Monthly Archives: November 2011

#226 – Floris Honey

#226 - Floris Honey

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3 %

I haven’t thus far had the most positive experiences with honey beers. The Barbar (#19) was remarkably average and didn’t even taste of honey, and the Le Pave de l’Ours (#117) was more akin to bears piss than anything else. Despite being a pretty naff excuse for a beer, at least the Floris Honey did actually taste of honey.

There are generally two ways in which honey can be added to a beer, and a simple comparison of the Barbar to the Floris Honey may well explain the taste phenomenon. The Barbar method, and the one which I have slightly more respect for, is to add the honey during the kettle boil. This process usually means that the honey will become part of the original gravity of the wort. As the honey tends to be a single sugar profile, then it will tend to ferment out completely and any sweetness may only remain aromatic. Brewers can attract widely varying flavours at this stage by trying different types of honey. Wildflower strains of honey tend to ensure a floral streak, whereas Buckwheat strains lead to a more roasted flavour. This likely though will be at the expense of the sweetness of the honey which is particularly true of the Barbar.

The Huyghe brewers of the Floris Honey however unashamedly add the honey post-fermentation, and so it doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its flavour and of course is added in such amounts that it will likely disguise the lack of flavour of a low strength wheat beer – a low strength wheat beer brewed with the sole intention of being butchered with flavourings. I have no idea what Silenrieux did with the Le Pave de l’Ours, but it may well have been a result of somebody leaving the door open at night!

Unlike the Le Pave de l’Ours, at least the Floris Honey is at least reasonably pleasant. I had popped into the Dovetail pub (#119) for a quick lunchtime beer, ahead of a reasonably important external meeting, and so anything too meaty could render me asleep by the first tea-break. The barmaid filled up a cloudy pale tumbler which had a wonderfully thick bubbly head. I was thirsty and it didn’t take too long to polish off half the glass. I can’t really say much more than it tasted of honey and was particularly refreshing. It wasn’t going to win any prizes but I knew what I expected when I ordered it.

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Filed under 6, Belgian White (Witbier), Huyghe

#225 – Santa Bee

#225 - Santa Bee

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Kris Boelens family run brewery from Belsele essentially started brewing in 1993 at a time when the mini revival of Belgian beer was in full swing. Towns and villages were tired of standing by and watching the conglomerates like Heineken and InBev pick off their historic family run businesses. The Boelens story though wasn’t a particularly new one – Kris Boelens can trace his brewing family tree right back to his great grandfather!

The Boelens brewery actually began its life in Lokeren in the 19th Century, a dozen miles away from the town of Belsele, where the family opened another brewery called De Meester. The owner would eventually pass away leaving his wife with a business she was ill-equipped to run. As she was also the sister of the brewer of the Boelens brewery she sought help from the family. It would be Henri Boelens, (her nephew, and Kris Boelens grandfather) who had trained as a brewer who joined his aunt in Belsele to take the business venture on. Henri eventually decided to rename the Belsele brewery Boelens; and it was in this very building that the current Boelens brewery is still based.

At that time the brewery was providing for seventeen pubs and inns in the town, which considering it only had a population of just under two thousand was pretty impressive, however fortune was to turn sour for the family run business in the shape of the German invasion during World War I. The systematic removal of all copper from Belgian breweries meant that the Boelens family had to choose another means of survival. They gained agreement from the German army to change the nature of their business into the distribution of existing beer, and thus brewing stopped, and wouldn’t start again until 1993 where we begun our little tale.

The Santa Bee, or the Kerstbier as it is more often known is unsurprisingly the Boelens Christmas offering. It is a dark tasty brew, very much in the typical Christmas beer genre. It poured a heavy chocolate brown with a thick rich head and reminded me somewhat of the Sainte-Monon Brune (#55). I’m definitely growing to like this little brewery who have yet to disappoint me on my journey.  There’s also plenty more in the cellar to come.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Boelens

#224 – Affligem Dubbel

#224 - Affligem Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Affligem Dubbel is what I like to call a proper Abbey beer. There are some breweries which might use the name of a defunct Abbey to help sell their beers, such as the St. Feuillien range or the Floreffe (#40) beers made by Lefebvre, but then there are those breweries which work under the licence from an existing functioning Abbey. The Affligem beers are very much in the latter category, and lets face it when it comes to Abbey’s, you don’t get much more ‘proper’ than the one in Affligem.

It all started not far short of a thousand years ago, when monk Wedericus from St. Peter’s Abbey in Ghent coerced six errant knights to repent their violent lifestyles and seek a new direction in life.  St. Anno, the Archbishop of Cologne at the time provided the guidance, and Count Palatine of Lotharingia provided his land, and essentially the spirit of the Abbey of Affligem had been founded. In 1085 the new monks had adopted the teachings of St Benedict, and by the next year the first church had been consecrated. That same year the Count of Leuven offered around 200 hectares of his domain to Affligem, and the land began to grow at a remarkable rate (over 8000 hectares at its pomp). The Abbey of Affligem was easily one of the richest domains in the Low Countries.

Affligem was also one of the most influential with many monasteries being founded by the Abbey – these included Bornem (1120) and St. Andrews of Bruges (1100). It became known as the ‘Primaria Brabantiae’ which essentially regarded it as the most important in the Duchy of Brabant. The banner of Brabant was stored there during peace time, and at least five Dukes are still buried there. The power grew through the 14th and 15th Centuries following consecration as an Abbey, and then the granting of Primate in the Brabantian states. Monasteries and religious institutions all over Europe wanted a piece of Affligem.

It wasn’t always good news though. The Abbey was twice plundered during the 14th Century wars between Brabant and Flanders, and monks were often exiled for periods of time. This happened again in 1580 when followers of William of Orange looted the place, leaving it empty for up to 27 years, and then of course there was the French Revolution which took the Abbey out of play for another 76 years until it could be reformed. The Abbey has existed in more placid circumstances ever since and still contains 22 working monks to this day.

The famous Affligem beers have been brewed at the Abbey in some form since 1574, which would have included the brown Dubbel. This is a highly rated mid-strength brew which is fairly standard in appearance and aroma, but is ultimately a pleasurable beer to drink. It has a fair degree of carbonation which was something of a surprise, and leaves a particularly fruity after-effect on the tongue. The whole package is particularly professional and although the beer is not exactly a world beater there is certainly a deep satisfaction felt sitting down drinking a beer which has such a worldly history.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, de Smedt

#223 – Guldenberg

#223 - Guldenberg

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Guldenberg was the very first commercial beer brewed at De Ranke. It was so named because of the ancient Guldenberg Abbey which once stood in the town of Wevelgem, and brewed the local beer. It was in this town that Nino Bacelle, the founder of De Ranke was born.

It all started in 1994 when our man Nino started brewing under his own name. His family had been in the industry since the 1930s, and Nino himself started to tinker with recipes and homebrews from about 1981. He studied brewing (now why didn’t I get that career advice at school?) in Ghent during the mid-Eighties and continued to practice his art. Eventually in the early 90s he had begun to really perfect his passion and friends and family were urging him to launch to the public. He decided to go for it and took the less risky route of using another brewery’s equipment. This meant less initial investment, and so a relationship was formed with Deca Services in Woesten.

In that first year Nino managed to produce nine thousand litres of Guldenberg, which was received to much acclaim. Demand continued to increase and Nino began to once again survey his options. It was then in the mid-Nineties that Nino decided to join forces with a friend and fellow beer lover Guido de Vos, who was a founder member of the HOP beer tasting association, and who had also been tinkering with homebrew for much of his life. The Nino Bacelle brewery suddenly became a 50/50 venture and with that in mind they chose to rename the brewery. De Ranke was officially formed in 1996 and has rarely looked back since. They continued to brew at Deca until 2005 but I will save that story for another brew.

So what about the Guldenberg beer? Well, I would say it certainly lives up to the hype. It’s a strong crisp blonde ale weighing in at 8.5% and is particularly hoppy. This is derived from the use of high quality Hallertau hops, and of course a good measure of dry-hopping. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s in the same league as the XX Bitter (#131) on that front but it certainly matches it in overall presence, with the extra ABV perhaps giving it a leading edge. It’s a particularly delicious beer and one that essentially launched one of Belgium’s most impressive breweries.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, De Ranke

#222 – Slaapmutske Bruin

#222 - Slaapmutske Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

When I started this Odyssey I wasn’t entirely sure what it would bring. To be honest I wasn’t sure that writing about beer was really that interesting but I had fallen in love with the beer. I’m not turned on by beer rating websites – they don’t do it for me. I started to plot my journey on ratebeer but I soon got fed up of that. I’m not sure the swigging and swilling, and the sniffing and swishing were what I wanted to be a part of. What I have found though is that I really love the stories that every beer seems to be screaming to tell. I’d almost go as far as to say that in some cases the stories are just as good as that first taste of a new beer, and the Slaapmutske Bruin is the perfectest example.

The protagonists of this wonderful tale are Dany de Smet, the one-time brewmaster at Huyghe, and Marleen Vercaigne, his partner and beer lover extraordinaire. They shared a passion, and that passion led them to creating their own homebrews with the dream of one day setting up their own brewery. This unadulterated passion would eventually lead to marriage, and inevitably a baby boy called Jonas was born to both in 1999. As is surprisingly common amongst brewers, the happy couple celebrated the birth by making a new batch of homebrew which they christened Jonasbier. As a new dad I can testify to the fact that newborn babies have a natural tendency to cry just as you are trying to sleep off the sneaky few Tripels you had left in the cellar, and Jonas was no exception. In fact it got so bad during one particular night that Dany and Marleen decided as a last resort to try dipping his pacifier in the latest incarnation of their Jonasbier.

It’s certainly not in the baby raising textbooks, but the result was that Jonas immediately stopped fussing and almost slept for the whole night, which allowed Dany and Marleen to return to the sitting room to continue working out a name for this latest brew. Marleen had commented that “This beer is a real Slaapmutske”, which in East Flanders literally means ‘sleeping hat’, or what we in the UK might call ‘a cheeky little nightcap’. Suddenly the beer had a name, and as it was the middle of winter, this latest incarnation of the Jonasbier became the Slaapmutske Winterbier (later to be also known as the Slaapmutske Bruin). So impressive was this latest batch, that later the following the year the beer was released to the Belgian market. The couple were now living their dream.

It’s no surprise that the Slaapmutske Bruin was the catalyst for their mainstream movement into brewing. For a 6% beer it is remarkably tasty, mainly due to the blending of colour malts, aromatic hops and coriander. It is sweet, rich and spicy, yet velvety smooth on the tongue. Rarely have I been so impressed with a beer of this strength. I have often recommended friends and colleagues to pick some of these beers up in Belgium, and rarely has anyone been disappointed. I only wish this particular nightcap was just that little bit stronger.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Proef

#221 – Leffe 9

#221 - Leffe 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

This was my first deviation from the standard Leffe Blonde (#41) and Leffe Brune (#25), and I was reliably informed that the Leffe 9 was the pick of the bunch. It was time to find out. I’ve tended to drift my conversations around Leffe to the politics and machinations of the rise of Interbrew, so I will take a break from that today. I’m going to concentrate on the beer, and according to the website, the Leffe 9 is a perfect Aperitif beer. It all sounded a little bit poncey and thus I deemed it worth the briefest of investigations.

Aperitif is a French term for a starter drink which opens the formalities of a meal. Not only is it a starter but it also serves as the welcome to your guests and is designed to stimulate the appetite. It is usually alcoholic in nature, and comes served with some kind of nibbles. The general suggestion is that the Leffe 9 has ‘spicy, bitter and fruity aromas with a slightly smoky aftertaste’. This would therefore be ‘delightful with charcuterie, cheese or tapas’. I didn’t find this particularly helpful due to tapas normally constituting

a) anything approaching its sell by date which is traditionally given to customers to accompany their drinks (in Spain), or

b) anything approaching its sell by date which is routinely served up in the smallest of portions and charged at excruciatingly exorbitant prices to customers who think that sharing a few meatballs is truly liberating (in the UK).

Why not try making a ‘brioche waffle with fried foie gras and raspberry and spice sauce’ – apparently the power and smoothness of the Leffe 9 will marry well with the baked fois in the apples causing a ‘feast for the senses’. Alternatively why not try ‘mini-sandwiches of smoked trout, Ardennes ham and fromage frais with black pepper’ or ‘mini-skewers of red pepper preserves, chorizo and small sweet potatoes’. I’m trying to take the nonsense out of beer drinking and then Leffe start writing rubbish like this. Whilst there is nothing wrong with admitting that Belgian beer is somewhat more classier than your average lager, any man that cracks open a Leffe 9 and then pops on a pinny to immediately rustle up some vol-au-vents is probably missing the point.

The Leffe 9 is so named because it is 9%. It isn’t therefore a beer to be trifled with. Apparently it is not correct etiquette to lubricate guests beyond the point of not being able to sit up straight or to spend each course staggering to the lavatory so I wonder whether this is the ideal aperitif beer; although again it is common practice to usually only just serve the one. I began to consider the above in terms of my hosting etiquette and realised perhaps that I still had some way to go. One beer just never seems to be enough, and although I very much enjoy a good Belgian beer with good food, the thought of entertaining my friends with a food pairing exhibition fills me with abject horror. I did therefore drink the Leffe 9 alone, and did deem it to be fairly decent but it was far from perfect. It started very strongly with plenty of bite but lost much of its oomph in the middle, thus I promised myself next time I would try it with a terrine of caramelised pheasant offal.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, InBev (Belgium)

#220 – Kossaat

#220 - Kossaat

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

The Kossaat beer is brewed by the unremarkable Lefebvre, but on behalf of the Brouwerij Vercauteren. There is a genealogical link for the name of this beer which takes us way back through history. It will explain the rustic looking gentleman on the label of the beer.

The Vercauteren story starts in the late 18th Century with Cornelius Cuyckens who was a farmer and occasional brewer by trade. He tended a small plot of land on the edge of the village at Malderen, and when he died he left behind seven children. It was one of his sons Peter who would take over the reins of this small-holding, and when he too eventually died, again the reins were passed on. Eventually after a couple more generations one of the granddaughters of Peter married an Alfons Vercauteren who took up the challenge and inspired the eventual modernisation of their practices. The journey continued through son Maurice and then grandson Andre before the brewing finally stopped with the latest in this long line – another Alfons Vercauteren.

The gentleman celebrated on the label of the Kossaat beer is the original farmer and brewer of this long chain – Cornelius. A Kossaat is/was a term largely used in Prussia during the 18th Century for a farmer who lived on the edge of the community and who largely eked out a living from their small plot of land. This was often impossible, and so they might have worked extra manual work for the richer farmers and landholders. Neither though were the Kossaaten the poorest around – at least they had some land, and the odd bit of livestock. The etymology of Kossaat derives from the Kotta, which was the Germanic name for the small cottages in which they would live. The term Kossaat literally means ‘those who sit in the cottages’.

It is likely that the Kossaten were of Slavic origin, and that this spread through to Prussia and into this Western corner of Europe. Cornelius Cuyckens certainly lived this simple lifestyle, as did his ancestors, and he was the one who essentially kickstarted the Brouwerij Vercauteren all those years ago. The beer, as you would expect from Lefebvre was distinctly average with very little to get excited about. It was a standard pleasant blonde with a light fruity flavour that was laced with some faintly impressive hopping. The history of the Kossaat may be semi interesting but the beer certainly isn’t.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Lefebvre

#219 – St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

#219 - St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

Size: 500 ml

ABV: 7.6 %

It’s pretty hard to miss the St. Sebastiaan beers in their 500 ml coloured enamel crocks – which is exactly what the Sterkens family would have wanted. With hundreds of Belgian beers to choose from in the Beers of Europe warehouse the St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru stood out a mile. Even if I didn’t like the beer, the bottle would look great on my shelves.

We have already established that Stan Sterkens was the original father of this range of beers but that the actual brewing now happens elsewhere. When I had previously drunk the St. Paul Double (#177), this was under the remit of the Scheldebrouwerij in Meer, although all beers are now picked up by Duvel Moortgat on behalf of the Sterkens brewery. The Scheldebrouwerij still use the name of the beers though which only further adds to the confusion.

The significance of St. Sebastiaan on the world of beer is unclear, and his story can wait for another beer, however Stan Sterkens clearly likes a saint or two. He is perhaps best known for his St. Paul range of beers, and the family brewpub which opened in the US in Spring Hill was also known as the Saint Sebastiaan Microbrewery. The idea was to showcase to the local population the Belgian way of brewing although to be fair it would all eventually fall on its feet. The location wasn’t ideal and subsequently the beers were perhaps a little ahead of their time for the US Market. The Sterkens family eventually fled back to Belgium and the original Saint Sebastiaan sat empty. I hear it has since been renovated into a stereotypical chain restaurant/bar with no hint of any Belgian beers or a saintly name.

The St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru, or the St. Sebastiaan Golden as it is perhaps more commonly known abroad is a limited edition release. A single batch is made every year to a secretive Sterkens family recipe. It is also brewed in line with the Bavarian Purity Laws which I had explained a while back when drinking the Corsendonk Pater (#35). The Grand Cru was another beer that I shared with my sister although this one didn’t quite have the WOW factor that the bottle would have you believe. It was your average Belgian style tripel which was pleasant to drink but that couldn’t deliver above and beyond expectations. If you like a pale citrus flavour then maybe this is for you, but for me all that glitters in this case was definitely not golden.

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Filed under 7, Golden Ale, Schelde

#218 – La Prime de la Fin d’Annee

#218 - La Prime de la Fin d'Annee

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

This was my first beer from the St. Helene brewery. Interestingly I had driven through the town of Virton on a recent jaunt to Luxembourg and the location of this brewery had randomly popped up on the Sat Nav (Not strictly true as I had painstakingly entered all the locations of the breweries into it before I left – what else would a true beer professional do?). I was surprised to find a small suburban semi-detached house in a quiet residential road. I peered in the front door and called out a few times but nobody heard me. I got back in the car and we drove onwards – the shortest brewery tour ever, and one of the most unremarkable.

It turns out that the current location in Virton was actually something of an upgrade from the previous location. Eddy Pourtois started the ball rolling in 1993 following a succession of experimental home brews which friends and family had loved and encouraged him to continue. By 1995 the first amber beer was produced and the St Helene brewery was kind of officially formed. It took its name from the then home address of 21 Rue St. Helene, Orsinfaing. Despite the 2003 move to Virton, the brewery has kept the same name, and until only recently, virtually the same range of beers.

Eddy Pourtois slowly began to take himself seriously and was making more and more beers. He took courses in biology and chemistry and by 1998 had officially accepted his position as a reputable local brewer. The marketing began in earnest in 1999 and despite the modest facilities he managed to knock out three hectoliters of beer by the end of the year. A further sixty followed in 2000. Eddy Pourtois had found himself and began the search to find larger premises to continue his adventure which would eventually lead him to Virton – where we had almost met.

I’d managed to pick up a 750ml bottle of the La Prime de la Fin d’Annee at the Bruges Beer Festival later in the year based solely on the nostalgia of my little detour. It was an apt name for a beer that is essentially brewed for festivals at the end of the year, and is only produced from October with September reserves. The title of the beer is a reference to a term used in France to denote the end of year reward in businesses. Often a 13th month salary is paid to workers as a bonus for their hard work over the year. This beer is the St Helene bonus to its punters. I was only happy to oblige.

I decided to share the bottle with my sister who isn’t one to shy away from a decent beer and we were both suitably impressed. It poured a muddy milky chocolate in both colour and texture and sported a most mysterious nose. The taste was ruggedly unique and rustic, with the subtlest sweetness of chocolate throughout. This was backed up by the bottle which confirmed it was brewed with colour, caramel and chocolate malts. My only regret was that I had shared my annual beery bonus.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, St Helene

#217 – Grimbergen Tripel

#217 - Grimbergen Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Only beer #217 and it was with some relief that I reached the end of the Grimbergen range with the Tripel. I’m not saying that these beers are awful in anyway, but if ever there was an example of mass marketed mediocrity then this is it. This is an accusation often levelled at Leffe, but to be fair I’d take the Leffe Blonde (#41) over any of the Grimbergen beers any day.

It was only a few beers ago when I went exploring the Grimbergen website to search for the Goud/Doree (#212) and it was there that I found something most peculiar. Everything was in order on the Belgian version of the website, but somehow I had also managed to end up on a slightly different version of the website which presented me with what could only amount to a parallel universe. Where I was previously perusing through the Grimbergen Blonde (#8), and Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), I suddenly found myself at the end of a long dusty wardrobe staring out at an alien wintry landscape – there in full Grimbergen regalia stood a Grimbergen Blanche, and a Grimbergen Rouge. I rubbed the centre of my eyes to dramatic effect and looked again only for a Grimbergen Ambree to bounce into view. I really had entered some awful version of Beer Narnia.

With the horrific realisation that I might have to try more Grimbergen beers, I panicked and stumbled back through the wardrobe grasping at the fur lined coats and gasping for breath. As I sat in a puddle on the floor I tried to make sense of what I had just seen. I tried the website again. Nothing. I searched for Grimbergen. Nothing. I even checked with the O’Mighty one at ratebeer. Still confused. I looked back through the wardrobe and there was nothing but a sturdy oak panel. Christ, what did they put in that Val-Dieu Tripel (#216)?

Once my mind was straight(er) I was able to eventually find my way back to the reality which all stems from the history of takeovers which have punctuated the existence of the Brasserie Union; from its days as Alken-Maes, to the takeover by Carlsberg, and now where it sits under the watchful sentry of Kronenbourg. The latter of course are a monolithic beer producer in France, and all the apparitional beers which clouded my judgment do exist but more notably for the French market. There is even a Grimbergen La Reserve which I’m still working out whether I need to consider adding to my Odyssey. For now though I’m drinking the Grimbergen Tripel with the view that this will be my last for quite some time.

In fairness this may not have been that bad a beer. Although the pour was particularly flat with little sign of any lasting head, and that there was a certain flatness to the carbonation – the taste was quintessentially Tripel. There was some medium spicing and a good level of alcohol which you would expect from a beer of 9% ABV. I would go as far as saying this was the pick of the range that is marketed in Belgium – and I will leave it there for now. I have grudgingly accepted that that there is no quelling that damned Phoenix.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#216 – Val-Dieu Triple

#216 - Val-Dieu Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Brasserie de L’Abbaye du Val-Dieu is in actual fact the only non-Trappist brewing Abbey in Belgium. I won’t go into the history of the Abbey as I covered that when christening the Val-Dieu Biere de Noel (#127) but that opening gambit is certainly an interesting enough nugget of factoid to whet my appetite for the Val-Dieu Triple.

The whole rules and regulations thing which governs becoming ordained as a Trappist brewery has been covered before (#7) although I will need to refresh slightly to explain how the Abbey at Val-Dieu was left high and dry. Firstly in 1997 the brewery at the Abbey ceased to function as a fully operational monastery – there were simply not enough monks remaining. Today at the brewery all the main duties are carried out by laymen, and it looks likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future, despite the fact the Abbey remains a fully functioning religious institution.

The other issue, which is much more complicated is that which relates to the subtle differences between Trappists and Cistercians. For a starter explanation have a read of the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) but essentially the Cistercians were a splinter group from the Benedictines, and the Trappists were a splinter group from the Cistercians. It’s very loose, but essentially the Trappists are actually known as ‘Cistercians of the Strict Observance’, and they focus far more attention on being contemplative. This aside – the bottom line is that the Abbey at Val-Dieu is Cistercian and always has been.If this religious pendancy wasn’t quite so rigid we would see far more designated breweries across the world than the Magnificent Seven we have in Belgium (and the Netherlands). In particular in Germany there are many non-Trappist monasteries producing beer just like the one at Val-Dieu. Its just they aren’t Trappist.

Anyway, the beers in question that are produced at Aubel are based upon an original recipe from the Val-Dieu monks, and they bear the hallmark which designates them as Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer. The Val-Dieu Triple regardless of its designation was a particularly decent beer – as standard a tripel as I could describe in terms of looks, aroma and taste. It was sweet, strong and quite dry on tasting but it didn’t jump out in any way from its competitors. In many ways, just as all the above will confirm, it really is the nearly-man of Belgian beer.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val Dieu

#215 – Satan Red

#215 - Satan Red

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The de Block brewery in Peizegem is probably most noted for its two Satan beers. Certainly the bulk of the marketing around the brewery centres around the little red devil on the label, although it isn’t always positive as the below will attest.

Belgian beers sell very well across the world, and probably none more so than in the United States of America. The most logical place would be the Eastern and Western seaboards where craft breweries are growing in number every week. Distributors may though wish to exercise a little more caution in the Deep South following the extreme reactions from the local population which followed the launch of Satan beers there in 2008. The people of the Deep South tend to have something of a reputation for being somewhat ‘god-fearing’ and puritanical. I don’t particularly have an opinion on the matter but I certainly found the associated stories amusing and worth sharing on here. *

It all started with a distributor who unimaginatively called themselves Cask Distributers. They picked up on the lifting of the high-gravity beer ban in Charleston by adding a number of Belgian beers to their range. One of the companies main outlets was the chain of Piggly Wiggly stores until customer complaints saw the store manager ban the beer. Bill Trull, the General Manager commented “We’re in the Deep South. We have to be careful of what we put in front of families”. The shop also no longer stocks the ‘Best Damn Chili ever’ or Fat Bastard, Old Fart and Bitch wines. Another store in the area was making remarkable sales on Satan and a beer called Arrogant Bastard, but again following complaints these were hidden in the back of the shop and then made available on ‘special order’ only.

It isn’t just a localised issue though. In Houston, a church group staged a sit-down protest at a local grocery store and refused to leave until Satan was removed from the store. Further trouble flared when an underage and undercover person was sent by the state’s alcohol authority to purchase beer, and the little blighter selected Satan. An investigation followed, and the Noble Union Trading company who imported the beer was banned from Texas. They were particularly unimpressed and suggested that in the Deep South there seems to be a “Bible thumping crusader behind every tree”. The clamour of the launch of Satan caused such a stir that even the brewery de Block were forced to make a statement. They pointed out that the name emanated from the old brewing traditions of slaving over a hot fire rather than it being about any religious statement. They were also keen to point out the popularity of beers such as Duvel (#34), Lucifer (#169) and Duivels Bier (#179), and that even the Belgian national football team are called the Red Devils.

Despite the ban, sales have continued to be strong. In the case of Satan Red, this isn’t just a result of gimmicky labels – it’s a fantastic beer. It was even more satisfying as I really wasn’t expecting it, especially as the beer appeared a little thin on pouring. The aroma was keen and fruity though and the beer certainly packed a trifle-like punch. A wonderful mix of hoppiness, strong alcohol all served up with an unforgettably delicious tangy flavour. The newspaper originally covering this story had come up with a number of headlines for beer shops to accompany the beer. The one which most sums up the experience must be “It’s so good, it’ll have you speaking in forked tongues”.

* I will find out for myself next Easter as myself and a few pals are undertaking a baseball road trip from Chicago to Jacksonville.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Block

#214 – Achilles Serafijn Blond

#214 - Achilles Serafijn Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

We first met Achiel van de Moer when I tried my first Achilles beer – the Serafijn Tripel (#161). The Serafijn Blond was next up, and an opportunity to explore the symbolism of the Serafijn brand.

Achiel was a music and dance teacher before he moved into brewing, and is still a keen musician today supported ably by his wife Jo. Legend has it that if you pass by the microbrewery at the right time of the day or night you may be lucky enough to hear a duet or two resonating around the copper kettles. With this in mind, it was perhaps a logical choice to choose the Seraph as the symbol for the house beers – the Seraphim are the six-winged high angels of Heaven who exist to serve as messengers between God and man. They are particularly noted for their sweet celestial singing skills, and Achiel would go as far to argue that the Seraphim are also natural beer lovers – although I found little evidence of this in any research I did.

In fact the angelic female form that Achiel has chosen to use on his labels are perhaps a far cry from the reality of the real Seraphs. The Bible reveals the Seraphim in the Book of Isaiah to be fiery six-winged beings who continually praise God while encircling his throne, and the etymology of the word Seraph translates literally as “burning ones”. The Book of Revelation goes onto describe the Seraphim as having ‘eyes all around, even under his wings’. Both Hebrew and Christian Bibles even use the term Seraph as a synonym for serpents. Not ideal images I suppose to promote a family run brewery.

The image of the Serafijn throughout the ages though has tended to be portrayed in the more euphemistic light. Thomas Aquinas considered that the Serafijn “have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others”.  Pico della Mirandolo’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487) also went as far as to say that “they burn with the fire of charity as the highest models of human aspiration”. Which just leaves the question of whether the beers can live up to the brand?

The Serafijn Tripel had certainly previously delivered, and the Serafijn Blond really wasn’t that far behind. It poured obediently and hit all the right buttons on the aroma. Here was a pertly crisp blonde beer with enough bite to distinguish it from the pantheon of average mid-strength blonde beers. I am not convinced that the two beers I had tried thus far serve as the highest models of human aspiration, but considering they are pretty much made in Achiel van de Moer’s garage, they get my vote.

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Filed under 7, Achilles, Belgian Ale

#213 – Gulden Draak Vintage

#213 - Gulden Draak Vintage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Although I had previously recounted a version of the legend of the Golden Dragon in my review of Gulden Draak (#145), there is an even more fanciful alternative in a book by Bertha Palmer Lane called ‘Tower Legends’. This anthology details the mystical dragon from Aleppo, and other similar stories related to an assortment of world belfries. It’s more a book for children, and considering children aren’t supposed to be drinking beers and almost certainly should have better things to do than read about beers, I am going to dispel all those myths right here. I did the same whistleblowing recently on the gnomes of Achouffe (#185), and nobody there has come knocking on my door yet.

Despite the fact that the people of Bruges seem to think that their Golden Dragon was stolen by the people of Ghent in actual fact this is complete baloney. It’s hardly surprising they might think this though given that Emperor Maximilian once labelled his own Brugeois people as mad (Brugse Zot #36). We can assume that without the invention of broadband at that time that maybe word of mouth and propaganda was responsible, although the myth has permeated through to the 20th Century. Not only are there still regular requests in Bruges to have the dragon returned, even the people of Norway made a request in 1918 for their claim on the prize. It was after all a Norwegian king who in the legend had first donated the mythical dragon to the Turks. Sigh.

The actual dragon that sits atop the belfry in Ghent was commissioned at the request of the people of Ghent in 1378. It was suggested the dragon would be symbolic of the power and freedom of Ghent at that time, and as dragons are supposed to never sleep, this creature would always look out across the city and protect its citizens. It has often been involved in key historical festivities, notably first in 1500 at the baptism of prince Karel, and on regular occurrences since when it would spit fire (no doubt some sly mechanical sleight of hand in case you were beginning to wonder). It has lain dormant however since 1819; no doubt when the people of Ghent began to realise it was in fact just a copper statue.

Whether you prefer the facts or to lose yourself in the legend, there is no getting away from the popularity of the copper statue and the role it plays in the identity of the city. The two beers made by Van Steenberge are equally iconic; although I haven’t myself quite worked out why as yet. The Gulden Draak Vintage was slightly better than the original beer, but to be honest it wasn’t by a great deal. The Christmas version started badly by viciously exploding on my lap (when will I learn?) and having managed to first decant it into two glasses and then scrubbed the sofa I was able to continue with what was left. I found the remains to be less artificial than the original but lacking in any real flavours which you might expect from a seasonal beer. It packed less of a punch but was slightly more rounded in flavour than the Gulden Draak. I may be in the minority on this one but I’d give both beers a wide berth – once again the truth is less interesting than the hype.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#212 – Grimbergen Goud / Doree

#212 - Grimbergen Goud (Doree)

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Yep. Who would believe it? Another bloody Grimbergen. This time it’s the turn of the Grimbergen Goud or Doree, depending on your linguistic preference. If you still need a translation then you can call it the Grimbergen Gold.

I have previously spent a fair amount of time writing about the Grimbergen Abbey (#8), and the new world following the take over by AB/InBev (#9), but I hadn’t really concentrated on the Grimbergen brand. I may as well have a look at that as it’s something that the marketeers in the new world are taking very seriously. Anybody who disbelieves me is free to click on to their website – http://www.grimbergenbier.be/, where a quite beautiful animation tells us the legendary story of the Grimbergen phoenix on the label.

You will recall that the Abbey at Grimbergen has had a tumultuous history, being razed to the ground on numerous occasions, but each time it rebuilt itself and rose again to greatness. The phoenix was the perfect symbol to identify with this history, and in 1629 was chosen as the emblem of the Abbey. The mythical bird has been revered throughout history for its infinite ability to regenerate itself from the ashes – from the Persians, through the Greeks, to the Romans. Even in modern day England, the football team Aldershot Town have the symbol of the phoenix on its club badge since it too has faced a massive period of rebirth following financial meltdown.

The motto of the Grimbergen brand sums up the history perfectly – Ardet Nec Consumitur – Burned but never destroyed. It accompanies the phoenix on the Abbeys coat of arms and can be seen etched magnificently into the buildings stained glass windows – another image which iconically finds itself on the beer label. It was almost with a renewed sense of sympathy and reverence that I unpopped the golden cap to the Grimbergen Goud/Doree.

The beer poured a somewhat flat earthy blonde with a particularly disappointing head that had faded before I’d even brought the beer to my lips. There was little carbonation or aroma to speak of and I was typically disappointed with the taste which certainly didn’t go anywhere further than the Blonde (#8) had. The beer is given a third fermentation in the bottle, and is enriched with aromatic hops but I couldn’t tell the difference. This was just another tame beer which is superfluous to a very tame range, and once I had finished with the bottle I stuck this at the very bottom of the recycling in the hope that finally the phoenix might give up its struggle.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#211 – La Binchoise Blonde

#211 - La Binchoise Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

La Binchoise Blonde is another beer which is dominated by the Gilles on the label. For more information on these strange characters then please feel free to divert your attention to the La Binchoise Brune (#121). Today though I want to concentrate on the modern day history of the brewery, and in particular Andre Graux.

The modern day brewery in Binche was only founded in 1986, which is fairly young by Belgian standards. It was set up by Andre Graux and his wife Francoise Jauson who were both unemployed at the time and shared a passion for beer. The business first began at home, but eventually they bought an old malthouse and the reputation of their early beers led to moderate success. At the time the brewery was particularly well known for making their beer in a cauldron which they procured from the Belgian National Guard which added to the intrigue.

The two beers which really launched the commercialisation of the brewery were the Fakir, and Reserve Marie de Hongrie. Strangely, having just literally written about label beers in my last review (#210), both these beers developed alter egos for the linguistically distinct areas of Wallonia and Flanders. The Reserve Marie de Hongrie would double up as La Binchoise Brune in Wallonia, while the La Binchoise Blonde took on the Fakir mandate. Fakir just happened to be the childhood nickname of our chief protagonist Andre Graux. I have added the label of the beer for posterity which is now retired and I am therefore unlikely to run across it again on my travels.

Fakir

The La Binchoise Blonde and La Binchoise Brune remain the flagship beers of the brewery and these two are often relabelled for local shops, carnivals and fetes; in particular the Blonde which accounts for about half of the entire breweries current output. You can also find it locally known as La Molagnarde Blonde.

In my humble opinion the La Binchoise Blonde is a particularly average blonde beer. You can’t dislike it but equally I’d find it unlikely that with the breadth of good solid blonde mid-range beers available that you would continue to drink this one. It looks the part though, with a thick rich amber pour, and the aroma is sweet and fruity. There is a good helping of yeast in the flavour and some basic citric fruits which isn’t that surprising given it is brewed with orange peel – this addition reflective of the orange blossom regularly thrown at the carnival. I may decide to drink this again if a) I ever actually make it to the carnival, or b) if I am lucky enough to get my hands on a Fakir, or a La Molagnarde Blonde.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, La Binchoise

#210 – Triple Moine

#210 - Triple Moine

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.3 %

When is a new beer not a new beer? The answer to this question became obvious on my brewery tour of Du Bocq. Following a mystifying non-English speaking jaunt around the premises I was delighted to settle in the brewery tap and select my free beer from the bar. I’d opted for the Deugniet (#64) for no other reason than it had a jaunty picture of a jester on the label and I’d never seen it before. As I recall it was a reasonable beer, and it was with beer in hand that I approached the bar and attempted to engage the bar girl in some inane beer chat. It’s what the English are good at.

“Sho”, she says in a thick Flemish drawl, “thees Deugniet beer you are drinking eest the same as these one here”, pointing at the small bottle of beer behind the bar with the dull brown label that didn’t have a jaunty picture of a jester on the label. “Excuse me?”, I said trying my best not to sound Dutch. “Yesh, they are the shame beers, but for different markets – the Deugniet eest for the Dutch speaking people, and the Triple Moine eest for the French speaking people”. I’ll spare the rest of the conversation from these pages, but it essentially covered the Belgium Conundrum, and one of course which has resonated through the politics of the country for the last year or so. Belgium is divided of course and if it helps to sell beer then why not market the same beer to two different populations?

I’ll tell you why not – because it fucks with my counting! Is the Triple Moine a new beer? It’s not is it? It’s the same beer but it’s just called something different. I decided the matter needed investigating, and once I was back in the UK I started to poke around. I noticed the small farmyard brewery at St Monon did it. Their Ambree for example doubles up as a number of brand beers for local breweries. Lefebvre have done it also – their Floreffe Double (#40) is also a double of the Durboyse Brune; their Floreffe Wit is also their Blanche de Bruxelles. Brasserie de Silly have done it, Millevertus have done it, and Van Steenberge – well they are guilty beyond belief.

I needed to make a judgment call and decided to rest my case on the tasting. I much preferred this one to the Deugniet. It looked the same as you would expect, but this seemed to be more fruity than I noted from the brewery tap. It had a decent afterkick and it lasted well to the end of the beer. I am beginning to learn that on different occasions and under different conditions, beers often can taste very different, even if they are actually the same. For that reason, and because a different label can tell a different story I am counting them. In this case a new beer actually is a new beer, though there isn’t much of a story on this one. Moine means monk, and that’s about as interesting as it gets.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Du Bocq

#209 – Hoegaarden Citrons

#209 - Hoegaarden Citrons

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3 %

You only need to read the review of Hoegaarden (#81) to understand why the beer I am drinking today has ever come to exist. I am almost certain that if Pierre Celis still looked after affairs then the Hoegaarden Citrons would be little more than a bad idea scribbled on a discarded flipchart page *. But it’s Belgian, and therefore I need to drink it. I’ll try and be quick.

The history of Hoegaarden I previously outlined was a brief glimpse into the sad demise of the de Kluis brewery, and one of the outcomes of this new modern world was the addition of a number of low strength fruit beers to the range. Simple concept of weak base beer diluted further with some kind of processed syrup. It’s a fairly common practice now amongst modern day breweries who clearly have a market for such stuff or they wouldn’t make it. Hoegaarden have delivered us the Citrons (lemon and lime), and the Rosee (raspberry). Other breweries who have succumbed are Haacht with their Mystic range, Du Bocq who have polluted the market with beers such as Agrumbocq (#74), Redbocq and Applebocq. Bockor (Jacobins), de Smedt (Grisette), Huyghe (Floris) and Het Anker (Boscoulis) are among others who have all cashed in.

The formula clearly does work. In 2009, a year after the production of beer was returned to the Hoegaarden spiritual home, the annual report of AB/InBev referred to Hoegaarden products as the fastest growing brand. This is surely more to do with the international reputation of the staple blanche beer than the summer Citrons and Rosee. An example of this globalisation was the production of Hoegaarden for the South Korean market in 2008, through subsidiary company Oriental Brewery. While this has been another commercial success for AB/InBev through the accounts ledgers, the general public agree that the flavour is a far cry from the original. I guess you could say here is another example of the great brand being Seouled out 😉

The Hoegaarden Citrons hit the Benelux market in 2008, marketed as a ‘beer aromatised with lemon and lime, with sugar and an artificial sweetener. Not filtered, naturally misty’. It was perfectly pitched for those looking for a low strength beer on a hot summer afternoon. Clearly this is why this beer never made it over to the UK, hence I tried it on a dark blustery afternoon indoors. I’m sad to say that I actually found it quite refreshing. It barely touched the sides and reminded me more of cool lime sodas that I regularly drunk while travelling around India. Nothing like nostalgia to improve a rating. If you are the designated driver and you need refreshing there are plenty worse options available than this one.

* Pierre Celis sadly passed away in April this year after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86 years old. I feel confident that whatever Pierre is drinking right now as he looks down to survey the fruits of his labours, it won’t be a Hoegaarden Citrons.

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Filed under 6, Fruit Beer, Hoegaarden (InBev)

#208 – Oerbier

#208 - Oerbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Oerbier is the flagship beer of the de Dolle Brouwers, and was the first beer to be launched by the Mad Brothers. The name of the beer roughly translates as ‘primitive beer’, ‘original beer’, or ‘beer from the source’ – a title which reflects the evolutionary nature of both the beer and the brewery.

The de Dolle Brouwers story first began in 1980 following brothers Kris and Jo Herteleer’s attempts to make home brew from English supermarket kits. They were still at college at the time and making a shed load of experimental beers. Eventually they decided to enter a competition in Brussels, and they picked one of their 35 creations. Amazingly this Oerbier won, and the cash first prize was all the incentive they needed to begin their new business.

The success of the Oerbier was really down to a change of approach from the Mad Brothers. The initial efforts at brewing hadn’t really yielded anything worthwhile, so they opted to use the finest natural ingredients – spring water, fresh hops and yeast, only malt, and strictly no colouring, preservatives or filtering! This philosophy has continued to guide de Dolle Brouwers to cult success now across the world where their beers are revered. The Oerbier continues to be the flagship beer, and the small yellow man on the label continues to represent the brand. The cartoon figure is a sprouting yeast cell, who carries a mashing fork in one hand and the perfect glass of Oerbier in the other. The year Anno 1980 represents the date the brewery began, and the words Nat en Straf literally translate as ‘Wet and Strong’, which is a pretty decent analogy of the Oerbier, although it has been even stronger at times.

The real beauty of the Oerbier, which may frustrate those who seek consistency, is that each annual effort is brewed differently. I found this out later in my journey when I tried an older version at the Kulminator bar in Antwerp. When the beer was first made it used Rodenbach yeasts which left the beer at around 7%. Eventually in around 1988 once Palm had taken over Rodenbach, the de Dolle Brouwers started to evolve their own mad strains from the original yeast and the ABV rocketed. In around 2000 the beer was over 10%. Nat en Straf indeed!

The 9% version of the Oerbier I tried was simply immense. It poured a beautiful conker brown with an attractive mop of white head glistening like an oasis on the top. There was an adequate dosing of sediment which added to the experience, and the aromas were far too abundant to even begin trying to decipher. The first taste was divine, a sweet and complex meaty brew that scintillated every taste bud. Again, there were so many flavours that I couldn’t begin to tell the story. It’s not often I drool over beers, but this and the Boskeun (#82) are easily amongst my top five brews – so much so that on my last trip to Belgium I called in to the brewery to stock up on supplies and get my own flagship glass.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers

#207 – Silly Enghien Noel Tripel Blonde

#207 - Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Silly brewery acquired the Enghien range of beers in 1975, when they took over the Tennstedt Decroes family brewery in the town of Enghien. The staple beer at the time was the Speciale Double Enghien, which is now more commonly known as the Double Enghien Brune. Over the years the Silly Enghien Blonde, and the Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde have been added to their range.

The Brasserie du Pot d’Etain as it was known was founded way back in 1880 and only just fell short of its centenary celebrations, when the Van der Haegen-Mynsbrughen family did the business deal with the local Tennstedt-Decroes family. This ensured the continuation of the Enghien beers with an already well established brewery in the locality. It seems a shame though not to dwell on some of these now defunct breweries, and so I would like to concentrate for the rest of this review on the original name of the brewery.

Pot d’Etain is actually a common title in France or Belgium and is often used in the names of breweries, hotels or bars. It actually translates into English as The Pewter Pot – a type of lidded drinking vessel often used in bygone days. Pewter is a metal alloy, mostly made of tin but mixed with other metals such as copper, bismuth, antimony and lead. Before the widespread manufacture of glass, most items of tableware throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries were made of pewter. Although not widely used anymore there is almost a deferential nostalgia for beer steins made of pewter and it is widely held by scientists that the pewter ensures the consistent temperature of the beer, protecting it from the warm hands of human beings. As a boy I remember my dad having a pewter beer pot sitting in the sideboard in the lounge gathering dust for a special occasion. I must ask him what he did with it.

I’m not sure how the Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde might have tasted in a Pot d’Etain, but at least in the glass I had chosen I could apply the routine inspection of the full beer before tasting, which was a medium bodied darker blonde. It had a real essence of farmyard to the aroma, and I was surprised how hoppy it was on the tongue. It certainly started out not unlike the XX Bitter (#131), or the Buffalo Belgian Bitter (#196) although at 9% ABV I expected it to retain its flavour a bit more which did fade a little as I supped. It didn’t particularly strike me as a typical Christmas beer, but I guess it was an excuse for Silly to raise the stakes on the 7.5% Silly Enghien Double Blond, which I would argue is a success. There aren’t that many strong bitter triple blondes out there worth a try, but I would recommend a solitary bottle of this for the cellar. Why not even go one better and try it in a pot d’etain?

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Christmas Beer, Silly