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