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?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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).

4 Comments

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Boelens, Wolf