wolf

#199 - Waase Wolf

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

If ever there was a beer that deserved to be blogged then Waase Wolf is that beer. I mean, here is a beer with the tagline, ‘Not for little lambs’ that was brewed in memory of a legendary wolf that ran amok on the Belgian/Dutch border in 2001 mauling and killing sheep for fun. Brilliant stuff – and I reserve any apologies to any sheep offended by this article.

The terror started in October 2000 when a number of farmers around the Zeeland/Waasland border found their valued ovine littered as carcasses across the countryside. Initial thoughts were that this was the work of a depraved fox or dog, but once an eye-witness video of a stray wolf emerged, coupled with reports of a private owner losing such an animal, then word of mouth spread – as did the number of mutilated flocks. The farming community laid siege to the local authorities, and soon the united forces of the police and specialist wolf teams were scouring the countryside in tracking down the beast. Everyday new evidence emerged of alleged sightings as more and more victims piled up.

Like the Beast of Bodmin did in the UK many years ago, so in this small quiet area of Belgium did the Waase Wolf burst into prominence in local folklore. Known at the time as ‘Isegrim’, the animal captured the nation’s attention. Sheep farmers became increasingly anxious as the body count continued, and in the Netherlands rewards of up to 10,000 guilders were placed to kill the wretched beast, much to the dismay of the hordes of conservationalists who rallied in support of the perpetrator, sticking two fingers up at the families of the poor innocent dead sheep.

Then one day in late December, with the collateral at 62 (47 in the Netherlands, and 15 in Belgium), an anonymous email to police reported the beast had been quelled by a bullet and buried humanely in the woods. Nobody ever found the whistleblower or the cadaver but sure enough not another animal was harmed after the 22nd December, and on the 9th January 2001, both police forces officially closed the case. Cue a lifetime of novelty thimbles, tea-towels and t-shirts for anybody visiting the area. And of course where else but in Belgium a commemorative beer.

The Waase Wolf was a thinly bodied amber that was littered with sediment. It smelt absolutely delicious, and once settled I was able to sit back and enjoy this lovely beer. I wasn’t really expecting from the first appearances a really light fruity taste and it made a real change from the recent selection of beers I had tried. There was enough spice and hops to make it interesting, coupled with the delicious sweetness which always seems to keep me coming back for more. The Boelens brewery have delivered  much more here than simply a commemorative beer – I will definitely go back for a pack of these.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Boelens, Wolf

#198 – Westvleteren 8

#198 - Westvleteren 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is currently the final beer on my Westvleteren journey (unless I’m fortunate enough to end up with a bottle of the long retired Westvleteren 6)  and having already rambled about the phenomenon which is Westvleteren (#66), and the history of the brewery itself (#90), this gives me the opportunity to finish the story by giving a little history of the abbey.

The Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus began life in 1831, although the plot on which the Abbey was formed had been a spiritual home for hundreds of years previously, with at least three different monasteries occupying the land. Historians suggest as far back as 806 the Cella Beborna was built on this land. Records also show that between 1260 and 1355 there was a nunnery, and between 1610 and 1784 the place was occupied by a monastery. If you ever get a chance to wander around the area there really does feel an eerie sense of spiritual history.

The catalyst for the most recent incarnation was probably the hermit Jan-Baptist Victoor, who left Poperinge in 1814 to settle in the woods of St. Sixtus, where he rebelled against the rules of Emperor Joseph II and took up the monastic tradition. It was only when the prior and a few other disparate monks at the Catsberg monastery joined the hermit that the Abbey was officially formed. The monks here often went off on journeys to found other monasteries, and you may recall from the tale of Chimay White (#165), that the Abbey at Scourmont was started by the monks at St. Sixtus.

Life at the Abbey in Westvleteren though began to grow, and by 1875 the number of members totalled 52. It was still mind you a completely peaceful rural community which would have seen very few visitors. All this was to change during the first World War, when hundreds of refugees and approximately 400,000 allied soldiers lived in and around the abbey. Now it is once again a very peaceful place with only around thirty brothers, who serve the community and provide the world with some of the finest beers known to humanity.

Once of which is the Westvleteren 8, and I had been saving the blue-capped beer for a special occasion and this one happened to be a relaxing Christmas afternoon after the usual three thousand calories of roast!. The pour was everything I hoped it would be – thick and viscous with a ring of rustic head, but I wasn’t getting much in the way of the nose. The taste was very good, with a mix of chocolate, coffee and festive spice. Perhaps though it was the lack of room in my stomach, but I felt just a little let down by the beer in the end. It was still impressive but I guess I had fallen for all the hype. I was expecting some kind of oral firework show, but all I ended up with was an overwhelming desire to nap!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#197 – Ename Cuvee 974

#197 - Ename Cuvee 974

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is an interestingly titled beer, which actually refers to the founding date of the local borough of Ename, which has now essentially been subsumed into the bigger town of Oudenaarde.

The beer was first brewed in 2002 as a winter beer, at a time when the local town was working very hard to celebrate its rich medieval heritage. Since the 1980s there has been an ongoing project called Ename 974, jointly sponsored by the Flemish Heritage Institute and the Province of East Flanders. The aim of this work was to conduct important archaeological excavations, historical research and to promote the local municipality. The resident brewery Roman supported this work by promoting a new beer to the Ename range.

Another key driver of the Ename 974 project is the Provincial Archaeological Museum which was opened in 1998 and is located beside the St Lawrence Church. It highlights the daily life in Ename from the early Middle Ages until the present day. The Roman brewery also supports this local cause in the form of royalties paid for the sale of its beers. The logos that adorn the Ename range of beers are in reference to the ruined Abbey which is part of the archaeological presence in the town. It’s pretty much an accepted truth that a brewery who can tie their beer to an Abbey will sell more beer regardless of the quality.

There are plenty more Ename beers to be drunk and so I will save the enlightening history of the abbey until then. For now I need to wheedle my attentions away from archaeology before anyone falls asleep and onto the important matter in hand. Beer. The Ename Cuvee 974 was a promising looking brew, which poured obediently leaving a good looking average sized head atop a dark amber mass. The aroma was hoppy and herbal with a tinge of fruit, which to be honest promised more than the actual beer delivered. There was certainly a degree of exotic spice contained within but it was eminently unable to take me anywhere else. A nice beer but in the end really rather average. I guess at least though I have done my bit for the restoration of history in Ename.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#196 – Buffalo Belgian Bitter

#196 - Buffalo Belgian Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Brouwerij van den Bossche is most well known for it’s range of Pater Lieven beers (#18, #73), however they have also been brewing another range called Buffalo for well over a hundred years now. As ever, there is an interesting tale behind the name.

It all started in 1907 on the town square in Sint-Lievens-Esse – the home town of the van den Bossche brewery which had started up a mere ten years earlier (#73). At this time the town square had been taken over by an American travelling circus and the entire local population were clamouring with excitement to see this exotic show. With this in mind, Arthur van den Bossche for one particular noon showing gave a pass out to all his brewery staff to attend the circus. They were still in heavy production of their beers, and so Arthur arranged for the youngest apprentice to stay behind and tend to the brewing kettles.

The luckless young man who had missed the show duly watched the kettles meticulously in their absence however had forgotten in all the excitement to regularly stir the contents. The result was that the beer had completely roasted due to the young boys’ negligence and caramelised on the bottom of the kettle. There was general dismay on Arthur’s return as the exuberant workers returned to survey the wreckage. It was only when a number of staff actually tasted the resulting beer that they decided they actually quite liked it. From that night on, this style of dark burnt beer became the staple diet of the brewery, and the recipe has remained virtually unaltered to this day. The ‘Buffalo Bill’ travelling circus though was gone the next day.

It wasn’t the famous stout I was trying tonight, but the Buffalo Belgian Bitter, a solid 8.5% amber blonde. It was a great beer to accompany a night on the cards, and much better than I had expected on first surveying the bleak label. In fact I would go as far as saying it was pretty much on a par with the XX Bitter (#131) from De Ranke. The full hoppy flavour was clear and sharp, and each mouthful was perfectly crisp on the tongue. I’d definitely recommend this beer for anyone wanting their Buffalo wings!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Van den Bossche

#195 – Rodenbach

#195 - Rodenbach

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Rodenbach is a name that many beer afficionados will immediately get excited about, primarily for the highly rated Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17) which is likely the finest example of a Belgian Sour ale that is known to man. There also exists the standard Rodenbach which was to pass my palate on this particular occasion.

Now, where the Rodenbach Grand Cru relies upon the finest matured vats of sour ale from the cellars to be mixed together, the standard Rodenbach mixes the old with the much younger which inevitably results in a more subdued flavour as you might expect. Essentially what this means is that after the original beer has had its main fermentation, it is then conditioned for around four to five weeks in casks, whereby the beer starts to acquire its sharp lactic flavour. The brewery are not particularly open in terms of the exact time they leave the younger beer to develop, however it is fair to say that the longer a beer is left in this fashion, the less likely it will be to retain its fresh clean taste. It is likely now that for the standard Rodenbach offering a period of four weeks is given to condition the “younger” beer.

Once the brewers are able to nail down the younger beer, they are able to play around with different varieties of the matured casks to create different strains of beer. A number of these efforts already sit in my cellar waiting to be drunk on a special occasion. The key to the development naturally comes not only from the various ages of vats, but also from some very special and unique varieties of yeast. Rodenbach tend to play with around twenty different strains, which include lactobacilli and Brettanomyces – reknowned of course for their important role in the production of lambic beers. A number of very reputable breweries, including De Dolle and Westvleteren used Rodenbach yeasts for around twenty years!

This particular beer was always going to be a little bit of a step down from the Grand Cru, however it was far from being the ugly sister. It had all the same colour and consistency that graced the Grand Cru, and poured without virtually any traces of head. The flavour was naturally sour but without the lip smacking tartness which I had previously encountered. It was a very pleasant start to the evening and a great example of a typical standard Belgian sour ale which many other local breweries have not been able to produce so appealingly.

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Filed under 7, Rodenbach (Palm), Sour Ale

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#193 – Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

#193 - Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

It had been a while since my last grapple with a St. Martin beer (#69), and I tried the Cuvee de Noel with next to no anticipation whatsoever. It was better but really only marginally. So who was this St. Martin whose reputation seems relatively under threat now due to this recurring crap beer association?

He was born in Italy of all places in the 4th Century, the son of a Roman military officer and tribune. He would join the army himself at the plucky age of fifteen having recently discovered Christianity, and ended up serving in a garrison in what is now Amiens in France. He clearly wasn’t the fighting type though, and he was jailed for cowardice at a young age for refusing to join a battle; citing his faith as the catalyst for this change of heart. He chose instead to help the sick and needy, and is famously represented in modern day imagery giving half of his officer’s cloak to a beggar who entreated him. It’s difficult to make out but this also seems to be the illustration on the beer’s label.

A lull in the war saved Martin, who was released from all military details. He promptly took up service as a spiritual student at Poitiers, and sought to convert all those he came into contact with; from the thief who once robbed him in the mountains to his own mother back in Lombardy. He was eventually chased out by heretics to the island of Gallinaria (now Isola d’Albenga) where he settled as a hermit for ten years, eventually forming a Benedictine Abbey in Liguge with a bevy of likeminded monks. He gained great success in building churches and converting the unconvertible, and his reputation soared culminating in his eventual consecration as the Bishop of Tours in 372.

St. Martin continued to live as a hermit after becoming a Bishop becoming clearly a much revered figure who gave almost everything he had to help the needy and the poor.  I’m sure though that he would have also liked a good beer in those days – after all what monk didn’t? although I don’t really think he would have approved of this particular beer. An instantly forgettable, thin and uninspiring ruby red beer which started spicy enough but ended up losing all its strength;  just as St. Martin did in 397 before dying amongst his brethren.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brunehaut, Christmas Beer, Horse

#192 – Jupiler

#192 - Jupiler

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Jupiler is probably the most popular beer in Belgium, in terms of hectolitres consumed. If you thought that every Belgian sat in their local cafe sipping Trappistes Rochefort 8s (#31), or Orvals (#37) then you are sadly mistaken. As with any country nowadays pale lagers are king, and Belgium is no exception. The name of the beer comes from the town in which the Piedboeuf brewery is based; Jupille-sur-Meuse, once a municipality itself, but now rather subsumed by the city of Liege.

The logo of Jupiler is that of the bull, and is very much marketed at the male gender in Belgium. The beer is the main sponsor of the top Belgian football division, and has also sponsored the Belgian national football team. I don’t need to sum up how Jupiler represents the masculinity of its drinkers, as no better illustration exists than the marketing contained within the official website. Enjoy…

Jupiler has an outspoken image of masculinity, courage and adventure. Furthermore, Jupiler understands men like no other brand and shares their best moments. This combination of male bonding, self-confidence and self-relativation, speaks to all men and makes Jupiler an ally on their road through life.

Jupiler is the official sponsor of the highest Belgian football division, the Jupiler League, and also supports the Belgian national football team. Just like football, Jupiler is all about competence and ruggedness, effort and reward, team spirit and… festivity!

Aside from understanding exactly what constitutes ‘self relativation’, I am keen to know what exactly Jupiler contains that ensures my ‘competence and ruggedness’. It is in truth a pale lager made from maize which has very little flavour. I drunk this beer while enjoying a cottage in rural Devon. Had it been even faintly drinkable I might have managed to quaff half a crate, beat my chest and go fight with a few locals but it had barely touched the sides before I decided to quickly move onto another beer that tasted of something. So far plenty of effort, and very little reward. What a load of bull.

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Filed under 4, Bull, Pale Lager, Piedboeuf

#191 – Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

#191 - Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

While guzzling on the Bon Secours Brune (#28), I introduced the Bernadine nunnery that was formed in Peruwelz in 1904, and then much later while drinking the Bon Secours Blonde (#159) we got to explore the history of the St. Bernard dogs who bedeck the Bon Secours labels. This latest beer brings these two stories to a nice neat conclusion.

Prior to the formation of the nunnery, a monastery had been founded by monks in 1628 in the rural town of Peruwelz. There are legendary tales of the first brewmaster and unsurprisingly this chap, Father Baudelot was something of a habitual drinker. Sundays were the days where the monks would travel between the monastery and the village of Bonsecours to celebrate at the local church, and the journey back for Father Baudelot was always something of a pub crawl. He would spend long convivial evenings hopping between taverns listening to the stories of the locals. Most nights he would stagger home late, although there were times when he might only make it intact, with the help of his St. Bernard dog who would lead him back in a straight line in the early hours of the morning. Bon Secours does after all translate as ‘good help’ in French.

The brewery Caulier later honoured this story of Father Baudelot through the addition of the St. Bernard dog to the label of their Bon Secours beers. The monastery is long gone, as is now sadly the nunnery which recently shut down in Peruwelz, but through the local beers the legend still remains at large. I might have chosen a better beer however to regale this story. The Bon Secours Blonde de Noel was not an entirely pleasant experience. It was somewhat doughy with a flat overpowering hint of rotten fruit, and although I like strong beers, this one completely overpowered any quality the beer might have had. I definitely needed rescuing from this one, and there was not a helpful dog in sight.

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Filed under 4, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Caulier, Christmas Beer, Dog